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Daniel Esser

Associate Professor
School of International Service

  • Additional Positions at AU

    Metropolitan Policy Center Faculty Fellow
    Center for Health, Risk and Society Faculty Affiliate
    Center for Latin American and Latino Studies Faculty Affiliate
  • The 2015 SIS Scholar-Teacher of the Year, Professor 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. Prof. Esser has conducted field research in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, and most recently in 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. Prof. Esser was an Academic Resident at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in June 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 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).
  • Degrees

    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 rusty French

  • SIS-School of Intl Service
  • SIS - 221
  • Prof. Esser is on sabbatical leave from May 2015 until August 2016.

  • (202) 885-1892 (Office)
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    at 202-885-5950 or submit a request.


  • Spring 2015

    • SIS-635 Adv Topics in Development Mgmt: Urban Development
    • Description

Scholarly, Creative & Professional Activities

Selected Publications

  • "Interventionism and the Fear of Urban Agency in Afghanistan and Iraq," in: M. Kamrava (ed.), Fragile Politics: Weak States in the Greater Middle East, London: Hurst, forthcoming (2016).
  • "Countering the Risks of Vocationalisation in Master’s Programmes in International Development" (with T. Denskus), Learning and Teaching: The International Journal of Higher Education in the Social Sciences 8(2), pp. 72-85, 2015.
  • "TED Talks on International Development: Trans-Hegemonic Promise and Ritualistic Constraints" (with T. Denskus), Communication Theory 25(2), pp. 166-187, 2015.
  • "Security Scales: Spectacular and Endemic Violence in Post-Invasion Kabul, Afghanistan," Environment & Urbanization 26(2), pp. 373-388, 2014.
  • "Elusive Accountabilities in the HIV Scale-up: ‘Ownership’ as a Functional Tautology," Global Public Health 9(1-2), pp. 43-56, 2014.
  • "Tracing Poverty and Inequality in International Development Discourses: An Algorithmic and Visual Analysis of Agencies’ Annual Reports and Occasional White Papers, 1978-2010" (with B. J. Williams), Journal of Social Policy 43(1), pp. 173-200, 2014.
  • "The Political Economy of Post-Invasion Kabul, Afghanistan: Urban Restructuring Beyond the North-South Divide," Urban Studies 50(15), pp. 3084-3098, 2013.
  • "Comparable and Yet Context-Sensitive? Improving Evaluation in Violently Divided Societies Through Methodology" (with E. E. VanderKamp), Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 8(2), pp. 42-56, 2013.
  • "Ageing as a Global Public Health Challenge: From Complexity Reduction to Aid Effectiveness" (with P. Ward), Global Public Health 8(7), pp. 745-768, 2013.
  • "Social Media and Global Development Rituals: A Content Analysis of Blogs and Tweets on the 2010 MDG Summit" (with T. Denskus), Third World Quarterly 34(3), pp. 409-424, 2013.
  • "‘When We Launched the Government’s Agenda…’: Aid Agencies and Local Politics in Urban Africa," The Journal of Modern African Studies 50(3), pp. 397-420, 2012.
  • "Does Global Health Funding Respond to Recipients' Needs? Comparing Public and Private Donors' Allocations in 2005-2007" (with K. Keating Bench), World Development 39(8), pp. 1271-1280, 2011.
  • "Postwar Political Restructuring in Freetown and Kabul: Theoretical Limits and the Test Case for Multiscalar Governance," Critical Planning 16, pp. 80-97, 2009.
  • "More Money, Less Cure: Why Global Health Assistance Needs Restructuring," Ethics & International Affairs 23(2), pp. 225-234, 2009.

Honors, Awards, and Fellowships

  • 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), Fellow in the International Labour Office, Job Creation and Enterprise Development Department (2001-02)

Professional Presentations

  • 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.
  • What Determines Collective Action in Violent Cities? Evidence from Survey Research in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, paper presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, 29 August–1 September 2013.
  • Aging as a Global Public Health Challenge: Dimensions of Demographic Divergence in the Global South (with P. S. Ward), paper presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, 29 August–1 September 2013.
  • Practices of Non-violent Collective Action in Ciudad Juarez, paper presented at the Annual Congress of the Latin American Studies Association, Washington, DC, 29 May–1 June 2013.
  • Rapid Urban Growth and Conflict in Asia?Pacific: Fearing Cities or Changing Policies?, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Los Angeles, CA, 9–13 April 2013.
  • Loops, Not Numbers: The Politics of Causal Inference in Peacebuilding Evaluation (with J. L. Junk), paper presented at the 54th Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, San Francisco, CA, 3–6 April 2013.
  • Urban Politics and Post-War Reconstruction in Iraq, presentation given at the Weak States in the Greater Middle East Working Group meeting, Georgetown University, School of Foreign Service in Qatar, 8–9 December 2012.
  • Do Social Media Reproduce or Challenge Global Development Rituals? A Content Analysis of Blogs and Tweets on the 2010 MDG Summit (with T. Denskus), paper accepted the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, New Orleans, LA (panel held virtually due to hurricane Isaac; video is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VyEHgWyqDAM), 30 August-2 September 2012.
  • Systemic Failure: MDG Accountability and Organizational Learning in the United Nations, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, New York, NY, 24–28 February 2012.
  • Chinese Capital in African Cities: Underground, Overground?, paper presented at the conference "The Ground Beneath Our Feet: Building, Living, and Thinking Underground," American University, Washington, DC, 11 November 2011.
  • Security Scales: Situating Endemic Violence in Kabul, Afghanistan, paper presented at Violent Cities: Challenges of Democracy, Development and Governance in the Urban Global South, Watson Institute, Brown University, Providence, RI, 28–29 April 2011.
  • From National Hub to International Hubris: The Overdetermination of Kabul and the New Politics of Scale in Afghanistan, paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, Seattle, WA, 12–16 April 2011.
  • Aid Effectiveness, occasional lecture to newly recruited field staff of USAID’s Office of Democracy and Governance, Washington, DC, November 2010-current.
  • Why Work in International Development Despite the Industry’s Abysmal Track Record?, talk given (in German) as part of a panel on “Taking Initiative for a Better World,” Carlo Schmid Network Annual Meeting, Berlin, 5 November 2010.
  • The Transformative Power of Chinese Investment in Urban Africa: Toward Case Selection (with Du Liang and L. Roe), paper presented at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 2–5 September 2010.
  • How Poverty Trumps Inequality: A Tracer Study of Development Discourse (with B. J. Williams), paper presented at the 106th Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, 2–5 September 2010.

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)
  • Certificate: Aspects of Public International Law (Euromediterranean Courses of International Law), Bancaja International Centre for Peace and Development, Castellón de la Plana, Spain (September 2002)
  • Certificate: External Relations of the European Union (EU International Summer School), Université Libre de Bruxelles with Michigan State University, Brussels, Belgium (July 2001)

AU Expert

Area of Expertise: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone, global health, local governance, complex emergencies, post-conflict reconstruction, aid effectiveness, program evaluation, United Nations

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.

Media Relations
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