Shirin Vossoughi

Shirin Vossoughi

Assistant Professor, Learning Sciences


Prior to joining the Learning Sciences Faculty at Northwestern University in 2014, Shirin Vossoughi was a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University and the Exploratorium, where she led an ethnographic study of after-school programs that blend scientific inquiry, literacy and the arts. More broadly, she draws on a range of interpretive methods to study the social, historical and political dimensions of learning and educational equity.

Bringing together the ethnographic study of talk and interaction with cultural-historical approaches to learning, Vossoughi seeks to integrate macro-political concerns (the roots of educational inequity, transnational migration, neoliberalism) with detailed studies of educational settings that imagine and inhabit alternative social relations. Focal constructs therefore include: apprenticeship, collaboration and assistance; language and literacy; play and creativity; the genesis of community and solidarity; the subjective experience of educational inequity and intellectual respect; the tensions and possibilities of political education; and the development of scientific, social analytic and artistic discourse and practice.  

Vossoughi’s research centers on hybrid learning environments that blend formal and informal elements and support young people to engage in sophisticated forms of disciplinary thinking while questioning and expanding disciplinary boundaries. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, she is also personally invested in the development and study of educational settings for youth from migrant, immigrant and diasporic backgrounds. 

Vossoughi has taught in schools, after-school and summer programs, and served as the director of a summer camp for youth in the Iranian diaspora. She has also designed and taught university-level courses on culture, learning, ethnography and social theory. She takes a collaborative approach to research, partnering with teachers and students to study the conditions that foster educational dignity and possibility. 

Current projects:

The Migrant Student Leadership Institute
: This project uses micro-ethnographic analysis of classroom discourse to study students’ shifting participation in a summer academic program for high school age migrant youth. Building on my dissertation research, I consider how particular social relations, forms of assistance and pedagogical talk created the conditions for students to meaningfully engage in complex literacy practices and social analysis. Grounded in the theoretical traditions of Lev Vygtosky and Paulo Freire, these findings contribute to a growing set of projects aimed at leveraging and extending the linguistic, cultural and intellectual resources students bring to the classroom.

The Tinkering After-School Program: This project is a partnership between the Exploratorium and Boys & Girls Clubs in low-income urban communities in San Francisco. I have been working with Meg Escudé (Director of the Tinkering After-School Program) over a three-year period to study the development of tinkering settings that blend scientific inquiry, literacy and the arts. This research focuses on the nature of teaching and learning in the after-school settings, the ways these settings design for equity, and the shifts in participation and identity that emerge among participants over an extended period of time. Our analysis pushes back on discourses that treat equity (only) as a matter of expanding access among underrepresented communities without critically engaging with the history and purposes of scientific activity. More specifically, we ask: What counts as scientific? Are multiple ways of knowing supported or marginalized? When and how do STEM practices become meaningful tools? Toward what ends are students encouraged to engage in scientific inquiry and ingenuity? We are also investigating the methodological dimensions of this project, including the role of multi-sited methodologies, the tensions and possibilities of video research on learning and the development of collaboration across researchers and educators. This project was funded by the Gordan and Betty Moore Foundation. PI: Shirin Vossoughi, Co-PI: Meg Escudé.  

The Right to Learn Project:
 Under the leadership of Dr. Manuel Espinoza, this project looks at the historical and everyday emergence of “educational rights.” We are currently investigating the ways educational rights are affirmed, negated, and produced not only through the law, but through an evolving spectrum of educational activities embedded in everyday life. We are examining sectors of the African American and Chicana/o histories of education for evidence of these historically significant learning experiences. Utilizing a repertoire of analytic tools derived from the philosophy and anthropology of education, we argue that before educational rights become actionable legal goods they are pragmatic units of value held in common by social actors.

“Culture of Poverty” Discourses
: In collaboration with Dr. Ray McDermott, this strand of work considers the history and contemporary manifestations of “culture of poverty” discourses. In a series of books starting in 1959, anthropologist Oscar Lewis used the term “culture of poverty” not just to describe, but to explain the behavior of poor people in Mexico, Puerto Rico, and New York. Between 1965-1975, powerful critiques of culture of poverty theorizing emerged in anthropology, sociolinguistics, ethnographic psychology and literature. This project redirects the power of earlier critiques to the present situation, working to develop an analytic language that stresses the ongoing interaction of people and their multi-layered environments. 

These projects share a common concern with challenging deficit views, foregrounding everyday activity and studying the transformative potential of well-designed learning ecologies. 


