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  • Job Type
    Full-time Position
  • Category
    Research & Science
  • Languages
  • Experience Required
  • Degree Required
    • Province
    • Date Posted
      August 11,2021
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    PhD position: How to counter societal polarization? The role of inclusive social norms in networks.

    We are seeking a candidate for a PhD project within an international, interdisciplinary consortium that aims to understand how polarization between groups in Europe can be overcome through the use of normative interventions in people’s network. Many European societies have become increasingly divided and polarized, partly due to the financial crisis, migration related issues, and increased disinformation on social media. Evidence of widening cleavages and conflicts between groups can be found along multiple lines, such as ethnicity, social class, religion, sexual and political orientation. This polarization, broadly defined here as a process by which society is increasingly divided into groups with contrasting opinions, beliefs about social issues, and conflictual behaviour, often results in adverse feelings (e.g., dislike or hatred) and avoidance. In Europe, polarization is accompanied by serious societal and political challenges, such as the rise of populist leaders, growing anti-EU sentiments, and an increase in hate speech and hate crimes. Polarization hampers dealing effectively with the societal challenges Europe is facing and undermines democracy.

    Despite much research on conflicts and intolerance between groups, few studies have examined how to reduce these pernicious consequences of polarization. This PhD position focuses on understanding how cooperation is hampered in networks consisting of opposing groups. Crossing group divides, by cooperating on joint problems, is crucial to maintain cohesive societies. However, knowledge is lacking how to improve intergroup relations in polarized contexts.

    The proposed project investigates the role of so called Inclusivity Norms to increase cooperation between groups. Prior studies have not examined the relational nature of inclusivity norms, that is how they are embedded in our networks of family, friends and acquaintances, and how these norms diffuse in social networks. Prior research has also not examined whether norms can improve relations and increase cooperation between groups that oppose each other, and whether such improvements may hold across group divides (e.g., ethnic groups).

    The interdisciplinary area of social network analysis has set clear antecedents in studying the diffusion of information and innovations in social networks, which we draw on to model norm transmission. Recent work on network interventions has integrated network models by targeting both social referents and complex social reinforcement over time. The research has shown that this approach can effectively decrease interpersonal conflicts in adolescence. However, little is known about the potential role of the social network structure in transmitting inclusivity norms in polarized networks, i.e. networks that contain opposing groups. Various methods of data collection can be part of this project, such as Agent Based Modelling (ABM) and (online) network experiments. A detailed description of the full project can be found here.

    Supervisors are: Dr. Eva Jaspers (UU) and Prof. Frank van Tubergen (UU).

    International team

    The project is part of the international and interdisciplinary research programme INCLUSIVITY: Inclusivity Norms to Counter Polarization in European Societies. INCLUSIVITY is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation, and includes Researchers from 4 countries: Prof. Oliver Christ (FernUniversität in Hagen), Prof. Marcin Bukowski (Jagiellonian University, Kraków), Dr. Miranda Lubbers (Autonomous University of Barcelona), Dr. Eva Jaspers (Utrecht University) and Prof. Maarten van Zalk (Osnabrück University). Three Postdocs and two PhD students will be appointed simultaneously across all countries. The team’s competencies guarantee a genuine interdisciplinary approach, bridging social, political, and developmental psychology with sociological perspectives and network methodologies. The full proposal can be downloaded here.

    Your responsibilities are:

    • conducting research (literature review, analysing data, reporting results), resulting in high quality international scientific publications and a dissertation;
    • data collection;
    • presenting results at national and international scientific conferences;
    • teaching (max. 10% per year);
    • active participation in the research group of the INCLUSIVITY project and of the department;
    • collaboration with (inter)national partners and paying visits to these partners.


    You have:

    • (almost) finished a (Research) Master's degree in the domain of quantitative sociology, or a related discipline;
    • a solid training in analytical sociology or a related discipline;
    • solid training in quantitative research (e.g., lab experiments, surveys) and data analysis skills;
    • knowledge and skills pertaining to advanced Social Network Analysis;
    • eagerness to learn to work in an interdisciplinary research team and to conduct interdisciplinary research;
    • demonstrable interest in the topics associated with the project;
    • an excellent academic record;
    • eagerness to publish international articles and write a dissertation;
    • good social and communication skills;
    • excellent command of English and academic writing skills;
    • professional attitude and conduct that includes organizational sensitivity, integrity, pragmatism, and good communication skills;
    • independent thinking and a hands-on mentality;
    • excellent collaborative skills;
    • motivation and ability to teach undergraduate courses.


    Starting preferably 1 October 2021 you will be offered a temporary position (1.0 FTE), initially for one year. Upon a positive performance, the appointment will be extended for three more years. The gross salary ranges between €2,395 in the first year and €3,061 in the fourth year of employment (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year. In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions (multiple choice model). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

    Over de organisatie

    A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

    Utrecht is a young and vibrant city with a large academic population, around 30 minutes south of Amsterdam. It combines a beautiful old city centre with a modern university. Utrecht has an excellent quality of life, with plenty of green space and a strong bicycle culture.

    The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences is one of the leading faculties in Europe providing research and academic teaching in cultural anthropology, educational sciences, interdisciplinary social science, pedagogical sciences, psychology, and sociology. Almost 6,000 students are enrolled in a broad range of undergraduate and graduate programmes. The Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences has some 850 faculty and staff members, all providing their individual contribution to the training and education of young talent and to the research into and finding solutions for scientific and societal issues.

    The PhD position is embedded in the Sociology Department, one of the oldest and largest in the Netherlands. At the department research on and teaching in a wide array of sociological themes is conducted, such as social inequality, crime, migration and integration, social networks, policy and organisation, cooperative relationships, families and work.

    The PhD will be embedded in the ICS graduate school, as well as in the international consortium. The PhD is expected to collaborate extensively with the other members of the consortium, including PhD students and Postdocs to be appointed.

    Aanvullende informatie

    Additional information concerning this position can be obtained by contacting Dr. Eva Jaspers ( Please note that she will be on leave between July 19th and August 16th. The full proposal outlining the different projects can be found here. For practical questions please contact Marianne Sadhoeram (

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