PhD position ‘Corruption in the era of the ‘ethical policy’: private businesses and labour regimes (1870s-1920s)’

PhD position ‘Corruption in the era of the ‘ethical policy’: private businesses and labour regimes (1870s-1920s)’

Published Deadline Location
19 Sep 10 Oct Amsterdam

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Would you like to become part of an international team of researchers and NGOs from The Netherlands and Indonesia in the field of history and good governance? Please apply for this position at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Job description

Your PhD research, which is to result in a dissertation, concerns corruption in the era of the ‘ethical policy’ with a focus on the role of private businesses and labour regimes in the late colonial state of the Netherlands East Indies and the Netherlands (1870s-1920s). Concessions to private businesses caused conflicts and scandals, in terms of: the conditions on which they were granted by the colonial administration to one entrepreneur, but not the other; arrangements that were made with local self-governing rulers; recruitment policies and work conditions for Chinese and Javanese indentured labourers; granted tax privileges; the ‘exorbitant’ profits that were made and how entrepreneurs used their powers in relation to their workers. These issues were at the heart of a series of colonial scandals (e.g. Pangka-scandal 1860s; Billiton-scandal 1882-1892; Deli-scandal 1902). Scandals and investigations like the Mindere Welvaartrapporten were used to set norms, for example about the meaning of public and private duties.

You will develop a research project starting from the following umbrella questions: a) What was at stake, in terms of legitimate rule, in the many debates about corruption that were related to the granting of concessions for plantations and mining activities
b) How was the (mis)use of the rights and powers of these companies, as reflected in public debates and formal investigations, addressed, both in the Netherlands East Indies and in the Netherlands?
In concrete terms, processes of granting concessions, political-administrative investigations into (mis)uses of concession-rights and related public/media debates will be analysed and discussed in an international comparative perspective by looking at media sources, and corporate, political and colonial archives in the Netherlands and Indonesia.

Your duties
  • collect and analyse information about colonial corruption in the era of the ethical policy
  • present and discuss preliminary research results in the form of papers at seminars and conferences
  • communicate via social and other popular media about the research results
  • organize workshops and conferences with team members and partners in the Netherlands, Indonesia and other countries
  • complete a dissertation
  • dedicate some time to teaching at the Faculty of Humanities


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)


  • a completed research MA or equivalent in History (political, colonial and/or economic history) or a related field,
  • demonstrable affinity with the topic and with scientific research
  • outstanding organizational and analytical skills, communicational skills (including social media), ability to work in a team, and excellence in written and spoken Dutch and English
  • willingness to learn Bahasa-Indonesia at the level of passive basic knowledge
  • ability to work collaboratively in an international research team

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 1 year.

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,325 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €2,972 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for 1 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a total duration of 4 years.
Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:
  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package
  • a wide range of sports facilities which staff may use at a modest charge
You will participate in the VU Humanities Graduate School as well as in national and international PhD networks. You will get an office at the Department of Art and Culture, History, and Antiquity (AHA), Faculty of Humanities, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam where you will spend most of your time. In Indonesia UGM in Yogyakarta will be your ‘home base’.


The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. And to be a university where personal education and societal involvement play a leading role. Where people from different disciplines and backgrounds work together on innovations and on generating new knowledge. Our teaching and research embrace the whole spectrum of science – from the humanities, the social sciences and the pure sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 24,500 students. We employ more than 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible, located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

Diversity is one of our university’s core values. We are an inclusive community, and we believe that diversity and international activities enhance the quality of education and research. We are always looking for people who can enhance diversity on our campus thanks to their background and experience.

Faculty of Humanities
The Faculty of Humanities links a number of fields of study: Language, Literature and Communication, Art & Culture, History, Antiquities and Philosophy. Our teaching and research focus on current societal and scientific themes: from artificial intelligence to visual culture, from urbanization to the history of slavery, from ‘fake news’ in journalism to communication in organizations. We strive to ensure small group sizes. Innovative education and interdisciplinary research are our hallmarks.

Working at the Faculty of Humanities means making a real contribution to the quality of leading education and research in an inspiring and personal work and study climate. We employ more than 250 staff members, and we are home to around 1,300 students.

About the project
You will work in an international team of researchers, within the context of the NWO-funded Open Competitie programme ‘Colonial Normativity - Corruption and difference in colonial and postcolonial histories of empire and nations 1870s-2010s’. This programme compares the role of corruption in Dutch and Indonesian histories of state-formation with a focus on intersecting moments of entanglement around 1900, 1945 and 1970. Contemporary corruption is often linked to the history of colonial state formation, but how they relate has never systematically been researched. With Indonesian/Dutch history as a starting point, this programme will link historical analysis to contemporary corruption indices, as those of Transparency International.  

To address these issues, the programme is divided into four subprojects:
Subproject 1 Corruption in the era of the ‘ethical policy’: concessions to private businesses and labour regimes (1870s-1920s)
Subproject 2 Fighting corrupt colonialism: the nationalist movement and the formation of the independent Indonesian state (1920s-1950s)
Subproject 3 IGHGI and corruption in development discourses (1960s-1990s)
Subproject 4 Corruption in the contemporary world of global good governance (1990s-2010s)


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2325—€2972 per month
  • University graduate
  • 1348


Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU)

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De Boelelaan 1105, 1081 HV, Amsterdam

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