Vacancy for 3 PhD Researchers on Political Polarisation, Belgium

Belgique
Posted 1 month ago

The Departments of Political Science of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and Université catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain) are hiring 3 doctoral researchers for the project “The perception of differentness: polarization amongst citizens and dissatisfaction with representatives” (NotLikeUs) funded via an Excellence of Science (EoS) programme from the FWO and FRS-FNRS.

Profile

  • Holder of a Master degree in Political Science or related field in Social Sciences and Humanities. Last year students are encouraged to apply, at the condition that they obtain their MA-degree before the start of the scholarship; i.e. October 1st, 2022.
  • Good organisational and time management skills
  • Ability to work in a team
  • A good command of English, and French and/or Dutch (or willingness to improve one’s command of the other language during the scholarship)
  • Specific skills are required for each of the research themes (see below)

Offer

This is a call for applications for three full-time doctoral position for four years:

  • Type of contract: CDD – 4 years contract
  • Length of contract: 12 months, renewable three times
  • Full time (100%)
  • Funding: FWO-FNRS EoS project NotLikeUS

The doctoral researcher will become an active member of the research project “The perception of differentness, polarization amongst citizens and dissatisfaction with representatives” (NotLikeUs). The project offers a stimulating working environment in a dynamic and international research team. The project involves 5 research teams from the Universiteit Antwerpen (UA), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), KULeuven, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL), and Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB).

The researchers will be based at VUB or UCLouvain campus – depending on the project they develop and apply to. They will have an office and relevant administrative support in those institutions. They will have no teaching obligations but will be allowed to engage in a limited amount of teaching if this is judged appropriate for their academic development. They will be expected to contribute to collective work on the project, and to present and publish individual or collective research outputs. The VUB and UCLouvain are an equal opportunity employer.

Starting date is October 1st, 2022.

The deadline for applications is 27 May 2022.  An online or face-to-face interview may be organised in June.

Interested?

Questions regarding the PhD scholarships can be addressed to Professor Virginie Van Ingelgom virginie.vaningelgom@uclouvain.be

Applications should include:

  • a letter of motivation explaining your interest for the project and clearly indicating for which of the theme(s) you are applying
  • a full CV (including degrees obtained for each study year, the title of your MA-thesis, and, when applicable, a list of publications, relevant courses taken, and conference presentations)
  • a project outline, including a central research question and research design (maximum two pages); if you apply for several of the themes, a project outline for each of them is needed
  • a recommendation letter

Please send the above documents electronically in one single file entitled Application_NotLikeUS_[NAME]_Position#1,2, or 3 to Professor Virginie Van Ingelgom (virginie.vaningelgom@uclouvain.be) AND to Catherine Goessens (secretariat-ispole@uclouvain.be)

Context of the project

The project examines a hitherto under-examined driver of two of the main problems representative democracies are wrestling with: horizontal affective polarization among citizens and vertical political dissatisfaction with politicians. The ‘new’ driver is the perception that other-minded citizens and other-minded politicians are not only politically different—they have other political preferences—but that they also are different human beings with different social, cultural, and economic features. Ingroup-outgroup mechanisms make that such broad perceptions of differences lead to deepening intergroup animus. Although the theoretical logic of perceptual differences deepening dislike of others is not new, it has never been applied empirically to the study of horizontal polarization and vertical dissatisfaction. NOTLIKEUS engages in a broad and encompassing research program that (1) describes and conceptualizes citizens’ perception of differentness of other-minded citizens/politicians, (2) examines its causes, (3) analyses its effect on polarization and dissatisfaction, (4) investigates its ultimate effect on anti-democratic behaviour, and (5) explores possible solutions to the negative fall-out of high levels of perception of differentness. Drawing on both qualitative and quantitative methods, the project examines the Belgian case, a case that is suitable both theoretically and empirically.

1. Online Media and Perceptions of Differentness (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Primary location at which this project is based: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Department of Political Sciences & Brussels School of Governance, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels.

Promotor(s): Jonas Lefevere (VUB), with a co-supervision with another university part of the consortium

This PhD project seeks to understand the role of online media on people’s perceptions of differentness. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have accelerated a shift in people’s use of online social media to connect to other individuals and groups. However, not everyone’s online network is similar: the networks of some individuals include people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and from various societal groups. Other people’s networks are more homogenous. This PhD project sets out to understand whether the different composition of online networks can affect individuals’ perceptions of differentness: Being in touch with members from different groups could take away biases, help see them as a fellow human being rather than as an enemy and increase tolerance towards their viewpoints. In turn, these perceptions of differentness may mitigate the extent to which people become dissatisfied and / or polarized.

