Five PhD positions for ERC project on Humanitarian Governance in Colombia, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), climate related displacement, and humanitarian ethics

Five PhD positions for ERC project on Humanitarian Governance in Colombia, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), climate related displacement, and humanitarian ethics

Published Deadline Location
1 Dec 4 Jan The Heague

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Starting in 2020, Dorothea Hilhorst, professor of humanitarian studies of ISS will start a 5 year Programme, financed by an advanced grant of the European Research Council, to implement the research project ‘Humanitarian governance: accountability, advocacy, alternatives’. The project aims to develop a localized humanitarian studies program to understand ongoing changes in humanitarian governance and to explore and advance the spaces and strategies that have opened up for reform ‘from below’. As part of this research project, ISS is looking for 5 PhD candidates.

Job description

What do we offer to inspire you?

For many years, humanitarian organizations have responded to crisis by delivering services to save lives, prevent and alleviate suffering and protect life and health of people affected by natural hazards, conflict, political collapse, forced displacement, among others. In recent years, through a multitude of factors and trends, the centralist and exceptionalist approach to humanitarian action is giving way to more localized responses that seek to bridge humanitarian action with development, peacebuilding and disaster risk reduction. Whereas this leads to increasing variations in humanitarian governance, important questions remain about the ways in which affected population seek a voice in the response through accountability and advocacy. Other questions concern how humanitarian action deals with the blurred boundaries between people affected by crisis and those in otherwise extreme vulnerable conditions, and how to deal with the growing numbers people whose displacement is climate-related.

The Humanitarian Governance research project, and the researchers that are part of this team, will contribute to understanding the way humanitarian governance is developing, with a special eye for the views and influence of affected populations and civil society actors.

As a secondary objective, the project aims to contribute to a transformation of humanitarian studies towards more equal partnership and by employing more participatory research methodologies. The project will contribute in building a methodological repertoire of interactive research ‘from below’ in rapidly changing risky and unstable contexts.

The Humanitarian Governance research project is looking for 5 PhD candidates. Three of these focus on a country case study, one focuses on climate-related displacement and one on changing ethics in humanitarianism.

 PhD 1-3: Humanitarian governance in Colombia, DRC, Ethiopia (full-time, four years).

Vacancy numbers:

Colombia: vacancy number: 1

DRC: vacancy number: 2

Ethiopia: vacancy number: 3

You would be responsible for a country-study, including a minimum of one year of fieldwork, to contribute to the understanding of the patterns of humanitarian governance that emerge in different types of crisis and contexts of state-society-aid relations. Using a mix-methods approach that combines qualitative (including ethnography) and participatory methods, you will focus on one of the following three countries, Colombia, Ethiopia and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). You will analyze how humanitarian governance is imagined and organized in the interplay between international actors’ national authorities, civil society actors and crisis-affected population. You will work closely with affected communities to understand the current practices and the potential of how accountability and advocacy can create changes in the organization of humanitarian action.

Note that a good candidate for these positions must come from or have a strong association with the selected country.

PhD 4: climate-related displacement (fulltime, 4 years, vacancy number: 4)

The numbers of people that are displaced in relation to climate change is rapidly growing and questions arise whether or not this should lead to humanitarian action. In this PhD project, you would be responsible for a global case-study by contributing to understanding humanitarian governance evolves around humanitarian challenges because of climate-related displacement. Using a mix-methods approach that combines qualitative and participatory methods, including interviews, field visits of two to three months in duration and content analysis of policy documents, you will analyze how humanitarian governance is imagined and organized in the interplay between international actors’ national authorities, civil society actors and crisis-affected population. You will work closely with affected communities and local actors to understand their views on their needs during displacement, their experience with the assistance they receive, and the potential of how accountability and advocacy can create changes in the organization of humanitarian action.

