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PhD Grant winners

To stimulate young researchers to work on societal challenges, we provided PhD candidates the opportunity to hand in their research proposal for an European grant of € 1500,- or Intercontinental grant of € 2500,-. The jury granted the proposals, which have a close connection to the Sustainable Society theme, which showed the most explicit contribution towards societal challenges and where the grant could make the biggest difference for the project or the applicant. Out of over 50 applications, the jury granted the following 10 finalists. They presented their research in a short pitch during our Grant Ceremony. The best and most persuasive pitch was held by Revai Mudzimu. She received the bonus of a € 1000,-to visualize her research by a professional designer.

Jesse van Amelsvoort

Jesse van Amelsvoort

Campus Fryslan

Linguistic Minorirty - European grant
My research contributes to solutions for the socetial challenges relating to diversity and cultural cohesion in multilingual Europe. I do this by focusing on the work of contemporary migrant and autochthonous minority writers, and the way they engage discussions about these topics. Sustainable societies, here, refers not to economic factors, but rather to a place where human diversity is not a threat, but a resource to deal with matters of a common concern. The work of authors such as Zadie Smith, Tsjêbbe Hettinga and Emine Sevgi Özdamar offers inroads into thinking about these issues in a new way that bypasses established oppositions between newcomers and autochthones, those who belong and those who do not. These authors include in their work voices that usually remain unheard and show how we can rethink categories such as language, community and identity that are central to many societal discussions in the Western world in the past three decades. Together with this funding, my research, performed in an interdisciplinary faculty explicitly dedicated to addressing societal challenges, positions my work in the humanities to deliver a significant social impact.

The grant will help me fund a fellowship at Stockholm University’s Department of Slavic and Baltic Studies, Finnish, Dutch and German, and its English department. Researchers here have a strong research focus on multilingualism and world literature. My hosts will be Prof Stefan Helgesson, PI in a large-scale research project on language dynamics in world literature, Dr Markus Huss and Dr Heidi Grönstrand, editors of The Aesthetics and Politics of Linguistic Borders (Routledge, 2019). I will participate in research activities, discuss with colleagues and perhaps participate in teaching.

Martijn Blikmans

Martijn Blikmans

Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences

Polarization, Twitter analyses - Intercontinental Grant
Emotional political news and debates spread faster and farther in the Twitter age. Therefore, understanding public responses to politicians’ emotional communication is increasingly more important and urgent, as these responses may increase polarization and the inability to tackle societal challenges together. My research focuses on these responses, examining whether and when people “catch” the same emotion, or infer additional goals from an emotional display. Both these reactions can shape perceptions of societal challenges. For example, an angry politician speaking about climate change inaction may elicit similar anger, or may be perceived as pandering to a specific group: reactions which can then stimulate climate change action or skepticism, respectively. Ultimately, these changed perceptions can fuel hostility between the people who respond differently, increasing societal polarization. The training I’ll receive abroad will enable me to use Twitter data to test such hypotheses in real-life political settings. Thus, my research contributes to solving societal challenges by examining how politicians’ emotional communication can fundamentally change perceptions of such challenges.

The grant will partly cover my travel to and three-month stay at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (Chicago, USA), where dr. Nour Kteily, an expert on the topic, will train me in computational analysis. This analysis enables me to thoroughly study Twitter data: analyzing tweet content, and determining users’ demographic characteristics by assessing their online behavior (likes and follows). I will then conduct a study on how different people react to politicians’ emotional communication during the ongoing 2020 Democratic Party primary debates.

Lisa Zom

Lisa Zom

Faculty of Economics and Business

Sustainable supply chains - Intercontinental grant
Although Nike did not recruit children to work in sweatshops and Primark did not own the building that collapsed in Bangladesh, these companies were held responsible by consumers and organizations worldwide. Although changes have been made since then, the apparel industry is still suffering severe sustainability issues. Ensuring that the suppliers of these brands invest in sustainability is a significant challenge, especially if the suppliers are located in low- and middle-income countries. Brands looking for solutions have started offering access to cheaper financing as a reward for a higher sustainability performance. However, the expected increase in sustainability performance at the supplier level has not always materialized. This research aims to increase our understanding of the factors influencing the suppliers’ decisions concerning investments in sustainability and the adoption of the financing program. With this understanding the programs can be adapted to meet the suppliers’ needs where possible and stimulate more investments towards sustainability in an industry still struggling to tackle severe sustainability issues.

The grant will be spend on face-to-face contact with suppliers increases the value of the response during an interview as trust is more easily established. The sensitivity of the information further emphasizes the need to establish trust. The grant will be used for on-location interviews with a selected number of suppliers. The selection will take place after a survey in order to select the most relevant suppliers. Since the majority of the suppliers is located in South-East Asia, the selection will certainly include suppliers in this area. The aim is to create more in-depth knowledge on the decision-making process.

