PhD Candidate in Political Science ‘Social Distance in International Relations’ – LeidenUniversity – Leiden

  • Leiden


Key responsibilities
The PhD researcher will be part of the project “Social Distance in International Relations” hosted at the Institute of Political Science at Leiden University and led by Dr Hilde van Meegdenburg. This project introduces social distance—a sociological concept denoting the degree of sympathetic understanding that exists between people—to the study of state foreign policy making. The main objective is to study state foreign policy narratives and foreign policy making to see if and how social distance shapes policy debates, suggestions, justifications, and, ultimately, decisions. The PhD researcher is expected to develop and execute a research project under this umbrella and write a doctoral dissertation.

The PhD researcher will work under the supervision of Dr Hilde van Meegdenburg (daily supervisor and principal investigator), Dr Matthew Longo, and Prof Dr Daniel Thomas. As part of the position, the candidate will receive on-the-job research training as well as the chance to partake in international conferences and obtain further professional methodological training at a European Summer or Winter School. Besides these opportunities, research trips to conduct field work and gather data are foreseen and budgeted (see terms and conditions below).

Candidates will be expected to teach two courses per year, usually as tutorial instructor.

Social Distance in International Relations
Early 2022 Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine. Stories of injuries, death, and people
fleeing the war quickly dominated the news. Observers soon noted how, throughout Europe, people’s initial reactions were different compared to earlier conflicts in, for instance, Syria and Yemen. People and governments stood behind Ukraine and, overall, support was quickly promised and promptly delivered.

The type of conflict and the physical proximity of Ukraine to Western Europe may explain part of the variation but, it is expected, not all. This project focusses on social distance and studies if and how social distance shapes state foreign policy making. The basic premise of Social Distance Theory is that people perceive some “others” as more distant than other “others”. This brings into existence a stratification—a preferential ordering—of outgroups and a corresponding differentiated behavior towards the differently evaluated outgroups. Studying international relations as a set of socio-emotional relations between people(s), this project asks:

  • Does, and if so how does, social distance impact how suffering and hardship experienced by an outgroup are perceived?
  • Do, and if so how do, these differences in perception shape state foreign policy narratives and foreign policy making?

The overall research project is set-up as a comparative narrative analysis. That is, the aim is to study, analyze, compare, and contrast the stories that are told about the suffering other and how those stories, and the frames and terms that are used to describe the other, shape policy outcomes. The study focuses on Western European countries. The preferred cases include England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain.
Within this framework, the PhD researcher is encouraged to develop their own project and specific focus. However, applicants interested in studying Spanish foreign policy and Spanish foreign policy making are highly encouraged to apply.

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