PhD Structured Content Analysis of Public Interest cases in NL, the US, South Africa & India

PhD Structured Content Analysis of Public Interest cases in NL, the US, South Africa & India

Published Deadline Location
29 Nov 29 Jan Tilburg

You cannot apply for this job anymore (deadline was 29 Jan 2022).

Browse the current job offers or choose an item in the top navigation above.

Job description

The project
The selected candidate will contribute to the research project “Supreme Courts in Quest for Legitimacy in Public Interest Cases”. This PhD project is part of the NWO project led by prof. dr. R.A.J. van Gestel and prof. dr. M.A. Loth intends to contribute to the scholarly debate on the methodology of judicial law making in a globalizing world. The research project focuses on public interest litigation in cases with potentially far-reaching consequences that go well beyond the individual case. Supreme court decisions in public interest cases are increasingly under attack for invading the political domain. This can be illustrated by the Urgenda climate change case, where the Dutch government was ordered to reduce CO2-emissions by 25% in 2020. This ruling invoked the criticism that the court violated the separation of powers doctrine. The proposed research focuses on the response of highest courts in different jurisdictions to this criticism: how do highest courts find or construct legitimacy in PIL-cases? What arguments, methods and strategies do they use? What conceptions of the separation of powers doctrine do they hold? What ideas do they have concerning their lawmaking role in a democracy? In the proposed study, we want to investigate these questions by (empirically) investigating the arguments, methods and strategies supreme courts actually use and follow in PIL-cases. For this purpose, we use a blend of methods, varying from literature reviews, case law analysis, comparative law, and case studies in four jurisdictions (the Netherlands, South-Africa, the US, and India) with different judicial traditions concerning PIL. The findings will contribute both to theory: separation of powers, lawfinding, and concepts of legitimacy and to practice (guidelines for highest courts to follow which strategy under what circumstances). Moreover, this research opens a horizon for further research on judicial behavior in PIL cases in other jurisdictions.


Job description
The PhD position plays a key role in the project holding a combination of comparative law and structured content analysis of PIL-cases in four jurisdictions. On the basis of a qualitative case law analysis and literature review conducted by postdocs from the US, South Africa, and India, the PhD in close cooperation with the project leaders will develop hypothesis that are going to be tested via a structured content analysis of the case of the Supreme Courts in the three selected jurisdictions that are going to be compared with the situation in The Netherlands. This analysis is supposed to shed light on the arguments, methods and strategies do the Supreme Courts use to justify their decisions in PIL-cases. It is highly likely that the total amount of cases is too big to study. In that case a selection of cases will be made concerning: 


  1. public health (e.g. socio-economic rights to food and housing); 
  2. environmental protection (e.g. biodiversity, industrial pollution, climate change); 
  3. equal treatment (e.g. discrimination of minority groups); 
  4. democratic rights (e.g. voting rights, access to government information and integrity of the political system). 


As O’Callaghan (O’ Callaghan 2020) has shown, structured content analysis can be a valid method to uncover the state of beliefs, values, and ideologies that judges express via their written opinions, although one should bear in mind there is a difference between judicial systems with and without dissenting opinions in this respect. This means that the PhD will need to code the case law and use software to systematically study the selected cases. Based on the outcomes of this analysis, the PhD will help to develop a questionnaire for the interviews with judges in the four jurisdictions. The results of the interviews will also be transcribed and coded an analyzed systematically in order to be compared with the outcomes of the case law analysis. This should offer the PhD sufficient input to compare the “law in the books” (the written judicial decisions) with “the law in action” (the way judges think about their methods and strategies to decide PIL-cases). Overall, this PhD project should be able to offer more clarity as to the level of policymaking and methodological creativity used by courts in PIL-cases across jurisdictions. Hence the project offers an important building block for theory-building with regard to judicial lawmaking in these types of cases.

Research (0,8 fte)

  • Actively contribute to the operationalization of the research project ‘Supreme Courts in Quest for Legitimacy in Public Interest Cases’
  • Pursue academically path-breaking research leading to an excellent PhD dissertation
  • Participate in the Tilburg Graduate Law School courses and activities.
  • Be an active member of the department by participating in and organizing events and activities, presenting and discussing research output within the department, and representing the department outside Tilburg University. 