Adriana Garcia

Adriana Garcia

Faculty of Economics and Business

Hope curriculum - Interncontinental grant
Internal psychological constraints are receiving increasing attention in development economics, since they can help understand poverty dynamics. Our research project implements and evaluates the impacts of an intervention aiming to relax these internal constraints, which may contribute to the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the United Nations, specifically, poverty reduction (goal 1) and economic growth (goal 8). Among internal psychological constraints, we focus on hopelessness and low aspirations. Duflo (2012) argues that hope is fundamental for development; low aspirations and hopelessness lead to reduced investments and outcomes that ultimately reduce long-run welfare. The intervention consists of showing Bolivian dairy farmers a video of local role models, followed by a series of workshops on aspirational hope, referred to as ‘hope curriculum’. We hypothesize that our intervention can reduce aspirational failure and assuage learned hopelessness, improving aspirations and consequently productivity, which is a very strong predictor of income and, therefore, can lead to poverty reduction.

This grant will be used to fund a research visit of two weeks at University of San Francisco in March 2020. I will work together with Prof. Bruce Wydick on discussing and finishing my paper (fourth chapter of my thesis). Together with my two PhD supervisors, Prof. Wydick is a principal investigator of this project. He is well-known for his seminal work on development economics, hope and aspirations.

Floor Middel

Floor Middel

Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences

Ethnic and gender disparities in child protection decision making - European grant
My research investigates ethnic and gender disparities in child protection decision-making. Several studies have shown that marginalized groups, including minoritized ethnic groups and women, are negatively impacted by child protection decisions compared to advantaged groups, like ethnic majoritized groups and men, even when cases are identical or equal. My first PhD study investigates gender and ethnic disparities in Dutch, German, and English child protection practice while taking an intersectional approach. We found evidence that decisions seem impacted by ethnic and gender disparities. In my upcoming project, a vignette study, I aim to investigate mechanisms that seem to result in disparities in the entire decision-making process. This project is unique in child protection decision-making research. The fact that decisions seem impacted by disparities is a societal issue because the human rights perspective suggests that decisions should be transparent and not depend on characteristics of families like ethnicity and gender. The vignette study has the potential discover mechanisms that are related to disparities which can be used in diminishing disparities in decision-making.

I aim to visit two conferences in the UK that are held closely after each other in 2020. One conference focuses on the role of intersectionality in family relationships (CRFR, 22 – 24 June, Edinburgh) and the other conferences focuses decision-making in the field of child protection (DARE, 1 – 2 July, Belfast). During these conferences I aim to learn from work by other presenters and I will present both my first finalized PhD paper and the vignette study that is currently under development. In addition, I aim to use some days between the conferences two have meetings with experts.

Revai Mudzimu

Revai Mudzimu

Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies

Sexual and reproductive health rights - Intercontinental grant
I appreciate research that has societal impact especially capacitating the disadvantaged and marginalized, in this case the women. My research therefore contributes to creating solutions for good health, well-being and gender equality (Sustainable Development Goals 3 and 5). I investigate on the sustainability of the strategies that the Zimbabwean women use to navigate their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) when they are violated by the Catholic teaching on sexuality and African cultural practices. Violation of SRHR results in high child and maternal mortality and gender inequality hence my research seeks to ascertain practical measures to address religious and cultural practices that do not promote women’s SRHR. Generally, investing in women’s SRHR reduces poverty and enhances sustainable development, yet in a patriarchal and conservative society such as Zimbabwe culture and religion can be stumbling blocks to the rights of women to make choices and decisions regarding their sexuality. Addressing and finding solutions to these problems will result in achieving Goal 3 and 5 by 2030.

While I am in the process of analyzing the data that I have collected, I keep realizing that there are some emerging questions that need a deeper unpacking hence the grant will be used for the second round of fieldwork. Apart from another follow up on women, the fieldwork will also include the Catholic Church hospitals and about three organizations that work on SRHR in Zimbabwe. The data will be collected through in-depth interviews and participant observations.

Manon Eikelenboom

Manon Eikelenboom

Campus Fryslan

Circular economy - European grant
The circular economy (CE) is a system that replaces the end-of-life concept with the reduction and reuse of materials in production and consumption. The CE literature has been technologically and ecologically focused, neglecting the social dimension. This is an important limitation as the CE can create or destroy social value. Furthermore, community perspectives are important for the success of the CE which requires behavioral change. My research investigates the social dimension through cooperation with social housing associations. These associations provide low income communities with affordable housing and improve their well-being. Housing association activities can cause negative environmental impacts which can be reduced through circular approaches. It is important that these approaches assist in improving the well-being of communities and do not lead to negative implications. My research explores the perspectives of communities towards circular approaches and new ways of involving communities in their design. This helps create circular approaches that achieve ecological benefits (SDG 12, e.g. efficient waste collection) and community goals (SDG 11, e.g. clean neighborhoods).