This PhD project fits within the broader work package that investigates the causes of perceptions of differentness: as such, there is some room to investigate other potential causes of perceptions of differentness. In terms of methods, this PhD project mainly relies on quantitative methodologies (e.g., surveys, survey-embedded experiments, content analysis), but the entire team is expected to help support the qualitative data collections so the PhD project can also partially rely on these data collections.

Specific requirements for candidates: the project is focused on the case of Belgium, and this PhD project relies mainly on quantitative methods. So, familiarity with (1) quantitative methods (2) Belgian politics and society (3) speaking Dutch and/or French are considered assets for prospective applicants.

2. Citizens’ Perceptions of Differentness: unpacking in- and out-group categorisations (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Primary location at which this project is based: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Department of Political Sciences, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels.

Promotor(s): Eline Severs (VUB), with a co-supervision with another university 

This PhD project is conceived as a qualitative project, complementing the survey research undertaken within the consortium. As a qualitative project, the research helps produce a thick understanding of horizontal polarisation and vertical dissatisfaction. The project unpacks the processes of self-categorisation and categorisation of other people that undergird citizens’ perceptions of differentness, and analyses its main causes and consequences in terms of citizens’ political behaviour, evaluations of and attitudes toward representative democracy.

Besides providing a thick understanding of citizens’ perceptions of differentness, the project also contributes to the development of mitigation and rectification strategies to horizontal polarisation and vertical dissatisfaction. The project treats the research respondents as participants: together, we co-construct knowledge and seek to actively include citizens’ experiences and insights in strategies for coping with and mitigating polarisation.

Applicants can freely signal which citizen groups should be centre staged in this project. Without excluding alternatives suggested by applicants, the project could focus on clashes between the generations, polarisation related to issues of gender, diversity, and intersectionality, under-represented groups in parliament, social groups who co-opt a sense of marginality or victimhood, or the increase of the emotional load of contemporary politics and how it divides families and groups of friends.

Specific requirements for candidates: this PhD project relies on qualitative methods. So, familiarity with (1) qualitative methods (interviews, focus groups, …) (2) analytical software packages for qualitative analysis (NVivo, MAXQDA, ATLAS.ti, Qualtrics, …) and (3) software for collaborative research (Teams, digital Kanban boards, workflow builders, …) are considered assets for prospective applicants.

3. Citizens’ Perceptions of Differentness: Understanding the dislike of other-minded citizens and/or politicians (UCLouvain)

Primary location at which this project is based : UCLouvain, Institut de Sciences Politiques Louvain – Europe (ISPOLE), Centre de Sciences Politiques et Politique Comparée (CESPOL)

Promotor(s): Prof. Pierre Baudewyns, Prof. Benoît Rihoux or Prof. Virginie Van Ingelgom – with a co-supervision with another university part of the consortium

This PhD project aims to unpack the concept of perception of differentness as a driver of citizens’ deepened dislike of other-minded citizens, of their increased aversion towards politicians, and of the combination of both. Specifically, it focuses on the empirical description and theoretical conceptualization of perceptions of differentness of other-minded citizens/politicians. This PhD is conceived as a mixed-method research project that will centre on the theoretical development and original measurement of the concept of perceptions of differentness in a mixed-method perspective (focus groups and survey). Besides contributing to our understanding of citizens’ perceptions of differentness and its operationalization, the project goes beyond mere description by analysing which precise social, economic, cultural features of other-minded citizens and politicians are most salient.

Applicants can freely signal which citizen groups and/or politicians should be centre staged in their project. Without excluding alternatives suggested by applicants, the project could focus on clashes between the generations, polarisation related to issues of gender, diversity, and intersectionality, under-represented groups in parliament, opposition between citizens and elites, affective polarisation between partisans of different political groups (parties, associations).

Specific requirements for candidates: this PhD project rely on qualitative methods or on survey methods as the main methodology – left to applicant’s choice – but in a mixed-methods perspective including the other method of analysis. So, familiarity with (1) qualitative methods (interviews, focus groups, …) or survey methods (2) coupled with an interest to discuss with other methods and (3) analytical software packages for qualitative analysis (NVivo, MAXQDA, ATLAS.ti, Qualtrics, …) or quantitative analysis (R, SPSS, Stata) are considered assets for prospective applicants.

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