  • 2016 - NAEd/Spencer Post Doctoral Fellowship
  • 2016 - Outstanding Professor Award, Northwestern University School of Education & Social Policy
  • 2013 - Presidential Early Career Fellowship, Council of Anthropology and Education, American Anthropological Association
  • 2010 - AERA Division K Inaugural Award for Innovations in Research on Diversity in Teacher Education
  • 2009 - UC All Campus Consortium for Research on Diversity (UC ACCORD) Dissertation Year Fellowship
  • 2009 - UCLA Leigh Burstein Prize for Academic Achievement & Service
  • 2008 - UCLA Distinguished TA/Special Reader Award
  • 2005 - UCLA Eugene V. Cota-Robles Fellowship



Year Degree Institution
2014 Post-doctoral Fellowship Stanford University & Exploratorium
2011 PhD, Education University of California, Los Angeles
2006 EdM, Education University of California, Los Angeles
2002 BA, History and International Development University of California, Los Angeles

Selected Publications

Vossoughi, S. (April, 2017). Access and Equity in Out-of-School Learning in Peppler, K. (Ed.), The SAGE Encyclopedia of Out-of-School Learning (pp. 1-5). SAGE.
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The Politics of Learning Writing Collective (March, 2017). The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism. Cognition & Instruction : 1-12.
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Vossoughi, S. & Gutiérrez, K. (December, 2016). Critical Pedagogy and Sociocultural Theory in Esmonde, Indigo & Booker, Angela N. , Power and Privilege in the Learning Sciences  (pp. 139-161). Routledge .
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Vossoughi, S., Hooper, P. & Escudé, M. (June, 2016). Making through the lens of culture and power: Towards transformative visions for educational equity. Harvard Educational Review: 206-232.
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Bang, M. & Vossoughi, S. (May, 2016). Participatory Design Research and Educational Justice: Studying Learning and Relations within Social Change Making. Cognition & Instruction: 173-193.
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Vossoughi, S. & Escudé, M. (March, 2016). What does the Camera Communicate? An Inquiry into the Politics and Possibilities of Video Research on Learning. Anthropology & Education Quarterly .
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Vossoughi, S. & Escudé, M. (April, 2015). Grappling with Equity and Gaze. Digital Media & Learning Blog.

Cole, M. & Vossoughi, S. (February, 2015). Confronting the Home-Field Disadvantage. Mind, Culture & Activity : 78-84.
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Vossoughi, S. (January, 2015). Intellectual Respect: Envisioning Alternative Educational Possibilities. Equity Alliance Blog.

Vossoughi, S. & Gutiérrez, K. (November, 2014). Studying movement, hybridity, and change: Toward a multi-sited sensibility for research on learning across contexts and borders in Learning in and Across Contexts: Reimagining Education (pp. 603-632). NSSE: National Society for the Study of Education.
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Vossoughi, S. (October, 2014). Social analytic artifacts made concrete: A study of learning and political education. Mind, Culture and Activity: 353-373.
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Vossoughi, S. & Bevan, B. (October, 2014). Making and Tinkering: A Review of the Literature. National Research Council Committee on Out of School Time STEM: 1-55.
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Espinoza, M., & Vossoughi, S. (September, 2014). Perceiving learning anew: Social interaction, dignity and educational rights. Harvard Educational Review: 285-313.
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Booker, A., Vossoughi, S., Hooper, P. (2014). Tensions and possibilities for political work in the learning sciences. Proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences.
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Vossoughi, S. & Espinoza, M. (2014). Boal's children: Theatre for the people. Bta'arof: 50-53.
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Vossoughi, S., Escudé, M., Kong, F. & Hooper, P. (October, 2013). Tinkering, learning and equity in the after-school setting. FabLearn Conference Proceedings, Stanford University.
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Vossoughi, S. (August, 2011). Inhabiting the possible: Pedagogy & solidarity at Camp Ayandeh. Jadaliyya.

Gutiérrez, K. & Vossoughi, S. (2010). Lifting off the ground to return anew: Mediated praxis, transformative learning and social design experiments. Journal of Teacher Education : 100-117.
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Research Interests

Ethnographic study of teaching, learning and educational equity; social, cultural, historical and political dimensions of human development.


Editorial Boards

Year Journal Name Position
2015 Mind, Culture & Activity Editorial Board Member
2015 Language Arts Editorial Board Member

Last Updated: 2017-04-11 22:07:52