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, political and ethical dimensions of learning.

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 enact alternative social relations. 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. She is particularly concerned with the forms of pedagogical mediation and developmental trajectories that take shape within these settings. Vossoughi’s research therefore focuses on the following key phenomena: apprenticeship and joint activity; language and literacy practices; play and creativity; the subjective experience of educational dignity and indignity; the tensions and possibilities of political education; and the micro-genetic (moment-to-moment and day-to-day) development of scientific, social analytic and artistic discourse and practice.

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. As the daughter of Iranian immigrants, she is personally invested in the design and study of educational settings for youth from migrant, immigrant and diasporic backgrounds. 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:

Learning, Literacies & Political Education: Political education provides an essential context for young people to critically analyze their lived experiences as tied to broader socio-political systems, and to consider their role as historical actors. This strand of work focuses on moment-to-moment processes of mediation and learning within political education, including how epistemic openness can be enacted to support dynamic forms of social analysis, reading and writing. I define epistemic openness as the pedagogical practice of an intellectual generosity that privileges multiple sources of authority and meaning, and treats difference, tension, and dissent as resources for the development of more complex analyses (Roseberry, et. al., 2010; Talero, 2008). This work is grounded in two settings: The UCLA Migrant Student Leadership Institute (MSLI), and the SESP Leadership Institute (SLI), two summer academic programs serving first generation and low-income students. Currently, we are looking closely at the role of written feedback in students’ development as creative scholarly writers within SLI. More broadly, I am interested in how socio-cultural theories of learning can deepen and expand critical pedagogies, and how key concepts in critical pedagogy can deepen and expand our theories of learning.

Making/Tinkering, Embodied Learning & Educational Justice: This project is rooted in a partnership between the Exploratorium and Boys & Girls Clubs serving communities of color in San Francisco. I have been working with Meg Escudé (Director of the Tinkering After-School Program or TAP) over a five-year period to study the development of after-school tinkering settings. Tinkering activities are designed to contextualize scientific concepts and practices in meaningful activity; emphasize play, iteration, and the arts; and support multiple ways of knowing. This research focuses on the nature of teaching and learning in the context of tinkering/making, the ways these settings design for educational justice, and the shifts in participation and identity that emerge among participants over an extended period of time. Based on the hands-on, collaborative nature of tinkering activities, our research on TAP has also led us to center the embodied dimensions of human learning. While all learning is, in a sense, “embodied,” our use of this term highlights both the physical, gestural, and material dimensions of learning interactions, and the kinds of ethical and pedagogical values expressed therein. We argue that patterns in embodied interactions are consequential to the distribution of knowledge in a setting, and to the ways children come to experience themselves as competent and respected thinkers. Lastly, through a new project that involves interviewing artists and engineers outside the West who take a political approach to making, we are working to understand the intersections of political critiques and values and scientific/technical processes. This project is aimed at the development of learning environments that design for rich intersections between invention, artistic activity, socio-political and decolonial concerns. Our research on tinkering has been supported by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Spencer/NAEd post-doctoral fellowship, and the SESP Global Initiative.

Learning & Educational Dignity: Under the leadership of Dr. Manuel Espinoza and in collaboration with Dr. Mike Rose, this project seeks to develop an empirical framework for studying the nexus of learning, dignity, and educational rights. We define dignity as the multifaceted sense of a person’s value generated via substantive educational experiences that recognize and cultivate one’s mind, humanity, and creative potential. These experiences are generated and guided by particular things teachers and students say and do in interaction, and those linguistic and interactional moves can be charted and analyzed. The sense of fuller “humanness” and growth that results from such encounters is in line with discussions of dignity in the literature on human rights and could establish the ground for legal arguments regarding education as a fundamental right (Espinoza, Vossoughi & Rose, Under Review). We have also investigated 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 (Espinoza & Vossoughi, 2014).

Participatory Design Research: Research that meaningfully supports educational design and practice requires deep engagement with the needs and expertise of educators, children/youth and families. To this end, I have collaborated with Dr. Megan Bang to articulate the contours of Participatory Design Research (PDR), a design-based methodology that draws from social design experiments (Gutiérrez & Vossoughi, 2010), formative interventions (Engeström, 2011), and community based design research (Bang. et. al., 2016). Key concerns within PDR include the power-laden relationships between researchers and “the researched,” the conditions that help transform these relations, the need to document and study processes of partnering themselves, and related questions of ethics and sustainability. Drawing on PDR methodology, I have recently developed a partnership with a Chicago-based Iranian school, and carried out a series of design circles with parents. These circles focused on identifying the educational needs of families in the Iranian diaspora, particularly in a context of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment. This work is part of the University of Washington’s Family Leadership Design Collaborative.

In collaboration with Dr. Kris Gutiérrez, I also consider how developments in multi-sited ethnography offer tools for studying the ways learning unfolds across distinct and sometimes incongruent settings, and challenging the imposition of normative cultural categories on the learning experiences of non-dominant youth. Such “multi-sited sensibilities” inquire into the ways people, ideas, tools, artifacts and questions move and become reconstituted across the boundaries of school, home, and community spaces. This work productively complicates notions of “transfer” by considering how context is consequential to the recognition and leveraging of relevant intellectual practices, and the complex role of power and agency in what gets carried forward from particular learning experiences, when, how, and toward what ends.

These strands of research share a common concern with challenging deficit ideologies, foregrounding everyday activity and studying the transformative potential of well-designed learning ecologies. I am also increasingly drawn to the aesthetic dimensions of educational ethnography, including the role of the arts in interpreting and representing learning interactions, and the ways aesthetics shape the experience of learning itself.


  • 2019 - AERA Division C Jan Hawkins Award for Early Career Contributions to Humanistic Research and Scholarship in Learning Technologies
  • 2018 - Spencer Foundation Scholar in Residence
  • 2016 - Outstanding Professor Award, Northwestern University School of Education & Social Policy
  • 2016 - NAEd/Spencer Post Doctoral Fellowship
  • 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 - UCLA Leigh Burstein Prize for Academic Achievement & Service
  • 2009 - UC All Campus Consortium for Research on Diversity (UC ACCORD) Dissertation Year Fellowship
  • 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., Jackson, A., Chen, S., Roldan, W. & Escude, M. (January, 2020). Embodied Pathways and Ethical Trails: Studying Learning in and through Relational Histories . Journal of the Learning Sciences .
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Sengupta-Irving, T. & Vossoughi, S. (April, 2019). Not in their name: re-interpreting discourses of STEM learning through the subjective experiences of minoritized girls. Race, Ethnicity & Education : 479-501.

Vossoughi, S. & Vakil, S. (April, 2018). Toward What Ends? A Critical Analysis of Militarism, Equity & STEM Education in Ali, A. & Buenavista, T. , Education at War  Fordham University Press.
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Vossoughi, S. & Rodela, K. (January, 2018). Re-Writing Race, Class, and the "culture of poverty:" Ethnographic Work by Eleanor Leacock, 1959-1980. Diaspora, Indigenous & Minority Education: 1-7.
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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
2020 American Educational Research Journal Editorial Board Member
2015 Mind, Culture & Activity Editorial Board Member
2015 Language Arts Editorial Board Member

Last Updated: 2020-02-21 11:37:48