Organisation (0,2 FTE)

  • The PhD offers hands on support to the project leaders with regard to developing a questionnaire and interview protocols and transcribing and coding the interviews
  • The PhD will need to keep close contact with the post docs in the US, South Africa and India and with other foreign contact persons in the project.
  • The PhD will fulfill practical support in the organization of especially the interviews and case studies.


Tilburg University


Tilburg University believes that academic excellence is achieved through the combination of outstanding research and education, in which social impact is made by sharing knowledge. In doing so, we recognize that excellence is not only achieved through individual performance, but mostly through team effort in which each team member acts as a leader connecting people. 



  • Have completed (or will complete by the end of March/April) a Master in Law. Research Master’s program students are especially encouraged to apply and so do students with a taste for political science research.
  • Have to be familiar with empirical legal methods in general and structured content analysis in particular.
  • Have a strong interest in doing research and is able to formulate views, ideas and concepts based upon complex information, as well as construct conceptual frameworks or models.
  • Have good planning and organizing skills because they are necessary to complete your PhD research in the total period of time. 
  • Be able to undertake certain administrative duties autonomously 
  • Be able and willing to work in a team and undertake administration tasks. 
  • Be proactive and accountable, able to prioritize across responsibilities, and manage varied commitments. 
  • Have excellent interpersonal, as well as strong and effective communication skills. 
  • Have perfect command of English. Knowledge of Dutch would be an asset, but is not required. 
  • Be available to start working as soon as possible and no later than April / May 2022. 
  • Be present at Tilburg University during working hours, and commit to integrate in the environment provided by DPLG/DPBLL and the Tilburg Law School. 

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 years.

Tilburg University offers excellent terms of employment. We believe flexibility, development, and good employee benefits are very important. We make clear agreements on career paths and offer all kinds of facilities and schemes to maintain an optimum balance between work and private life. Tilburg University fosters diversity and inclusion; that is why we pursue an active policy for inclusive teams where diverse talents can flourish.


The starting gross salary varies between € 2.434,= and € 3.111,= gross per month (full time) based on scale P of the Collective Labor Agreement Dutch Universities. Tilburg University actively promotes equal and transparent salary between men and women by strictly applying predetermined parameters based on the candidate’s experience. Employees recruited from abroad may be eligible for the 30% tax facility- this means that 30% of your salary will be paid as a tax-free reimbursement.


Tilburg University offers you an employment agreement which will initially be for a fixed period of 16 months with a statutory probationary period of two months. After 12 months, an evaluation will take place. If the performance evaluation is positive, your employment agreement will be extended for the remaining period of 32 months. 


You are entitled to a holiday allowance amounting to 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% of your gross yearly income. If you work 40 hours per week, you receive 41 days of paid recreational leave per year.


Please visit Working at Tilburg University for more information on our employment conditions. 


Tilburg University

Under the motto of ‘Understanding society’, Tilburg University’s more than 1,500 employees develop knowledge, transfer it to others, and bring people from various disciplines and organizations together. In this way, we want to contribute to solving complex social issues. Our focus areas are economics, business and entrepreneurship, social and behavioral sciences, law and public administration, the humanities and digital sciences, and theology. Tilburg University is internationally known for its high standards in education and scientific research, as well as its good support facilities. The Tilburg University campus offers both quietness and connectivity as it is located in a wooded park, ten minutes away from the city center, main highways, and railways. A mid-sized city of 200,000 inhabitants in the South of the Netherlands, and in proximity to cities like Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris, and London, Tilburg is situated at the very heart of Western Europe. 


Tilburg Law School offers highly ranked national and international education and research in law and public administration. Currently, almost 4,000 students are enrolled at Tilburg Law School. Students in Tilburg can choose from five Bachelor's programs, one of which is taught in English (Bachelor Global Law) and ten Master's programs, eight of which are taught in English. The international orientation of Tilburg Law School is reflected in these Bachelor's and Master's programs. The research conducted within Tilburg Law School is aimed at social relevance and provides students with the tools and skills to study and deal with current issues at an academic level. The research within Tilburg Law School is organized into four cross-departmental Signature plans: 1) Connecting Organizations; 2) Global Law and Governance; 3) Law and Security; 4) Regulating Socio-Technical Change. Furthermore, TLS conducts three research projects funded by the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science, which are integrate in the signature plans.

For additional information about the Departments Public Law & Governance and Private, Business & Labour Law click here


  • PhD
  • Law
  • max. 40 hours per week
  • University graduate
  • 18751



Warandelaan 2, 5037 AB, Tilburg

View on Google Maps

Interesting for you