PhD Candidate in the History of Public Cybernetics | Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences | Department of History | 1.0 FTE (4 years)

PhD Candidate in the History of Public Cybernetics | Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences | Department of History | 1.0 FTE (4 years)

Published Deadline Location
21 Mar 5 Apr Maastricht

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You are invited to apply for a PhD position on the history of public cybernetics. This position is funded by a Starting Grant from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS), Maastricht University. The grant holder, lead supervisor, and co-promoter for this PhD position is dr. Jacob Ward and the promoter is prof. dr. Cyrus Mody.

Job description

Research project
In today’s digital, networked world, the public is increasingly connected with each other, with politicians, and with public institutions, yet seemingly has less democratic involvement in public governance and administration. This stands in contrast to earlier ideas from the middle and late twentieth century about how linking citizens and public institutions, for example through computing networks, could transform society.

Cybernetics, an interdisciplinary science born in the aftermath of World War II, offered politicians, academics, and engineers a model for understanding and incorporating communication and feedback in public institutions. Cybernetics showed that societies and systems could be understood as feedback loops of inputs and outputs, which could be used to make these systems self-correcting. It thus gave both a way to analyse democratic societies’ flaws and, potentially, to rectify these flaws by building self-correcting public institutions and infrastructures, often based on new computing and communications technology.

This PhD project will thus investigate how cybernetics influenced new ideas and practices regarding the public and public institutions in the post-1945 period. The project could include, but is not limited to, researching the historical influences of cybernetics on one or more of the following:

  • Conceptions of the democratic public/citizen (e.g. by politicians, political scientists, economists) and their institutionalization (e.g. deliberative democracy, participatory democracy);
  • Public research/public science (e.g. the “science shop” movement, participatory action research);
  • Public computing and communications (e.g. national/regional data networks, public computing utilities, public-access computing);
  • Public education (e.g. open universities, the unschooling/deschooling movement, online educational networks);
  • Public broadcasting (e.g. national broadcasting services, community/public-access television);
  • Public administration and management (e.g. national/international bureaucracies, management science, public administration theory);
  • Other public infrastructures/institutions (e.g. transport, energy, banking, law enforcement).

In retrieving these historical conceptions of networked, cybernetic publics and/or public institutions, this project can offer new models for contemporary democratic governance. We welcome applicants interested in national, comparative, and transnational perspectives on this topic.

Your research will be located in the Maastricht University Science, Technology, and Society Studies research programme at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences:

Job description
You will:

  • Determine a specific research focus for your project by surveying relevant literature and archives;
  • Conduct archival research, and potentially oral histories, in one or more countries. For this, travel will be required;
  • Learn and apply historical methodologies relevant to this project;
  • Regularly meet with the supervisory team to discuss your progress;
  • Within the first three months, and in collaboration with the supervisory team, produce a training and supervision plan that specifies your research project, thesis format, and graduate training in more detail;
  • After approximately six months, produce a detailed research plan on the historiography, methodology, and work plan for your thesis.
  • Write academic publications, which you may co-author with members of the supervisory team;
  • Take part in training by the Graduate School of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, as well as the national Netherlands Graduate Research School of Science, Technology and Modern Culture (WTMC);
  • Write and defend your PhD thesis, usually in the form of either a submitted/published articles (an “articles” thesis) or a monograph (a “book” thesis);
  • Gain experience in some teaching activities (e.g. tutor group meetings, thesis supervision) within FASoS’s problem-based learning setting;
  • Potentially acquire the University Teaching Qualification (UTQ). This will be discussed with the successful candidate.

This is a full-time position that, in principle, combines 0.9 FTE research with 0.1 FTE teaching. The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences offers BA programmes in Arts & Culture, European Studies, Digital Society, and Global Studies. Information on those and other FASoS teaching programmes can be found on our website.


Maastricht University (UM)


You hold an MA/MSc degree in History, Science and Technology Studies, Politics, Media Studies, or a related discipline (or are expected to obtain such a degree by 1 September 2023). You have received excellent grades and you have an obvious interest in academic research, particularly historical research methods. You are capable of autonomously conducting original research as well as working in a team. You are fluent in English (Cambridge English Proficiency, level C2, oral and written).

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: 4 years (1+3).

What we have to offer
You will be part of an international network of top universities and renowned scholars within the field. Initially, you are employed on a 1-year contract as PhD-candidate (teacher level 4). The first year will be a probation period, after a positive assessment the position will be extended for the remaining 3 years.

Remuneration will be according to standard salary levels for PhD-candidates starting with a salary of € 2,541 gross per month in the first year up to € 3,247 gross per month in the fourth year according to the PhD-candidate salary scale.
Each year the standard salary is supplemented with a holiday allowance of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3%.

The university’s relocation policy stipulates that you need to move to (the vicinity of) Maastricht. If not already living in Maastricht (or its direct surroundings), you will be eligible for an allowance for moving costs or an allowance for alternative housing. 

Other secondary conditions include e.g. a pension scheme and partially paid parental leave as well as a shared office space and a PC.

The terms of employment of Maastricht University are set out in the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO). Furthermore, local UM provisions also apply. For more information look at the website > About UM > Working at UM.

Starting date: preferably 1 September 2023.


Maastricht University

Maastricht University is renowned for its unique, innovative, problem-based learning system, which is characterized by a small-scale and student-oriented approach. Research at UM is characterized by a multidisciplinary and thematic approach, and is concentrated in research institutes and schools. Maastricht University has around 22,000 students and about 5,000 employees. Reflecting the university's strong international profile, a fair amount of both students and staff are from abroad. The university hosts 6 faculties: Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Faculty of Law, School of Business and Economics, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. 
For more information, visit


Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASoS) has about 250 staff members, and about 1,730 students. More than 77% of the students are non-Dutch (65 different nationalities). All programmes are offered in English and some are also offered in Dutch. FASoS offers four 3-year bachelor’s programmes: Arts and Culture, European Studies, Digital Society and Global Studies. It also offers eight different 1-year Master’s programmes and two 2-year research master’s programmes.

Research is organised around four programmes: Politics and Culture in Europe; Science, Technology and Society Studies; Arts, Media and Culture; and Globalisation, Transnationalism and Development. The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is housed in the historic city centre of Maastricht.

Graduate School
Our Graduate School of Arts and Social Sciences offers the opportunity to pursue a PhD in the interdisciplinary field of arts and social sciences. You receive a coherent program of introductory courses, intensive supervision and frequent discussion with the senior researchers inside and outside the Faculty. The Programme can be characterized by its international and interdisciplinary nature and the emphasis on cultural and societal issues of the modern world.

The School focuses on four themes:
1. Politics and Culture in Europe.
2. Maastricht University Science, Technology and Society Studies.
3. Globalisation, Transnationalism and Development.
4. Arts, Media and Culture.

Further information on the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and its Graduate School may be accessed on:


  • PhD
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • €2541—€3247 per month
  • University graduate
  • AT2023.130


Maastricht University (UM)

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