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.

Global dynamics and empowerment of the local street food network: a case study on the Ghana Traditional Caterers Association

By Hilde-Marije Dorresteijn, MSc International Development Studies at Wageningen University

For my MSc thesis within the RSO chair group I did research on street food in Ghana. During the master programme I became more and more interested in food issues and its possibilities for local development. These possibilities are beautifully illustrated by the following quotation with which I started my thesis:

“Food provides an answer. Our landscapes and cities were shaped by food. Our daily routine revolves around it, our politics and economies are driven by it, our identities are inseparable from it, and our survival depends on it. What better tool, then, with which to shape the world.” (Steel, 2012 in Viljoen & Wiskerke, 2012:36).

HM Dorresteijn blog picture 1

Despite its importance I found little scientific research on street food, a phenomenon that is particularly relevant in developing countries. Street food can be defined as: ‘ready to eat food or beverages prepared and/or sold in the street and other public places for immediate consumption or at a later time without further processing or preparation’ (FAO, 2012). I decided to look into this topic within the context of Ghana’s capital Accra. An estimated 85% of the urban population in Ghana patronize it, cutting across socio-economic boundaries and thus also designating the important cultural role of street food In Accra, from early morning till late at night all sorts of food are being sold on the streets. Also, there is a great variety in the professionalism of microenterprises. There are many hawkers walking around trying to sell their products, well established enterprises that have fixed stands and seating facilities, and the informal eating houses called ‘chop bars’. Street food make an essential contribution to nutrition of the urban population by providing easily accessible and affordable food, as well as they provide a good livelihood strategy by creating employment and increasing incomes for a large number of urban dwellers. Hereby street food thus makes a great contribution to the local economy. This informal sector requires low start-up capital and low levels of education are needed, making it a good business opportunity for especially women.

The cheapest way to make money, is to cook food. You are a secretary, or you have a shop, and the shop collapses. You can buy a pot, buy silver, cooking utensils, buy water, the pepper, yam and you cook and you’ll get people to buy. Very, very cheap. So day in day out people have been coming into the system. That is why they are plenty. And automatically when you cook, you will get people to buy.” (Mr. Ansong, PRO GTCA, 13 Jan. 2014) Continue reading

New course: Food Sociology

IMG_3023In May we start with a new course – Food Sociology: Emerging theories & themes.
This course addresses the dynamics of food provisioning – i.e. the range of activities from the production, acquisition and preparation to the consumption and disposal of food – from a sociological perspective. These activities are examined in their socio-cultural, political and physical context by specifying and clarifying which activities are carried out, how, why and by whom. Specifically this course focuses on newly emerging food provisioning practices and the networks and institutions shaping these practices as well as on the social theories to reflect on these dynamics, networks and institutions. The specific contents of the course will differ from year to year as it based upon current international scientific collaborative research programmes and PhD projects. The students will enjoy an interesting variety of learning activities. Continue reading

WG on ‘Civic Food Networks’ at conferences ‘Ag in an Urbanizing Society’ IFSA 2012 and IRSA 2012

As follow-up of the successful Working Group on “New Forms of Consumer Engagement in Food Networks: Diversity, Mechanisms & Dynamics” that was held at the ESRS Conference in Chania, Crete last August 2011, we will organize Working Groups on similar topics at different scientific events in the coming year. The different scientific events for which WGs are organised are the following. For specific details see links:

1. International Conference “Agriculture in an Urbanizing Society” on Multifunctional Agriculture and Urban-Rural Relations, 1-4 April 2012 in Wageningen, The Netherlands, Working Group 3 “Exploring ‘civic food networks’ and their role in enabling sustainable urban food systems”, convened by Petra Derkzen, Cornelia Flora, Markus Schermer and Henk Renting,

Deadline for abstract submission extended to 20 January 2012. Deadline for paper submission 1 March 2012.

2. 10th European International Farming Systems Association (IFSA) Symposium on “Producing and reproducing farming systems: New modes of organisation for sustainable food systems of tomorrow” in Aarhus, Denmark, from 1-4 July 2012. Workshop 4.1 “‘Civic food networks’ as driver for sustainable food and farming systems”, convened by Chris Kjeldsen, Markus Schermer and Henk Renting,

Deadline for abstract submission extended to 3 January 2012. Deadline for paper submission 1 March 2012

3. XIII World Congress of Rural Sociology of the International Rural Sociology Association (IRSA) on “The New Rural World: From Crises to Opportunities” in Lisbon, Portugal from 29 July to 4 August 2012, Session number 64 “New Forms of Consumer-Producer Cooperation within Food Networks: Comparing Experiences in the North and the South”, convened by Henk Renting, Gianluca Brunori, Flávia Charão Marques and Claire Lamine,

Deadline for abstract submission 15 January 2012, Deadline for paper submission 15 May 2012

We propose to use the concept “Civic Food Networks” as a common denominator for the type of newly emerging food networks that we wish to explore in these different Working Group sessions. This term has several advantages compared to other commonly used concepts such as “Short Food Supply Chains”, which has mainly been used in producer-centred analysis and in relation to rural development impacts, and “Alternative Food Networks” which mainly proposes an opposition to dominant, conventional food systems and implicitly supposes that these types of networks never will become mainstream and will continue to remain marginal. Additionally, the term “Civic Food Networks” clearly expresses that the food networks we want to explore have their basis within civil society and that, rather than merely as economic actors, consumers and producers in these networks mainly cooperate as “citizens” in new forms of collective action to shape the food system. As such, they can be understood as expressions of new forms of “food citizenship” in which consumers and producers together regain control over the ways in which food is produced and relations between state, market and civil society within food governance are actively reshaped.

We have tried to ensure that the various WG meetings have a different thematic focus within the topic of Civic Food Networks so the conferences will complement each other and broaden the geographical range of our debates. We are also trying to establish a mailing list of people interested in debates around Civic Food Networks. If you want to be included in this mailing list, please contact us at or

Developing Czech Sitopia

How to get good quality food from your own region? Where to buy fresh and organic food which is in season in the Czech region of Dvur Kralove and in cities such as Trutnov and Broumov? How to get a network going of (potential) producers and (potential) consumers? These were among the questions discussed during a seminar about quality food and permaculture which was held at MIZ in Zdoňov, near the Polish border around 3 hours northeast from Prague on the 14th of May.

During the seminar different aspects of permaculture were presented in both Czech and English to the 10 participants mainly from around Zdoňov. We discussed how to enhance biodiversity, how to build fertile soil, how to start ecological farming and how to set up a regional food network. The seminar concluded with a joint initiative of three presenters to get themselves and their aims known in the region so that other people with similar interest, both consumers and producers can respond.

In a way, this was a tiny start in making Sitopia, I realized today listening to the guest lecture of Carolyn Steel for the Bsc course ‘Agrarische en rurale ontwikkeling; sociologische perspectieven’. Sitopia, she explained is derived from the words “Sitos” and “topos” meaning “food” and “place”. Making place through food, through meals, through sharing, through caring about the origins of your daily meal and thus, searching for a kind of human connection to food which can hardly be expressed in the anonymous context of the supermarket. In this Czech region, there is not much infrastructure yet beyond the faceless produce from globally operating supermarket chains. But just like in many other countries, mentality is shifting and new networks are born each day.