- Additional Positions at AU
- Director, Olson Scholars Program
- Faculty Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Center
- Faculty Affiliate, Center for Latin American and Latino Studies
- PhD, Development Studies; MSc, Development Management (Distinction), London School of Economics and Political Science
- Languages Spoken
- Spanish, German, and some very rusty French
- Favorite Spot on Campus
- Woods-Brown Amphitheater
- Favorite Place in Washington DC
- Rock Creek Park
Professor Esser is the 2019 Distinguished Service Awardee of the AAG's Asian Geography Specialty Group and the 2015 SIS Scholar-Teacher of the Year. The director of SIS's Olson Scholars program and a member of American University's Honors Faculty, he also serves as AAG Vice-Chair of Development Geographies. His current research explores the sociology of political legitimacy in contemporary non-democratic settings. Focusing on local-level representation, the project investigates what determines changing perceptions as to who may speak and act legitimately on behalf of others where formal democratic institutions are absent. Earlier fieldwork in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Sierra Leone and Mexico directly informs this new line of inquiry.
Professor 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). He was 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).
His scholarship has been 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. 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.
Honors, Awards, and Fellowships
- Distinguished Service Award, AAG Asian Geography Specialty Group (2019)
- 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)
- Certificate: Mediation and Participatory Processes (Program on Negotiation), Harvard Law School, Cambridge, MA (May 2004)
- "Governance in Sierra Leone" (with D. Keen), pre-visit briefing of the UK House of Commons’ International Development Committee, London, 2 February 2006.
- Blazing Scholarly Ground: From International Studies to Global Studies (with James H. Mittelman), in: C. Hudson (ed.), Revisiting the Global Imaginary: Theories, Ideologies, Subjectivities, London and New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 3-16, 2019.
- "National influence in global health governance: the case of the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development," in: R. Parker and J. Garcia (eds.), Routledge Handbook on the Politics of Global Health, London: Routledge, pp. 219-228, 2018.
- "Transdisciplinarity" (with James H. Mittelman), in: M. Juergensmeyer, S. Sassen, M. Steger and V. Faessel (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Global Studies, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 127-137, 2018.
- "Interventionism and the Fear of Urban Agency in Afghanistan and Iraq," in: M. Kamrava (ed.), Fragile Politics: Weak States in the Greater Middle East, New York: Oxford University Press, pp. 81-97, 2016.
- "Violence and Community Capabilities: Insights for Building Safe and Inclusive Cities in Central America" (with L. Brioso, R. Calderón Umaña, E. Hershberg, M. Montoya, J. P. Pérez Sáinz, K. Salazar and M. Zetino), CLALS Working Paper 8, Washington, DC: Center for Latin American and Latino Studies, 2015.
- "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.
Grants and Sponsored Research
2013–2015: International Development Research Center, co-drafted funding proposal and served as Technical Adviser for “Exclusion, Violence and Communal Responses in Central American Cities”
2012–2013: Social Science Research Research Council, Principal Investigator, “Collective Action Against Urban Violence: Why Some Communities in Ciudad Juárez Succeed and Others Don’t”
The City as Plural: Rights, Resilience, and Collective Power, presentation at the 2018 Trialog e.V. conference on “Resilient Urban Development versus the Right to the City? Actors, Risks and Conflicts in the Light of International Agreements (SDG and NUA) – What can the academia contribute?”, Technical University Dortmund, 7–8 June 2018.
Putting Politics Back into ‘Resilience’, presentation at the second “Human Security and Violence in 21st Century Cities” conference, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 22–24 April 2018.
Social determinants of legitimate governance in non-democratic polities, panel chair at the Annual Meeting of the Development Studies Association, Bradford, 6–8 September 2017.
Patterns and predictors of urban residents’ coping with violent state failure: survey results from Ciudad Juárez following the 2006-2012 Mexican drug war, presentation at the Annual Meeting of the American Association of Geographers, Boston, MA, 5–9 April 2017.
City Governance in Conflict Zones: Putting Politics Back into ‘Resilience’, presentation at the “Confronting Vulnerability & Violence in the Urban Century” conference, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, 13–15 November 2016.
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.
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
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:  local (in particular urban) governance in the context of armed conflict,  global health agenda-setting and resource allocation, and  discourses as frames for global development policies. http://danielesser.org