PhD position "Hidden Sustainability: Non-Western Perspectives for an Actionable Historiography" (Eindhoven Univ. of Technology)

PhD position (TU Eindhoven, 4 years): Hidden Sustainability: Non-Western Perspectives for an Actionable Historiography

Eindhoven University of Technology
5612 AZ
Vom - Bis
01.10.2024 - 30.09.2028
Jonas van der Straeten

Are you interested in studying cultures of making and maintaining in Asia and Africa? Would you like to engage with “sustainability” as a critical humanities scholar? Would you like to do historical research while contributing to debates on pathways to more inclusive, sustainable futures?
And would you like to work in a research group that brings together expertise in transnational historical research with expertise in transdisciplinary, transformation-oriented research? Then apply for this PhD position at the History Lab (Technology, Innovation & Society group, School of Innovation Sciences, TU/e).

PhD position (TU Eindhoven, 4 years): Hidden Sustainability: Non-Western Perspectives for an Actionable Historiography

Scholars from history of technology and science and technology studies (STS), among others, have criticized mainstream discourses on sustainability as eco-modernist. Sustainability, they argue, is not only about novelty, about replacing unsustainable technology of the present with what is framed as innovative ‘green’ technology of the future. There is also considerable sustainability potential in the maintenance, re-use and evolution of technological and infrastructural legacies. Not only are these legacies highly diverse, but so are the pathways to more sustainable futures around the globe. Still, the current sustainability debate oftentimes attaches universal value to a particular developmental trajectory that is deeply embedded in Western European and North American histories.

The starting point for your PhD research is the idea that the Non-Western world offers a wealth of long-established practices that are based on the efficient and sustainable use of resources. These practices are often overlooked and marginalized, for example, because their underlying motivations are non-economic or because they take place in the context of an informal or weakly regulated economy. Oftentimes, actors themselves do not associate these practices with sustainability, but with pragmatic reactions to a relative scarcity of resources and capital (typically framed as “poverty”). Research on Non-Western contexts has recently provided us with instructive case studies, e.g. on water and energy provision in urban “off-grid spaces” (Munro 2020); two and three-wheeled transport (van der Straeten 2022); vernacular practices of building (van der Straeten and Petrova 2021); or urban food self-provisioning (Jehlička et. al. 2023).

In your PhD project, you will contribute to this emerging debate with an own case study. You will enjoy considerable freedom in choosing and developing your PhD project, as long as it, first, includes dedicated historical research as a major component and, second, puts its geographical focus on Africa or Asia (multi-sited research is possible). In your PhD project, you will investigate how highly adapted, resource-efficient practices have evolved and transformed over time. You may focus on various aspects, such as local cultures of making and maintaining; the social organization of creativity; the relationship between “imported” and “indigenous” practices, artefacts, or more broader, between the global and local; the interaction between “informal” and “formal” infrastructures and economies; or the role of state authorities in governing them.

In this PhD project you will critically engage with the concept of “sustainability”– a term that is problematic as an analytical concept in the humanities, but also allows us to connect our research to key societal debates of our time. You will also explore how historical knowledge can become actionable for the development of more inclusive sustainable future imaginaries. In doing so, you will collaborate with a diverse interdisciplinary team of humanities scholars at the TU/e History Lab. You are also encouraged to collaborate with societal partners to enrich historiography and to imagine more inclusive sustainable futures. The supervision team will include Erik van der Vleuten and Jonas van der Straeten.

Next to your research, resulting in a PhD thesis, you will be teaching in courses taught by the Technology, Innovation and Society group (~15% of your time). Your work will be supported with committed supervision and additional research training.
Job requirements

We are looking for an enthusiastic, curious and creative candidate with:

- A masters’ degree in history or another relevant field, e.g. science and technology studies (STS), anthropology, geography, area studies, etc.
- Practical experience with qualitative (historical) research methods, such as (historical) ethnography, (historical) document analysis, (life history) interviewing.
- Preferably: experience with transdisciplinary research approaches.
- The ability to work independently and in a team.
- Very good organizational, communicative and connective skills; you will collaborate with a wide variety of academic and societal groups.
- A strong track record and good research skills, writing skills and presentation skills.
- An strong command of the English language (C1 level); Command of a non-European language related to your prospective case study is an advantage.

Conditions of employment

A meaningful job in a dynamic and ambitious university, in an interdisciplinary setting and within an international network. You will work on a beautiful, green campus within walking distance of the central train station. In addition, we offer you:

- Full-time employment for four years, with an intermediate evaluation (go/no-go) after nine months. You will spend max. 15% of your employment on teaching tasks.
- Salary and benefits (such as a pension scheme, paid pregnancy and maternity leave, partially paid parental leave) in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, scale P (min.(min. €2,770 max. €3,539).
- A year-end bonus of 8.3% and annual vacation pay of 8%.
- High-quality training programs and other support to grow into a self-aware, autonomous scientific researcher. At TU/e we challenge you to take charge of your own learning process.
- An excellent technical infrastructure, on-campus children's day care and sports facilities.
- An allowance for commuting, working from home and internet costs.
- A Staff Immigration Team and a tax compensation scheme (the 30% facility) for international candidates.

Information and application

About us:
Eindhoven University of Technology TU/e is an internationally top-ranking university in the Netherlands that combines scientific curiosity with a hands-on attitude. Our spirit of collaboration translates into an open culture and a top-five position in collaborating with advanced industries. Fundamental knowledge enables us to design solutions for the highly complex problems of today and tomorrow.

The Technology, Innovation & Society group at the TU/e School of Innovation Sciences researches and teaches about the role of innovation and technology in sustainability challenges and transitions from economic, STS, transition studies, and historical perspectives.

The TU/e History lab studies the role of technology in societal challenges and transitions in a long-term perspective, and investigates how historical knowledge can be made transformative. See the History Lab website.

Further information
Do you recognize yourself in this profile and would you like to know more about the project? Please contact Jonas van der Straeten at

Visit our website for more information about the application process or the conditions of employment.

You can also contact Susan Opgenoorth, HR Advisor, or +31 40 2474465.

Are you inspired and would like to know more about working at TU/e? Please visit our career page.

We invite you to submit a complete application by using the apply button.

The application should include a:

- Cover letter in which you describe your motivation and qualifications for the position.
- An idea sketch (ca. half page) on your prospective PhD research. The sketch could focus on a specific case study that you are interested in, or of specific literature that inspires you. This idea sketch does not create any path dependencies, you can still select a different topic if you are accepted for the position.
- Curriculum vitae, including a list of your publications and the contact information of three references.

We look forward to receiving your application and will screen it as soon as possible. The vacancy will remain open until the position is filled.