Vacancy PhD position: Learning from food systems transitions – enabling community resilience

Do you want to contribute to solving societal issues in the domain of food systems? Do you have a MSc degree in sociology, anthropology, development studies or related field with an interest in food systems? If yes, then we may be looking for you!

The Social Sciences Group (SSG) at Wageningen University is looking for a motivated PhD candidate to study relations between food system transitions and community resilience. The position is based in the Rural Sociology Group (RSO) and will be supervised by Professor Han Wiskerke and Dr Jessica Duncan with active supervision and collaboration with Dr Sietze Vellema from the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group (KTI), and Dr Marion Herens from Wageningen Centre for Development Innovation (WCDI).

Broad scope of the project
Advancing sustainable and inclusive development requires fundamental changes in the institutional architecture of food provisioning. Food insecurity continues to be major societal challenge, catalysed by the implications of climate change, biodiversity loss, pandemics, political conflicts, and war. Thus, unpredictability and uncertainty are major challenges currently confronting food provisioning systems. 

A gap in research addressing these challenges relates to the prevailing assumptions and normative frames underlying (and reproducing) current food system rationalities. Solutions for the aforementioned challenges are often sought within formal food economies and globalized and industrialized agri-food value chains. As a result, the potential of highly contextual and self-organized forms of food provisioning is neglected or misunderstood. The PhD-project endeavours to not only problematize prevailing norms but also make visible alternatives. 

The proposed PhD project will analyse and compare alternative and self-organized pathways for food system transition, with a specific interest in unravelling how local communities and small and medium food enterprises creatively respond to the challenges related to crises and risks affecting food and nutrition security. The PhD research will include an interest in pathways emerging in the Global South while allowing space for comparative research. We look for empirical studies of community or territorial-level mechanisms to expose what enables or constrains food provisioning systems to increase access to healthy, nutritious, affordable, and culturally appropriate food in the context of crises or shocks.

The starting point for the research is locally embedded initiatives, ranging from self-provisioning and food sharing to the ways in which smallholder producers, processors and traders are integrated into agri-food chains. Inserting knowledge from situated modus operandi into mainstream policy and practice may form an entry point for scaling resilient and self-organized practices and catalysing transformative processes. Studies will question:

  • How do self-organized food provisioning networks and markets emerge from or sustain in times of food crises, including those related to lockdowns?
  • How do community initiatives promote food security and healthy eating?
  • Which values are at stake, and which governance and/or organizational principles guide such efforts?

Your Qualities
We are looking for an independent and creative candidate who is able to a) undertake high-quality qualitative research together with local communities and societal actors; and b) integrate the transdisciplinary dimension of the project; by building conceptual and methodological bridges across the social sciences.
In addition you have:

  • a completed university Master’s degree in sociology, anthropology, development studies, human geography or a related discipline, with an interest in food systems;
  • a demonstrable affinity and skills with qualitative research methods;
  • the motivation to obtain a PhD and become an independent and critical thinker;
  • the ability to work in an interdisciplinary team and do research in a transdisciplinary manner;
  • the desire to contribute to solving societal issues in the domain of food systems;
  • an excellent command of the English language;
  • good communication and presentation skills;

You will be selected on the basis of demonstrated research experience, motivation for the topic and the ambition for doing PhD-research in this field. This is assessed by way of a short proposal (max 800 words). Note that the project offers ample space to develop your own direction. The proposal is meant to explain how your interest, ambition, and research orientation aligns and engages with the broad scope of the project.

For this position it is important that you comply with the entry requirements of Wageningen University’s PhD programme

We offer
Wageningen University & Research offers excellent terms of employment. A few highlights from our Collective Labour Agreement include:

  • study leave, and partially paid parental leave;
  • working hours that can be discussed and arranged so that they allow for the best possible work-life balance;
  • the option to accrue additional compensation / holiday hours by working more, up to 40 hours per week;
  • there is a strong focus on vitality and you can make use of the sports facilities available on campus for a small fee;
  • a fixed December bonus of 8.3%;
  • excellent pension scheme.

In addition to these first-rate employee benefits, you will receive a fully funded PhD position and you will be offered a course program tailored to your needs and the research team.

The gross salary for the first year is € 2.541,- per month rising to € 3.247,- in the fourth year in according to the Collective Labour Agreements for Dutch Universities (CAO-NU) (scale P). This is based on a full-time working week of 38 hours. We offer a temporary contract for 18 months which will be extended for the duration of the project if you perform well.

There are plenty of options for personal initiative in a learning environment, and we provide excellent training opportunities. We are offering a unique position in an international environment with a pleasant and open working atmosphere.

More information
For more information about this position, please contact Dr. Jessica Duncan, by e-mail: For more information about the procedure, please contact Noorien Abbas, Corporate Recruiter, by e-mail

Do you want to apply?

You can apply directly using the apply button on the vacancy page on our website which will allow us to process your personal information with your approval.
To apply, please upload the following:

  • A short letter of motivation outlining your interest in this position.
  • A proposal of max 800 words summarizing what you would like to focus on as part of this PhD, which includes a problem statement, research gap, aim of study, envisaged methods, and scientific/societal contribution.
  • An updated Curriculum Vitae
  • A copy of relevant diplomas, including grading-list (the minimum requirement qualifying for doctoral studies in the recruiting country is a Master’s degree). Students in their last year may apply but can only be recruited upon successful graduation.
  • Contact details of two referees (no recommendation letter needed).

This vacancy will be listed up to and including 10th April 2023. We hope to schedule the first job interviews in the third week of April 2023.