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Daniel Esser

Associate Professor School of International Service

Professor Esser's current research investigates social foundations of political legitimacy in non-democratic settings, with a geographic focus on urban areas in the global South. This new line of inquiry builds on earlier work on urban governance and development effectiveness amid armed conflict. Prof. Esser has conducted field research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Mexico and has traveled widely in Asia and Latin America. He has published in leading peer-reviewed journals such as World Development, Urban Studies, the Journal of Modern African Studies, the Journal of Social Policy, Environment and Urbanization, Global Public Health, Third World Quarterly, Ethics & International Affairs, Communication Theory, and the Journal of Business Ethics, as well as in several edited books. A member of American University's Honors Faculty, he co-leads the first-year Honors core course. He also serves as SIS Thematic Area Coordinator for Global Inequality and Development and teaches a doctoral seminar on the politics of policy analysis.

The 2015 SIS Scholar-Teacher of the Year, Professor Esser has been a non-resident Fellow at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) in 2017-18; 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 worked as an International Civil Servant with UNESCAP (Bangkok) and UNDP (New York). Prof. Esser 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). As a consultant, he has advised the World Bank, the OECD, USAID, the Federal Government of Germany, FLACSO, and CARE International on program planning and has led evaluations of multi-million donor portfolios, most recently on subnational governance in Afghanistan and on the impact of external actors in Pakistan.


PhD, Development Studies; MSc, Development Management (Dist.), London School of Economics and Political Science

Favorite Spot on Campus
Woods-Brown Amphitheater
Favorite Place in Washington DC
Rock Creek Park
Languages Spoken
Spanish, German, and some very rusty French

Download CV (PDF)

SIS-School of Intl Service
SIS - 221
Weekly office hours are held on Wednesday afternoons and also on Thursdays in the early evening. Students must sign up online; no walk-ins, please. Access the SCHEDULE via the link to the right ("See Also").
Contact Info
(202) 885-1892 (Office)

Send email to Daniel Esser

For the Media
To request an interview for a news story, call AU Communications at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.
See Also
Prof. Esser's office hours sign-up sheet
Prof. Esser's teaching evaluations (2006-)


  • Spring 2018

    • SISU-340 Topics in Global Inequalty/Dev: Religion, Security & Devel
    • Description
  • Fall 2018

    • HNRS-200 Honors Inquiry I: Trans Migratn/Urban Exp in DC
    • Description
    • HNRS-200 Honors Inquiry I: Trans Migratn/Urban Exp in DC
    • Description

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Selected Publications

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • Copenhagen Business School, Governing Responsible Business (GRB) Fellow (2017-18)
  • SIS Scholar-Teacher of the Year (2015)
  • Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Academic Resident (2013)
  • SSRC Program on Drugs, Security and Development (DSD), Research Fellow (2012-13)
  • MIT Special Program for Urban and Regional Studies (SPURS), Research Fellow (2003-2004)
  • LSE Development Studies Institute, Best Performance Prize (2003)
  • LSE Graduate School, Graduate Merit Award (2002)
  • Carlo Schmid Program (Robert Bosch Foundation, DAAD, German National Academic Foundation), Research Fellow in the International Labour Office's Job Creation and Enterprise Development Department (2001-02)

Professional Presentations

  • Conditions for International Legitimacy in Indigenous Policy Processes: Comparing Afghanistan’s Provincial Budgeting Policy and Sub-National Governance Policy, presentation at the Annual Meeting of the Development Studies Association, Oxford, 10–12 Sept. 2016.
  • Wrestling with Weber in Kabul: Legitimacy and Violence in Contemporary Afghanistan, presentation at the Zentrum für interdisziplinäre Forschung’s conference on “Violent Conflictitions”, Bielefeld, 2–4 June 2016.
  • Ending Area Studies’ Eternal Crisis? Existential Phenomenology, Pragmatism and Inductive Theory Development, presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, San Francisco, CA, 29 March–2 April 2016.
  • A Scalar Critique of Resilience: Global Discourse, National Policies, Local Practices, presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, Chicago, IL, 21–25 April 2015.
  • Containing Violence in Karachi and Kabul, invited lecture at the International Expert Forum on Peacebuilding, Cape Town, 17 April 2015.
  • Strengthening Accountabilities in the Sustainable Development Goals: Shifting the Focus to Donors (with Y. Ha), presentation at the 3rd Annual International and Interdisciplinary Conference at Middlebury College, Middlebury, VT, 12–14 March 2015.
  • TED Talks on International Development: Science Communication, ‘Digital Solutionism’ and the Technopolitics of Popular Mobilization (with T. Denskus), presentation at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 28–31 August 2014.
  • Urban Violence and Armed Conflicts: Cities as Hubs, Symbols, Stages and Prey, invited lecture and workshop at the United States Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group (CSA SSG), Arlington, VA, 27 August 2014.
  • Poverty, Faith and Victimization: Catalysts of Collective Action Amid Violence in Ciudad Juárez, 2008-2012, presentation at the Annual Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Chicago, IL, 21–24 May 2014.

Grants and Sponsored Research

  • AU School of International Service, Conference Travel Award (2013)
  • Social Science Research Council, DSD Fellowship (2012-2013)
  • AU School of International Service, Conference Travel Award (2012)
  • AU International Travel Award for Faculty (2012)
  • AU School of International Service, Dean's Summer Research Award (2012)
  • AU School of International Service, Summer Research Grant (2011)
  • AU School of International Service, Summer Research Grant (2010)
  • German National Academic Foundation, Doctoral Grant for top 1% of German doctoral students (2004-2006)
  • Mellon-MIT Program on NGOs and Forced Migration, Research Grant (2004)
  • Economic and Social Research Council, +3 Award for Doctoral Studies (2003-2007)
  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Doctoral Stipend for the UK (2003-04)
  • European Recovery Program, Pre-doctoral Grant (2003-04)
  • Sir Richard Stapley Educational Trust, Grant for research students (2003; declined)
  • German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Grant for UK graduate school fees (2002-03)

Congressional Testimony

  • "Governance in Sierra Leone," (with D. Keen) pre-visit briefing of the UK House of Commons’ International Development Committee, London, 2 February 2006.

Professional Certifications

  • Certificate: Mediation and Participatory Processes (Program on Negotiation), Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA (May 2004)

AU Expert

Area of Expertise:

Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, Mexico, global health, local governance, complex emergencies, post-conflict reconstruction, aid effectiveness, program evaluation, United Nations, development effectiveness, NGOs

Additional Information:

Daniel Esser's research has been published in leading academic journals, including World Development, Ethics and International Affairs, Environment and Urbanization, Critical Planning, and the Journal of Business Ethics, among others. Esser investigates development effectiveness in the context of local, national and global policies and programs. He focuses on three research areas: [1] local (in particular urban) governance in the context of armed conflict, [2] global health agenda-setting and resource allocation, and [3] discourses as frames for global development policies.

Media Relations
To request an interview please call AU Media Relations at 202-885-5950 or submit an interview request form.