Albert Hirschman centre on democracy
13 April 2023

Open call for PHD Student / Research assistant for the project: Defending Democracy in the European Union: A Socio-Legal Approach to the European Institutions

DEPARTEMENT : Anthropology and Sociology
CONTRACT: maximum duration contract - 4 years
ACTIVITY RATE: 100% 40 h /w
STARTING DATE: 1 september 2023

Introduction of the department :
Anthropology and Sociology Department


Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF) project funding: “Defending Democracy in the European Union: A Socio-Legal Approach to the European Institutions”

This research project tackles a key issue confronting democracies today: how have democratic institutions defended themselves against threats coming from political movements and parties that aim to undermine their very existence? In the European Union (EU) this reality has become a pressing issue. Seeing that the elected governments in someof its Member States have been dismantling the rule of law at home, while at the same time assuming office in the European Parliament and/or Council of government ministers, the EU institutions have had to face a dilemma about how to respond to these challenges.
This research will produce a pioneering study on how the main EU institutions have defended themselves against threats to democracy coming from such parties. This project analyses how the EU institutions and the individuals that staff them make and shape rules against the parties deemed “anti-EU” by EU institutions, and how they (re)negotiate their behaviour towards them in everyday interactions. Taking an ethnographic approach to legal/policy interpretation and institutional practice, we ask: to what extent and through which practices do the European Union institutions construct internal political outsiders and defend themselves against them?
The project will undertake ethnographic research in the key EU institutions, namely: the European Commission, the Council of the EU, the European Council, the European Court of Justice, and the European Parliament. We apply a multi-methods approach that combines interview-based methods with politicians, high-level bureaucrats, diplomats, and experts in the European Union institutions, non-participant observation and archival research. The project is based at the Geneva Graduate Institute’s Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy and the Department of Anthropology and Sociology.

The role: 

The appointed PhD student will work closely with the project’ s Principal Investigator Grégoire Mallard, Professor in the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, as well as with Christin Tonne (PhD, Geneva Graduate Institute 2022), who will serve as the post-doctoral researcher in charge of research activities and monitoring progress with respect to the completion of the research objectives.
The PhD student will complete a dissertation on the topic planned by the project while being fully integrated into the life of the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, a vibrant department at the Geneva Graduate Institute that conducts innovative ethnographic research on international organizations and transnational processes.
Specifically, the doctoral student will be in charge of the following tasks:
•    Conduct research on the bargaining process between the EU institutions and key member-states that are under EU observation for possible breaches of the rule of law
•    More specifically, fine-tune the project design, collect data through archival research and through semi-structured interviews on:
                   1) how the European Commission and the Council of the EU have come to make eligibility for EU funding conditional on rule of law requirements and which instruments the EU privileges in its approach (such as e.g. the Rule of Law Conditionality Regulation adopted in January 2021);
                   2) how the development of economic sanctions against non-EU member-states has become a site of bargaining between EU member-states about their own commitment to defend the rule of law, not only domestically and at the EU-level but also outside the EU, especially before and after the recent EU sanctions against Russia
•    Prepare and participate in the drafting of joint publications with the PI and post-doctoral researcher
•    Prepare workshops with the research team, policy-makers and academics
•    Present the research project at conferences
•    Meet project interim goals and strictly adhere to project timelines, and help the post-doctoral researcher and the PI carry out administrative duties associated with the research project, including interim reporting to funders


To be successful in this role, you should have: 

•    MA in Sociology, Anthropology or Political Science, ideally with an interest in economic/financial/legal issues.
•    Applicants with an MA in International Affairs, European Studies or International Law or an adjacent discipline, with some courses in sociology or political science, will also be considered.
•    Experience in interview-based research will be a plus, and if any, an ability to conduct interviews with policy practitioners should be mentioned in the letter of motivation.
•    Excellent written and oral communication skills in English, and ideally, written reading and oral skills in one of the Central European languages (Hungarian, Polish, and other European languages). French is also an asset, although not mandatory, as the Geneva
Graduate Institute is a bilingual institution in English and French.
•    Demonstrated familiarity with the European Union institutions and EU political system.
•    Highly organized and capable of working autonomously to complete a PhD thesis
•    Excellent interpersonal skills and demonstrated ability to work collaboratively in an international team
Informal inquiries may be addressed to:

What you can expect from us:

•    A cosmopolitan community
•    Working with students, and researchers come from diverses background
•    Pioneer in the exploration of global issues
•    In the heart of International Geneva
•    A motivating, human, and inclusive working environment

We look forward to receiving your online application, including

•    Letter of motivation in which you describe your accomplishments, explain why you want to pursue a PhD and what career you envision, as well as mention two reference letter writers who can be contacted
•    Short statement (max 1000 words) connecting your research interest to the overall project to which the PhD is attached, and what motivates your interest in the PhD topic more specifically. In this short proposal, you can describe for instance, how you have come into contact with EU institutions so far; which EU institution(s) that have been most active in the rule of law domain you would propose to study; and which episodes in EU history related to rule of law questions are of the highest interests to you.
•    CV
•    Grade Transcript
•    Sample writing (MA thesis, or an article in preparation, or a published book chapter, etc.)
•    Any other documentation that you find to be relevant for project qualification

Submit your application here