PhD ‘From historic injustices to empowered futures’

PhD ‘From historic injustices to empowered futures’

Published Deadline Location
22 Feb 4 Apr Heerlen

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Job description

From historic injustices to empowered futures: examining the role of marginalized communities in shaping inclusive and resilient sustainability transitions

Are you ready for the start of your academic career? Do you want to become part of an enthusiastic group of colleagues, who seek to push the boundaries of environmental knowledge and cultural studies, and teach in the highest graded educational programs in the Netherlands? Do you have the right skills to do cutting-edge research in an interdisciplinary setting? Then apply for a PhD-position in the project “From historic injustices to empowered futures: the role of marginalized communities and intergenerational values in shaping inclusive sustainability transitions” at the Department of Environmental Sciences (Faculty of Sciences) and the Department of Culture, Diversity and Inclusion (Faculty of Humanities).


Modern societies grapple with escalating discursive polarization across social, cultural, and economic lines. These divisions impede sustainability transitions, such as addressing climate change and biodiversity loss. Calls for just transitions therefore require a more interdisciplinary approach to understand challenges and opportunities for change and for finding ways forward that are truly inclusive. From a decolonial perspective this research seeks to move the debate on sustainability transitions beyond its technicalities, and recognize the role of knowledges and practices created within marginalized communities, prompting a shift towards social engagement in environmental governance. Indeed, environmental governance often advocates inclusivity and a just transition, but the focus must evolve beyond calls for participation and redistribution. This research therefore proposes an interdisciplinary participatory approach in order to take the perspectives of marginalized communities seriously, aiming to understand their experiences with environmental policies and systemic pressures (e.g. racism), and fostering mutuality about their role in sustainability transitions. The study aims to uncover non-mainstream practices, combining critical decolonization theories with future-oriented sustainability perspectives, fostering a multilevel resilience: social, economic, political, anthropological and ecological.


Starting from the field of environmental governance as well as from insights from decolonial theory, the fundamental idea is that to understand how particular communities experience sustainability transitions, we need an approach that integrates insights from other, more interpretative disciplines, such as cultural studies, anthropology, and philosophy. This combination is for this research project both necessary and innovative; this unique perspective might generate a new type of insights that are now rarely discussed.

The research project consists of four parts. The first part will examine theoretical frameworks at the interface of decolonization and sustainability studies (e.g. environmental justice, intersectionality, decolonial ecology): reviewing, identifying gaps and constructing a framework for empirical research, that is both practice and future oriented. In the second part, it aims to examine, through case studies and ethnographic research, how particular marginalized communities experience systemic pressures (e.g. racism) and sustainability discourses. Thirdly, it aims to examine how a co-creative approach (e.g. deliberative experiments) focused on intergenerational values can contribute to the empowerment of marginalized communities and/or the strengthening of sustainability values. Fourthly, a comparative analysis of different cases will be made. This will also be used for policy and research recommendations.


The PhD project is a collaboration between the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Humanities with supervisors from both Faculties. The PhD candidate will:

  • engage in supervised scientific research that will ultimately result in a doctoral thesis (literature review, theoretical framework, critical study, case studies, findings and recommendations, etc.), including action research in marginalized communities;
  • participate in the relevant activities of the “Innovating for Resilience” Program, the two Faculties involved in the project, the Department of Environmental Sciences and the Department Culture, Diversity and Inclusion;
  • participate in the organization of scientific and practice-oriented events (workshops, conferences), in close collaboration with the supervisors;
  • follow a tailor made course program for PhD-candidates of the OU Graduate School (and/or other national Graduate Schools);
  • publish research results in the form of conference papers, contributions to peer-reviewed scientific journals, as well as through popular publications and presentations;
  • participate for 10 to 15% of his/her time in educational activities.


The Open Universiteit (OU)


Candidates must:

  • have a Master’s degree in a relevant field, such as Anthropology, Philosophy, Sustainability Science, Cultural Studies, Political Science, Environmental Sciences, History or any other discipline that seems relevant;
  • have the ability to conduct research (ethnographic study, interviews, deliberative experiments) in marginalized communities, working closely together with (non-academic) stakeholders;
  • be open to go beyond disciplinary restrictions;
  • think out of the box, be creative and experimental in methods and thinking;
  • have experience or interest in environmental sciences, social and cultural anthropology, comparative analysis, ethnographic research, critical theory;
  • be able to demonstrate excellent scientific writing and communication skills, as well as relevant collaborative and social skills;
  • have experience working in an interdisciplinary team;
  • have excellent knowledge of English (spoken and in writing).

Applicants must be strongly motivated for doctoral studies, possess the ability to work independently and perform critical analysis and also possess good levels of cooperative and communicative abilities. Teaching experience and publications are not required but are considered an advantage if the candidate can demonstrate experience in these areas.

Conditions of employment

Fixed-term contract: for 4 years.

Heerlen, the Netherlands. You are present in Heerlen (at least) two days a week.


The salary is determined in accordance with salary scale P of Appendix A of the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities and amounts to € 2.770,= gross per month upon commencement, in case of full employment.

The PhD candidate will be appointed for a period of 15 months. The appointment will be extended to 4 years when progress and performance are good.


Open Universiteit

Flexible studying anywhere in the Netherlands and (Belgium) Flanders
The Open Universiteit is the part-time university in the Netherlands. Students follow personalised and activating academic distance education and disciplinary research is carried out within the various fields of science. Students can complete bachelor and master programmes, but also shorter programmes. The characteristics of education are openness, flexibility and quality (see The Open Universiteit has over 17,000 students and more than 850 employees. The OU has branches in the Netherlands and Belgium (see The main office is located in Heerlen.

The latest technologies and educational insights are applied both in the bachelor's and master's programmes and courses and in projects and programmes with partners. Nationally and internationally, the OU plays an important role in the innovation of higher education. Education is interwoven with research, which also ensures that the current state of science is incorporated. The Open Universiteit invests not only in disciplinary research in nine scientific fields, but also in research in a multidisciplinary programme: Innovating for resilience.


Multidisciplinary research program Innovating for Resilience

The Open University has a multidisciplinary program called Innovating for Resilience (IfR). This research program aims to address societal challenges in a multidisciplinary manner. The research program focuses on the following challenges: inequality in vulnerable areas; digital transformation; open societies; sustainability.

More information about the program can be found at

This results in projects for PhD research. Three projects within the IfR program will start in 2024 (for an overview of projects, see: Increasing resilience through financial knowledge: bridging the wealth gap; From historic injustices to empowered futures: examining the role of marginalized communities in shaping inclusive and resilient sustainability transitions; Chronic pAIn program: AI-driven personalized therapeutic approach for the treatment of musculoskeletal chronic pain.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society; Language and culture
  • max. 38 hours per week
  • max. €2770 per month
  • University graduate
  • FAC/BW/24019


The Open Universiteit (OU)

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