PhD 5: changing ethical frameworks of humanitarian action (0,8 position, 4 years, vacancy number: 5)

Humanitarianism has long been underpinned by the principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality and independence. These are increasingly challenged and complemented by ethics of solidarity, participation and others. In this PhD research project, you would be responsible for understanding the different ethics, and build a model of different humanitarian alternatives. This framework will be iteratively refined by findings from the case studies done in the team. Through a systematic review of the literature and social media content analysis that recovers the voices of crisis-affected populations, you will critically review the ethical assumptions of dominant actors in humanitarian governance and explore how those are being challenged from within, outside and below.  

All 5 PhD candidates will be part of the research team of humanitarian governance, and expected to contribute to:

  • Developing interactive methodologies that iteratively converse with a network of experts or ‘observatory’ that will regularly be consulted about the research design, findings, and outcomes;
  • A collaborative team that shares resources, helps each other, and enjoys pushing the boundaries of theory and methodology in the field of humanitarian studies;
  • A variety of ways to networking and development of outcomes for policy and practice to enhance the research uptake of the Programme.


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)


  • A completed Master in social sciences, humanitarian studies, or development studies;
  • Evidence of a track record or working in the field of humanitarian action, advocacy and/ or research in this domain;
  • Proven knowledge on main subjects relevant to the project;
  • Excellent interpersonal skills with ease at teamwork, and a proactive, versatile and autonomous attitude in completing tasks.

Additional expectations for PhD 1-3:

  • Experience with working in highly unstable, vulnerable and high-risk contexts;
  • Be fluent in English, Spanish (Colombia), French (DRC), or Amharic (Ethiopia). Local languages in the selected country is an advantage.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 years.

Besides being part of an innovative research on humanitarian governance and a national and international network, this position offers you an appointment for 4 years in the following structure:

We offer an appointment as PhD student for a period of 1.5 year, which will be extended with a second term of 2.5 years if the candidate performs well. Remuneration will be according to the PhD scales set by the Collective Labor Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO NU) and will range from € 2.395,00 per month in the first year to € 3.061,00 per month in the fourth year (gross amounts, in case of fulltime employment).

The EUR has attractive employment conditions, which include a holiday allowance of 8.0%, an end-of-year bonus of 8.3% and up to 41 days paid time off. Substantial tax benefits apply to non-Dutch citizens, conditional on permission granted by the Dutch Tax Office. Applicants should have the right to work in the Netherlands for the duration of the contract.

The International Institute of Social Studies is committed to building and sustaining a community based on inclusiveness, equity and diversity and believes this will contribute to our mission and vision of being the best institute in our field. ISS is an equal opportunity employer and encourages applications from candidates of all races/ethnicities, nationalities, religions, genders, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, disabilities, and ages.


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) is an internationally oriented university with a strong social orientation in its education and research. Inspired by the dynamic and cosmopolitan city of Rotterdam, our scientists and students work in close collaboration with internal and external parties to solve global social challenges. Our mission is therefore "Creating positive societal impact". Our academic education is intensive, active and application oriented. Our research increasingly takes place in multidisciplinary teams, which are strongly intertwined with international networks. With our research impact and thanks to the high quality of education, EUR ranks amongst the top European universities. Erasmian values ​​function as our internal compass and make Erasmus University recognizable to the outside world: engaged with society, world citizen, connecting, entrepreneurial and open-minded.


The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS)

The International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) is a leading academic center for international development studies. While based in The Hague, the ISS is part of Erasmus University Rotterdam. ISS was established in 1952 as a post-graduate institute of policy-oriented critical social science and development-oriented research. ISS brings together a highly diverse international community of scholars and students from both the global South and the global North, on average originating from over 50 different countries. The Institute brings together people, ideas and insights in a multi-disciplinary setting which nurtures, fosters and promotes critical thinking and innovative research on fundamental social problems. The strong partnerships with organizations and individuals in developing countries make up a vibrant network where we co-create knowledge so that teaching and research remain socially relevant. Key to the ISS philosophy and practices is the wish to contribute to achieving social justice and equity on a global level.


  • PhD
  • 38—40 hours per week
  • €2395—€3061 per month
  • University graduate
  • ISS/01122020


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)

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