PhD Candidate in Political Science 'Social Distance in International Relations'

PhD Candidate in Political Science 'Social Distance in International Relations'

Published Deadline Location
19 Mar 26 Apr Leiden

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Job description

The Institute of Political Science of Leiden University’s Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences invites applicants for the position of a

PhD Candidate in Political Science ‘Social Distance in International Relations’ (1.0 FTE)
Vacancy number 14672

Key responsibilities
The PhD researcher will be part of the project “Social Distance in International Relations” hosted at the Institute of Political Science at Leiden University and led by Dr Hilde van Meegdenburg. This project introduces social distance—a sociological concept denoting the degree of sympathetic understanding that exists between people—to the study of state foreign policy making. The main objective is to study state foreign policy narratives and foreign policy making to see if and how social distance shapes policy debates, suggestions, justifications, and, ultimately, decisions. The PhD researcher is expected to develop and execute a research project under this umbrella and write a doctoral dissertation.

The PhD researcher will work under the supervision of Dr Hilde van Meegdenburg (daily supervisor and principal investigator), Dr Matthew Longo, and Prof Dr Daniel Thomas. As part of the position, the candidate will receive on-the-job research training as well as the chance to partake in international conferences and obtain further professional methodological training at a European Summer or Winter School. Besides these opportunities, research trips to conduct field work and gather data are foreseen and budgeted (see terms and conditions below).

Candidates will be expected to teach two courses per year, usually as tutorial instructor.

Social Distance in International Relations
Early 2022 Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. Stories of injuries, death, and people
fleeing the war quickly dominated the news. Observers soon noted how, throughout Europe, people’s initial reactions were different compared to earlier conflicts in, for instance, Syria and Yemen. People and governments stood behind Ukraine and, overall, support was quickly promised and promptly delivered.

The type of conflict and the physical proximity of Ukraine to Western Europe may explain part of the variation but, it is expected, not all. This project focusses on social distance and studies if and how social distance shapes state foreign policy making. The basic premise of Social Distance Theory is that people perceive some “others” as more distant than other “others”. This brings into existence a stratification—a preferential ordering—of outgroups and a corresponding differentiated behavior towards the differently evaluated outgroups. Studying international relations as a set of socio-emotional relations between people(s), this project asks:
  • Does, and if so how does, social distance impact how suffering and hardship experienced by an outgroup are perceived?
  • Do, and if so how do, these differences in perception shape state foreign policy narratives and foreign policy making?

The overall research project is set-up as a comparative narrative analysis. That is, the aim is to study, analyze, compare, and contrast the stories that are told about the suffering other and how those stories, and the frames and terms that are used to describe the other, shape policy outcomes. The study focuses on Western European countries. The preferred cases include England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.
Within this framework, the PhD researcher is encouraged to develop their own project and specific focus. However, applicants interested in studying Spanish foreign policy and Spanish foreign policy making are highly encouraged to apply.

Selection criteria
  • Applicants must hold (or be near completing) a (research) master’s degree in political science or in a relevant discipline. They have written (or are near completing) a master’s thesis.
  • Applicants are passionate about interpretivist and qualitative political science research and have a strong interest in the project theme.
  • Applicants must have prior training in and a good command of qualitative case studies and, preferably, narrative or discourse analysis. Prior experience in working with qualitative data analysis software (e.g. MAXQDA, NVIVO, ATLAS.ti) is an advantage.
  • Applicants with a good command of Spanish and interested in working on Spanish foreign policy are especially encouraged to apply.
  • Applicants meet the English language requirements of the Graduate School of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences.

Research at our Faculty/Institute
Our organization
The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences consists of five institutes: Centre for Science and Technology Studies, Cultural Anthropology and Development Sociology, Political Science, and Psychology. The faculty has approximately 7000 students and 1000 staff members. Within the institutes, not only education is provided but also groundbreaking research is conducted that pushes the boundaries of our understanding of human behaviour and societal structures. What makes our faculty unique is the diversity of research topics, the various styles of teaching, and the way professional support is organized; this provides you with the opportunity to explore and develop your interests and expertise. Visit our website for an impression: Welcome to the Leiden Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences - Leiden University.

The Institute of Political Science has a strong research tradition in various areas of comparative, Dutch and international politics, as well as political theory. The Institute has around 85 academic staff, including many non-Dutch scholars, and houses a number of editorships of international refereed journals and book series. Members of the institute are also involved in a number of the university’s multi-disciplinary research centres, including Central and East European Studies, International Relations, Parties and Representation, Political Philosophy, Centrum voor Nederlandse Politiek en Bestuur and ReCNTR. The Institute is based in Leiden and in The Hague, where a large part of the teaching is done.

The Institute offers a range of programmes at the Bachelor and Master levels and also trains PhD students in political science. The BSc programmes include general Political Science (in Dutch & English, in Leiden), International Politics (in Dutch & English, in Leiden), and International Relations and Organisations (in English, in The Hague). The one-year MSc programme (taught mostly in English) includes five specialisations in Leiden and one in The Hague.

Terms and conditions
The position starts on 01.09.2024. We offer a full-time PhD position. The salary is € 2,770.- to € 3,539.- gross per month (pay scale P, in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities). The appointment would be for 1 year, after which it can be extended by 3 years subject to a positive evaluation.

This specific position also includes a generous financial package for fieldwork (up to 10,000 EUR) as well as for attending scientific conferences and substantive or methodological training (up to 6,250 EUR).
Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package with an additional holiday bonus (8% of annual salary) and end-of-year bonus (8.3% of annual salary), training and career development. Our individual choices model gives you some freedom to assemble your own set of terms and conditions. Candidates from outside the Netherlands may be eligible for a substantial tax break. More at

Diversity and inclusion are core values of Leiden University. Leiden University is committed to becoming an inclusive community which enables all students and staff to feel valued and respected and to develop their full potential. Diversity in experiences and perspectives enriches our teaching and strengthens our research. High quality teaching and research is always inclusive.

Further enquiries can be directed to Dr Hilde van Meegdenburg email:

  • Please submit online your application no later than 23:59 CET on April 26 via the blue button of our application system. Applicants should submit online:
  • An academic CV.
  • A sample paper or piece of writing. This may be, but need not be, the candidate’s master thesis. Preferably, the writing sample demonstrates the candidate’s interest in, and knowledge of, either the research theme or interpretivist research more broadly.
  • A statement of interest (max 800 words). Preferably, this statement explains and justifies the selection of the writing sample as a good example of work that is relevant for a research project focussing on foreign policy making or foreign policy narratives and interpretivist research methodologies. If the writing sample is unrelated to the theoretical and methodological foci of the social distance project, the statement of interest should focus on explaining the candidate’s interest in the theme and elaborating their qualifications.
  • Applicants should also include the names and contact details of two people who can be contacted directly to submit recommendation letters, commenting on the candidate’s professional qualifications and suitability for the position. Please note that no reference letters have to be submitted at the application stage, but these will be requested for shortlisted candidates.

The selection procedure will take place mid-May. You are kindly requested to be available in this period.

Enquiries from agencies are not appreciated.


Leiden University


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 14672



Rapenburg 70, 2311EZ, Leiden

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