Professor Esser investigates development effectiveness in the context of local, national and global policies and programs. His work focuses on (1) sub-national governance amid armed conflict, in particular in urban areas; (2) global health governance; and (3) policy discourses as enablers of and constraints to collective action. Prof. Esser has conducted field research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Mexico. His research has been published in World Development, Third World Quarterly, the Journal of Modern African Studies, Environment and Urbanization, the Journal of Peacebuilding & Development, Global Public Health, the Journal of Social Policy, Urban Studies, Ethics & International Affairs, Communication Theory, Critical Planning, the Journal of Business Ethics, Learning and Teaching and Encyclopaedia Iranica, as well as in several edited books.
The 2015 SIS Scholar-Teacher of the Year, Prof. Esser has also been an Academic Resident at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in 2013, a Drugs, Security and Democracy (DSD) Postdoctoral Fellow of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in 2012-13, a SPURS Research Fellow at MIT in 2003-04, and a Carlo Schmid Fellow at the International Labour Office in 2001-02. In 2006-08, he spent two years working full-time for UNESCAP in Bangkok and UNDP in New York. He has received research grants from Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the British Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Mellon-MIT Program on NGOs and Forced Migration, the German National Academic Foundation, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). Prof. Esser has served as an adviser on program planning and evaluation to the World Bank, the OECD, USAID, the German Government, FLACSO, and CARE International. In 2017 he joins American University's Honors Faculty while also continuing to teach in SIS.