PhD Environmental justice in generative A.I.

PhD Environmental justice in generative A.I.

Published Deadline Location
25 Jan 18 Feb Rotterdam

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Join the Feminist Generative AI Lab for a social science PhD on one of the biggest challenges of using generative AI: its ecological footprint

Job description

In this PhD project you will do social research on one of the biggest challenges of using generative AI (such as Chat GPT): its ecological footprint. For instance, training AI language models consumes a lot of power and data centres require large amounts of cooling water. How are these problems currently addressed, and how can we support environmental justice in generative AI? You will do this research as part of the pioneering Feminist Generative AI Lab, which offers an interdisciplinary environment combining artificial intelligence, design, and social sciences.

Job description
We invite applications for a fully-funded PhD position in the social sciences, focusing on developing a theory of environmental justice in generative AI. Applicants are invited to prepare and execute an independent PhD project that can include the empirical analysis of debates, practices or power dynamics around the ecological footprint of generative AI. The research should lead to theories, concepts and principles for design and activism in line with data feminism or feminist AI principles.

Research Context
The environmental costs of online large-scale generative AI usage are increasingly recognised. Concerns include carbon emission and energy usage associated with training large language models (LLMs); cooling water required by data centers; and lithium mining to power our devices. In response, various stakeholders have proposed visions and solutions for sustainability in generative AI. Some visions are directed towards users, e.g. limiting user queries, while others call for structural change, e.g. addressing consumer cultures. However, environmental justice concerns are rarely addressed. Environmental justice is about finding just and fair alternatives to the inequalities that affect how the ecological space and resources of a finite planet are shared.

As a starting point, the study empirically investigates imaginaries and practices around the environmental costs of generative AI. It can ask how environmentally friendly generative AI is shaped in discussions, debates and practices. What are the consequences for different groups? How are the relations between technology and ecological decline framed? Which assumptions about ecology and society underly debates in this field? Such insights can inform a feminist theory of environmental justice in the area of generative AI, and form the groundwork for design and activism.

Methodologies and Activities
The research can be conducted through case studies, ethnographic research, discourse analysis, digital methods, participative methods, design research or combinations. Activities will include:
  • Design an independent PhD project
  • Conduct fieldwork, analyse results
  • Translate results into theoretical and practical lessons
  • Participate in the ESSB graduate school’s training program
  • Engage and develop activities with the staff and other PhDs in the Feminist Generative AI Lab
  • Publish and present research results on workshops and conferences
  • Communicate research findings to a broader audience


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)


  • Master’s degree in Sociology, Anthropology, Political Science, Science and Technology Studies, Environmental Humanities, or a related field
  • Excellent research skills and a strong methodological profile
  • Excellent verbal and writing skills in English
  • A demonstrable interdisciplinary and collaborative orientation
  • Familiarity with (generative) artificial intelligence and an interest in data feminism or feminist AI principles

This PhD position offers a unique opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge research at the intersection of social science, design, feminism, and artificial intelligence, with the potential to shape the future of inclusive and just technological landscapes. We encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds and experiences to apply.

Conditions of employment

We offer you an internationally oriented and varied job in an enthusiastic team, with excellent working conditions in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO-NU).

The start date of this position is 1 April 2024 and you will be based at Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB). This position is for 0.8 fte - 1 fte FTE. The salary ranges from a minimum of € 2.770 to a maximum of € 3.539 gross per month on a fulltime basis (38 hours), in accordance with Scale P of the CAO-NU. The contract is entered into for the duration of one year, to be continued based on good progress and good performance with three more years, leading to a total appointment of four years.

Everything else we offer you, you can find below!


Erasmus University Rotterdam

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) is an internationally oriented university with a strong social orientation in its education and research, as expressed in our mission ‘Creating positive societal impact’. EUR is home to 3.700 academics and professionals and almost 33.000 students from more than 140 countries. Everything we do, we do under the credo The Erasmian Way – Making Minds Matter. We’re global citizens, connecting, entrepreneurial, open-minded, and socially involved. These Erasmian Values function as our internal compass and create EUR’s distinctive and recognizable profile. From these values, with a broad perspective and with an eye for diversity, different backgrounds and opinions, our employees work closely together to solve societal challenges from the dynamic and cosmopolitan city of Rotterdam. Thanks to the high quality and positive societal impact of our research and education, EUR can compete with the top European universities.

Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB)
The Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences is home to a vast diversity of scientific disciplines: public administration, pedagogical sciences, psychology and sociology. In addition, the Erasmus University College, IHS, and two research institutes RISBO and DRIFT are linked to the faculty. This also reflects in the content of the (international) bachelor's and master's programs and in research. Our activities are always focused on people and society. At the ESSB fundamental, internationally oriented research is of paramount importance. In addition, social research for professionals, policy makers, and the society is part of our research activities. ESSB offers a stimulating research environment where major national and international research grants are received. Appealing guest researchers and ambitious PhD candidates come along to conduct their research. Our education is small-scale and works with innovative forms of education. Both the Dutch and English programs are highly ranked by students and alumni. ESSB is home to over 4000 students and more than 400 staff-members. The different disciplines are supported by the Faculty Office (for more information, please visit


Team Public Issues & Imaginaries (PI&I) consists of more than 30 interdisciplinary teachers and researchers with backgrounds in, amongst others, Sociology, Science & Technology Studies, Public Administration, and Media Studies, and with connections to partners both within and beyond the university. We are committed to the production of knowledge for imagining (more-than-human) living together in ways that are less exploitative, extractive, unequal, and more democratic, sustainable, and liberating. That is why we develop teaching and research on major contemporary public issues (urban politics, work & digitalization, migration, race, gender, class & inequality, global warming & sustainability), as modes of engagement with a variety of publics. Our ways of working together, for and with publics, can be captured in our three core signatures:
  1. We seek critical interrogations of and constructive interventions in public issues;
  2. We see teaching and research into public issues as modes of engagement;
  3. We seek to transform scientific and academic practice by emphasizing quality over quantity, engagement over disinterestedness, diversity over monoculture, and good work relations over a competitive rat race.

Department of Public Administration and Sociology (DPAS)
DPAS covers the disciplines of Public Administration and Sociology. Two related scientific fields with different profiles. Public Administration studies governance capacity and policy interventions. It focuses on the institutional power to organize and intervene in the relations between different social, political and economic actors. Public Administration in Rotterdam goes well beyond the public realm itself and pays attention to public-private cooperation and networks of organizations. Sociology investigates the social structure of societies and the way it evolves. Sociologists in Rotterdam focus among other things on processes of globalization and individualization and on the effects of these processes on international social relations, the labor market or family relations. Related social problems that are studied are migration, flexibilization and solidarity. The perspectives of Public Administration and Sociology complement each other. Together they guarantee a highly relevant and scientific approach to topical administrative and social issues. The bachelor- and master programmes of DPAS are build on this profile and educate students to become scientifically schooled professionals.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • 32—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 4022


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)

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Burgemeester Oudlaan 50, 3062PA, Rotterdam

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