Circular approaches are often disintegrated from communities. This is a limitation as circular approaches can assist low income communities, for example via the reuse of furniture. To collect information on circularity in the community and create enthusiasm, I am highly motivated to organize a workshop with a local primary school. The students will learn about circularity and create documentaries about circularity in their neighborhood, interviewing other community members. These documentaries will be used to start conversations with tenants and inspire circular projects in the neighborhood.

Astrid Voorwinden

Astrid Voorwinden

Faculty of Law

Technology and the privatization of public values in smart cities  - Europen grant
This research project looks at the issues raised by rapid technological innovation in the face of public values and in the context of urbanization. Cities are under pressure to solve key problems, such as climate change, inequality and crime, and smart cities have emerged as a response. A smart city uses the newest technologies to innovate city governance (e.g., sensors, cameras, predictive policing software, big data analysis etc). These technologies are developed by private companies that partner with municipalities. As a result of these partnerships for governance technologies, cities become partially privatized in their policy making and administrative decision-making. Policy making and administrative decision making are traditionally held to public values, such as transparency, equal treatment and accountability. These values may shift, evolve or weakened if private technology is used for public purposes. It is essential to examine the way such technologies are deployed and governed. Therefore, the smart city is a relevant and pressing example of the legal shifts and gaps that emerge when private technology gains weight in the present and future governance of our communities.

The grant will be used during the phase of empirical research of this project. To understand the way public private partnerships in smart cities handle public values, an empirical study of four selected European cities will be conducted (Amsterdam, Bristol, Copenhagen, Marseille). The grant will be spend to facilitate visiting these cities and conduct interviews with stakeholders on both sides of the partnerships.

Arnab Dutta
Arnab Dutta

Arnab Dutta

Faculty of Arts

Decolonial epistemic practices - Intercontinental grant
My doctoral research at the contemporary history section of ICOG uses global intellectual history methods to look at the history of student mobility in the interwar years (as a case study between British India and Germany) and analyse its role in colonial knowledge-production and the epistemic violence on other forms of knowledge. Making it relevant and responsive to the crises and opportunities posed by current student mobility practices in and around Groningen enables me to question certain implicit biases in curricula. This calls for letting west European universities be sustainable in and critically responsive to what Walter Mignolo calls ‘decolonial epistemic practices’ in history and European studies. I strongly believe in the responsibility of universities in realigning their curricula to undo their historic role in creating the knowledge-base of systemic racism and misogyny. In this regard, I have worked with the DG Education and Culture of EU in Brussels; and designed an MA course of history at RuG (with my supervisor Clemens Six) to not only diversify the content of the curricula but also make it methodologically sustainable (in a sense UN’s SDG goal §17 would define it).

So far I have actively worked to identify the hidden biases in university-curricula. Drawing on my work with Prof Peggy Levitt and Global Decentre, I showcased it at RuG’s Lustrum405 conference. I want to carry forward this endeavour and respond to the invitation of a two months long visiting PhD stay at ‘Politics and Social Change Workshop,’ WCIA, Harvard University (a detailed plan attached herewith). Alongside, my doctoral research would immensely benefit from my host Prof Sunil Amrith (globally known for making history education responsive to current migration patterns and climate crisis).

Maarten Meijer

Maarten Meijer

Faculty of Arts

Soil degradation - European grant
My PhD project is concerned with understanding the stakes involved in the surging political concern with soils in the EU and UN. Specifically, I study how these institutions problematize soil degradation. This allows my research to contribute to the response to soil degradation in three ways.

First, my project seeks to draw more attention to soils. Though soil degradation is one of the most pressing issues of our time, it is simultaneously a sadly neglected problem in Europe and beyond.
Second, I seek to provide a clear picture of the institutions and processes involved in soil policy-making. This has the potential to help stakeholders that lack this information to access policy-making forums.
Third, my project includes concerns with environmental justice, so that these ideals might be incorporated in soil protection. On the one hand, I do this by seeking out the voices of underrepresented actors such as organic farmers and indigenous peoples. On the other hand, I critically scrutinize soil dominant policy narratives such as the framing of soil degradation in terms of overpopulation, that often distract attention away from the socio-economic mechanisms causing soil degradation.

The grant will be spent on a research stay at the Centre for Global Knowledge Studies at the University of Cambridge, Gloknos. Gloknos is a multi-disciplinary research centre whose focus on the production and dissemination of human knowledge will greatly benefit my research. I will procure a short research stay at this research centre, during which I will procure the in-house expertise of Gloknos to refine my analyses of the politics of knowledge production on soils and soil degradation. I have already established contact with the director of Gloknos, dr. Inanna Hamati-Ataya, to this end.

Last modified:19 November 2019 09.20 a.m.
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