PhD Positions in Anthropology for NWO Eco-Imagining Project in South Africa

PhD Positions in Anthropology for NWO Eco-Imagining Project in South Africa

Published Deadline Location
23 Dec 20 Jan Amsterdam

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Job description

Are you interested in doing ethnographic research on issues of urban ecology and climate change in South Africa? Is your ambition to contribute to co-creating real-world solutions for complex socio-ecological problems? Do you want to learn how to do participatory qualitative research and be part of an international, interdisciplinary team?

The Department of Anthropology is one of the departments at the University of Amsterdam’s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. The Department is currently seeking two PhD candidates for the NWO project, Ecological Community Engagements: Imagining sustainability and the water-energy-food nexus in urban South African environments (Eco-Imagining), led by Professor Eileen Moyer. The PhD track is part of the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research (AISSR) programme group Moving Matters.

About the project

Eco-Imagining studies community understandings, responses and actions to regenerate damaged urban ecologies. Working in three sites in South Africa (Johannesburg, Makweng, and Alice), we will engage with current projects on urban farming, local gardening, water and soil pollution, flash flood mitigation and the supply of potable water to co-create models for socially innovative and community-driven urban responses to water, energy and food (WEF Nexus) precarities. 

Many promising ideas to address insecurities of food, water and energy fail at the design stage due to limited institutional support, challenges of scale-up and active actor engagement. Lack of compelling evidence for innovation reflects limited support for bottom-up approaches, hence our commitment to learn from community members, support them to identify local innovations, and to support citizen scientists to generate evidence for policy and programme uptake.

The WEF Nexus framing is an example of systems thinking designed to conceptualise and address the complex interconnection of these related socio-ecological challenges. To date, the WEF Nexus has been primarily utilised to explore the relationship between these vital resources and sustainability of the (global) economy. Efforts to securitise these resources for the future have often been top-down and technocratic, without attention to community priorities, social justice, inclusivity, livelihoods, or environmental issues.

How might the WEF Nexus framing be used to promote inclusive and sustainable urban ecologies through a transdisciplinary, engaged grassroots approach? How can inclusive societal engagement build local participation and action, and contribute to culturally driven and locally sustainable urban ecologies? 

What are you going to do?

As one of two PhD candidates working on the project Ecological Community Engagements: Imagining sustainability and the water-energy-food nexus in urban South African environments (Eco-Imagining), you will do ethnographic research on:

  • public space, infrastructure, and governance, examining public sector and community-led responses to ecological challenges linked to water, energy and good activities;
  • or
  • urban farming practices, focusing on food and water security in one or more of the three study areas.
  • You will be part of a research team consisting of two PhD candidates and a Principal Investigator based at the University of Amsterdam and a post-doc, PhD and Co-Principal Investigator based at the University of Witwatersrand.
  • Your main task will be to develop your own PhD project within the framework of the overall project (for the project description please contact the Principal Investigator).
  • Next to working on your own PhD project, you will contribute to collaborative aspects of the project. This will include collecting data for jointly written publication(s), and lending respective (language) expertise to team members, as well as coordinating the activities of community-based Citizen Eco-Labs.
  • You are expected to conduct in-depth ethnographic fieldwork in one or more of the project field sites in South Africa (Lorentzville, Johannesburg; Makweng; Alice).  
  • For those parts of the employment period in which you will not do fieldwork, you are expected to live in Amsterdam and take active part in team meetings and the research environment at the AISSR.
  • Teaching (up to 10% of your time when you are not on fieldwork) and organizational support for the project leader will be part of your job responsibilities. These tasks will allow you to gain valuable professional experience next to working towards your PhD.
  • Once appointed, you will be affiliated with the AISSR’s organized PhD training programme.
  • Your PhD thesis will be defended at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. PhDs will also have the opportunity to participate in a “sandwich” programme with the University of Witwatersrand.


University of Amsterdam (UvA)


What do we require of you?

  • A Master’s degree or equivalent with a relevant specialization within the social sciences or humanities. Social and Cultural Anthropology, Human Geography, Political Ecology, and African Studies are preferred academic backgrounds. The degree must have been obtained by the time of application.
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English.
  • Familiarity with ethnographic research methods.
  • Independent thinking and critical analytical skills.
  • Good collaboration skills and ability to join transdisciplinary communities.
  • Capability of completing the Ph.D. thesis in four years; i.e., good skills in planning, taking initiative, academic writing.
  • Ability to work on complex, systemic problems with no easy answers.

While the working language for the project is English, candidates who demonstrate ability to collect data in at least one of the following languages will be preferred: isiXhosa, isiZulu or Sesotho sa Leboa. Candidates who have basic fluency in one or more of the mentioned languages and are willing to take language training (funded by the project) are also encouraged to apply.

You preferably have:

  • previous practical ethnographic research experiences;
  • basic knowledge of South African history;
  • familiarity or interest in creative methods (including audio, visual and other methods).

Conditions of employment

The UvA offers excellent possibilities for further professional development and education. You will have the opportunity to participate in training courses and attend national and international events.

The position concerns temporary employment of 38 hours per week for a maximum term of four years, preferably starting on 1 March 2022. Initial employment is for one year. Following a positive assessment and barring altered circumstances, the contract will be extended for a maximum of 36 month, which should result in the conferral of a doctorate. For this position, the University Job Classification profile 'PhD candidate' applies. 

Your salary will be €2,434 and will increase to €3,111 gross per month in the final year based on a 38-hour working week, in keeping with the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities. We additionally offer an extensive package of secondary benefits, including 8% holiday allowance and a year-end bonus of 8.3%.

The UvA is an equal opportunity employer. We celebrate diversity and are committed to creating an inclusive environment for all employees. We value a spirit of enquiry and strive to culture a space where curiosity and creativity are celebrated.

What else do we offer...

  • a position in which initiative and input are highly valued;
  • an enthusiastic and warm team that is open to new colleagues;
  • an inspiring academic and international working environment in the heart of Amsterdam.


University of Amsterdam

To work at the University of Amsterdam is to work in a discerning, independent, creative, innovative and international climate characterized by an open atmosphere and a genuine engagement with the city of Amsterdam and society. Here you can read more about working at the University of Amsterdam.


Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences - Anthropology

The faculty is a challenging work environment with a variety of duties and ample scope for individual initiative and development within an inspiring organization. The social and behavioral sciences play a leading role in addressing the major societal challenges faced by the world, the Netherlands and Amsterdam, now and in the future.

Want to know more about our organisation? Read more about working at the University of Amsterdam.


  • PhD scholarship
  • Behaviour and society
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2434—€3111 per month
  • University graduate
  • 21-7870


University of Amsterdam (UvA)

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