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Global Identity an Uncertain World: A Study of Social Attitudes at an International UAE University

in collaboration with the United Arab Emirates University and NYU Abu Dhabi 

LSE PI: Dr Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington
Co-PI: Dr Christian Haerpfer, Dr PJ Henry 
Duration: August 2019 – December 2022

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A graduation ceremony at NYU Abu Dhabi. Photo: NYU Abu Dhabi. 

The recent resurgence of nationalist sentiment from India to Brazil and across the industrialised West has marked a decline in the universalist, internationalist attitudes assumed naturally to accompany globalisation. What emerges is a common pattern of the displacement of purely economic concerns with population concerns that are more cultural in nature: unease around notions such as identity, values, and recognition. This project considers how such social psychological processes are developing in the next generation of young leaders across the world, and what kinds of environments might foster a liberal, globalist outlook, just as it shows signs of being in retreat.

The project studies high achievers from a range of countries in a unique setting: New York University Abu Dhabi, a UAE-based campus of a leading US university that offers highly competitive, fully funded places to students recruited with the goal of global representation. The result is a highly diverse student body (representing more than 120 countries) and socioeconomic background (almost one fifth first-generation college students). This makes it an ideal test case for the ability of exposure to liberal values and multicultural settings to develop a cosmopolitan outlook in a critical period of identity and attitudinal development: the young adult years.

The project team will survey all members of the NYUAD classes enrolling in 2020–21 and 2021–22, as they enter and then at six-to-nine-month intervals over the course of their studies. The survey will assess the family background and worldviews that students bring with them to university and combine these with measurement of activities and experiences on campus, to understand the over-time development and crystallisation of values, social identity, and sociopolitical attitudes. In order to systematically assess this international dimension with a benchmark of national-level attitudes of countries of origin, data from the student survey will be compared with the World Values Survey, a cross-national study of values and attitudes conducted with representative samples from almost 100 countries.

This project forms part of the Academic Collaboration with Arab Universities Programme, funded by the Emirates Foundation.


Research Team

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Dr Jennifer Sheehy-Skeffington | Principal Investigator 

Jennifer is Assistant Professor of Social Psychology at the LSE, specialises in the psychology of social attitudes and identities.

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Dr PJ Henry | Co-Principal Investigator

PJ Henry is Associate Professor of Psychology, founding faculty member at New York University Abu Dhabi, and an expert in the study of prejudice and stigma. 

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Dr Christian W Haerpfer | Co-Principal Investigator

Christian is President of World Values Survey Association, Professor of Sociology at the Department of Government and Society at the United Arab Emirates University, and Director of the Eurasia Barometer.

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