Constructing International Knowledge: Organizing Internationalization

September 30, 2015

By Tamar Breslauer

How do micro-level forces, such as funding, staffing, and personal relationships, affect not only the success, but the manifestation, of internationalization? How do micro and macro factors influence what is meant by "international knowledge?"

Jonathan Z. Friedman and Cynthia Miller-Idriss explore these questions in their article, “The International Infrastructure of Area Studies Centers: Lessons for Current Practice from a Prior Wave of Internationalization.” Friedman and Miller-Idriss extrapolate from what they learned through interviews with personnel about the internationalization efforts of area studies programs, to offer a way of understanding internationalization at institutions in general.

While internationalization is often framed in global terms, Friedman and Miller-Idriss instead discover it is the local factors—such as organization resources (including the funding of the center), individual personalities (including the influence of the center director’s background and inclinations), administrative personnel (including having someone to process the paperwork required after SEVIS), and interpersonal relationships (including the need to bring faculty from professional schools into the area studies programs)—that shape the model of internationalization for these area studies centers, and consequently, the institutions at large.

Friedman and Miller-Idriss write that, “despite increasing discourse on the transformation of higher education globally, the internationalization of individual universities is not realized on a global stage; it is the work of particular individuals in particular settings, who establish research projects and programs, create particular mobility pathways, and design particular globally oriented pedagogies” (Friedman and Miller-Idris 2014, 98). Friedman and Miller-Idriss draw a critical bridge between the attributes of the local context and the manifestation of internationalization. The characteristics of the local influence the way in which internationalization appears on a macro scale.

In many ways, the research of Friedman and Miller-Idriss supports current scholarship that proposes that internationalization can, and in fact should, mean many different things. Different institutions with different local constraints should be thinking about internationalization in different ways. This leads to some interesting questions. How can one benchmark internationalization if so much is context dependent? When scaling up and looking at internationalization from an institutional perspective, how many of these local factors can actually be controlled? How does one help local actors become aware of their roles in the process toward internationalization? If “international knowledge” is both culturally and locally determined, is there a common way to define this term?

For more discussion on the questions raised in this research, a deeper exploration on how these questions relate to other research on the same topic, and to share your reactions to this piece or others on the NAFSA blog, please visit the Network.NAFSA online community platform. In addition, please visit NAFSA’s Trends & Insights web page to read the July 2015 issue featuring Cynthia Miller-Idriss’s article “In Service to the Globe? Universities’ Changing Sense of Community.


Friedman, Jonathan Z., and Cynthia Miller-Idriss. 2014. “The International Infrastructure of Area Studies Centers: Lessons for Current Practice from a Prior Wave of Internationalization.” Journal of Studies in International Education 19, 1:86–104. doi:10.1177/1028315314536992.


Tamar Breslauer, NAFSA’s Senior Research Specialist, looks for interesting questions in the areas of global learning, internationalization and the contexts in which these exist and shares her findings through NAFSA Research Connections. To discuss the questions raised in this research and to share your reactions with others, please visit the NAFSA Research Connections discussion forum.


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