PhD Position: Critical infrastructures: Construction, Functional Crises and Protection in Cities (Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany)

Deadline: July 25, 2023

The interdisciplinary Research Training Group (RTG) KRITIS “Critical infrastructures: Construction, Functional Crises and Protection in Cities” at the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany, offers a PhD position (f/m/d) scheduled to begin on 1 October 2023 or earlier. The position is initially limited to 2 years (until 30 September 2025, 0.65 of full-time employment). Both supervisors will support the successful candidate in applying for a 1–2-year contract extension through third-party and/or university funding to complete the dissertation.

The Research Training Group is funded by the German Research Foundation and explores the relationships between urban societies and technical infrastructures in presence and history. Those networked systems that supply urban regions with energy, water, communication, and transportation services and treat and dispose of waste- and stormwater have become critical systems of modern cities. Their failure, disruption, or decay can trigger dramatic crises. In recent years, the growing vulnerability of infrastructural networks has become a controversial topic. That controversy is due to multiple external threats such as natural disasters, terrorists, warfare, and cyberattacks, and the growing complexity and increasing interdependency of infrastructure systems.

Focus of the PhD: The purpose of the advertised position in the field of Urban Sociology and Sociology of Space is to develop an original research contribution to the sociology of and planning of critical infrastructures in cities and the understanding of the complex interrelationship between society, urban spaces and critical infrastructures. Especially welcome is a PhD project focusing on the topic of “Infrastructural vulnerability and warfare in Ukrainian cities”:

As the attacks on Ukrainian cities illustrate, Russian warfare targets urban infrastructure as a key site of societal vulnerability. As a result of network-centric violence, critical infrastructures have emerged as an object and place of insecurity, given their exposure to malicious attacks and cities’ dependency on the smooth operation of multiple interconnected infrastructures that sustain their functioning. Building on international social science literature, the PhD candidate will conduct a qualitative study of one Ukrainian city to investigate the crises induced by attacks on infrastructures. Potential questions are: What are the social and spatial impacts of infrastructural attacks? How do urban residents, utility companies, and/or local governments cope with and prepare for infrastructural breakdowns? What visions and plans emerge for the infrastructural recovery and rebuilding of Ukrainian cities? Depending on the evolving crisis in Ukraine, the PhD study will be conducted either on-site or remotely. Preferably, applicants have good Ukrainian language skills and knowledge of local contexts. 

Apart from this topic, proposals on other relevant research ideas on the urban and spatial dynamics of critical infrastructures are welcome. For questions regarding the position or for advice on possible PhD topics and research designs, please contact Professor Sybille Frank (Urban Sociology and Sociology of Space, TU Darmstadt), or Professor Jochen Monstadt (Governance of Urban Transitions, Utrecht University). The successful PhD candidate will become a member of the Research Training Group and will be employed at the Institute of Sociology at the TU Darmstadt. 

Academic environment: Inspired by urban studies and science and technology studies, the Research Training Group aims to understand and explain these complex systems in their spatiality and temporality. At the same time, it explores urban practices of mitigating interruptions and preparing for them. The program focuses on three key themes/questions: 

  • The social construction of criticality: Why and in which spatial and temporal contexts are infrastructures constructed as critical?
  • Infrastructure crises/failures: What makes cities and their infrastructures vulnerable/resilient, and what are the impacts of infrastructure failures?
  • Critical infrastructure protection: how do cities prevent, mitigate or prepare for infrastructure failures?

Qualifications: We expect applicants to have an above-average university degree in the social sciences, e.g., sociology, urban planning, political sciences, human geography, or in a related social sciences program. Moreover, very good knowledge of qualitative methods of empirical social research and good English skills are required. Your education and/or previous activities reflect your strong interest and knowledge in the fields of urban sociology or in urban and regional studies. Knowledge of social studies of technology and international experience are additional assets. 

Tasks: The PhD candidate must considerably advance her/his PhD project in the 2-year contract period and support both supervisors in applying for further funding to complete the dissertation within a 3-4-year period. The rationale of the Research Training Group is to support interdisciplinary cooperation among the Fellows; all members are expected to participate in mandatory seminars, symposia, and workshops, engage with the academic concepts of the research program and closely collaborate across disciplines. We expect fellows to work together in our shared office in Darmstadt and thus need to take up their residence in the city or the Frankfurt/Rhine-Main region.

Terms and conditions: The Research Training Group offers an excellent research infrastructure for PhD candidates who want to complete their dissertations in an innovative, international program. The Fellows work together in dedicated office space, will have the support of participating professors and their own research support office, and can use all university facilities to support their research. We offer multiple training courses such as group/individual coaching, academic writing, presentation training, etc. Moreover, we offer fully financed research stays abroad and collaboration with international research partners. 

As mentioned above, the position will initially be limited to two years. However, both supervisors will support the successful candidate in applying for a contract extension through third-party and/or university funding to complete the dissertation. 

Salaries depend on each Fellow’s qualifications and experience and will be calculated according to the collective agreement of TU Darmstadt (TV-TU Darmstadt). The position includes a salary of 0.65, equivalent to full-time employment (the monthly salary will be at ca. € 1,900 after taxes and include health insurance and social security). 

Your application: The TU Darmstadt has an affirmative action program to promote equity in the employment of women and members of underrepresented minorities and strongly encourages them to apply. Please submit your application by 25 July 2023 in English or German to Sybille Frank and Jochen Monstadt (as one pdf file, max. 6 MB). You must enclose (1) a motivation letter; (2) a CV with information on academic qualifications, language skills, and international experience, (3) scanned copies of academic credentials, and (4) a proposal for a PhD project contributing to the academic program of the research training group (2-3 pages). 

We look forward to your application! 

Deadline: 25 July 2023

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