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Utrecht University | 5 Postdoc researchers for the hub Transforming Cities through Infrastructures

Job description (deadline: 14 June 2018)

Within Utrecht University’s strategic theme Pathways to Sustainability an interdisciplinary team of researchers has developed the challenging research programme ‘Transforming Cities through Infrastructures’. In this programme, faculty members from different disciplines (urban governance research, innovation studies, risk assessment, international development studies, economics, law, information and computing sciences, human geography and spatial planning), together with local, national and international stakeholders have developed a platform for new transdisciplinary collaborations on urban sustainability transitions. In this programme, cities and urban regions are seen as key sites and vantage points of societal transitions to circular economies, resilience, healthy living and social inclusiveness. One of the key mediators of such transitions are technical infrastructures—socio-technical systems in the provision of energy, water, wastewater, waste, mobility and information and communication services. However, those systems are highly path dependent and are interlaced with the built environments of cities, urban practices of production and use and embedded in a complex web of political interests and epistemic cultures. Changing urban infrastructures towards sustainability thus imposes exceptionally high requirements in terms of the transformation knowledge and practices for decision makers.

The key objectives of the research hub are thus a) to explore and test transformative techniques and practices of urban ‘futuring’, urban experimentation, co-provision in cities around the world and their capacity to enable and sustain “deep” transitions of multiple infrastructures, b) to understand the urban governance arrangements that shape the restructuring of urban and infrastructural transitions and c) to develop sustainability indicators and assessment tools to understand, evaluate and promote pathways to urban sustainability. The hub will bring together the system-analytical, target, and transformation knowledge of leading researchers at Utrecht University and will work closely together with stakeholders in novel ways to share, validate, and co-create knowledge in ‘city learning labs’ and transdisciplinary approaches.

The hub intends to stimulate empirical analyses and the development of transformative techniques/practices which look across sectoral and oFTEn ‘siloed’ systems (water, energy, solid waste, transportation etc.) within specific urban settings. We ask: what are the cumulative impacts of, and interactions between, urban transitions in different infrastructure domains with regards to circular economies, urban healthy living, urban resilience and inclusivity? The intention of such cross-domain analyses is to provide a broader basis for critically assessing urban pathways to urban sustainability. The hub explores such pathways in a global perspective and will engage with urban regions that represent a diversity of spatial settings, technological cultures, transformative practices and governance settings: Randstad, Berlin, Toronto, Los Angeles, Nanjing, New Delhi, Dar es Salaam, São Paulo and Melbourne.

We invite applications from candidates whose previous research activities and publication record reflect a strong interest and/or proven expertise in exploring urban sustainability transitions through the lens of technical infrastructures. More specifically, we offer five positions as postdoctoral researcher with the following profiles.


1.“Urban Futuring” (0.75 – 1.0 FTE): The postdoctoral researcher will analyse the ways in which a desirable future of cities and infrastructures are depicted. The research will particularly focus on imaginative and immersive approaches that integrate visual appeal, storylines and materiality (e.g. ‘socio-technical imaginaries’, design, storytelling). The researcher will explore how imaginative approaches are being, and can be, combined with cognitive approaches. The researcher will work in close collaboration with colleagues from different disciplines and urban stakeholders. We look for an intrinsically transdisciplinary researcher, who will refine innovative practices of futuring that help shaping pathways to sustainable urban infrastructures (contact: Peter PelzerUrban Futures StudioFaculty of Geosciences).

2. “Urban Experimentation” (0.75 – 1.0 FTE): Urban experimentation holds the political premise to design, demonstrate and learn about the effects of interventions in real time. Practices of urban experimentation have been widely studied as a flexible mode of collaboration between public actors, firms, research institutes, finance institutions and citizens. Far less is known about varied forms of infrastructural experiments in distinct urban contexts. This includes not only experimental approaches to the physical design of interconnected infrastructures, but also with regards to their financing, use and regulation. The postdoctoral researcher will critically reflect upon practices of urban experimentation, their embeddedness in urban politics and their transformative capacity. S/he will systematically engage with urban innovators, learn from their experimental practices across a range of different global urban contexts and critically assess the transferability of ‘best practices’ across urban contexts (contact: Peter DriessenCopernicus Institute of Sustainable DevelopmentFaculty of Geosciences).

3. “Urban Co-design” (0.75 – 1.0 FTE): While much of the academic and policy debate on sustainable cities and infrastructures highlights the role of urban governments, the decisive role of user communities, civil society initiatives and intermediaries in co-providing and co-designing public services and in initiating sustainability initiatives has recently been emphasized. The postdoctoral researcher will explore the role of these actors as ‘co-providers’ and ‘co-designers’ of urban infrastructures, bringing in a variety of perspectives, values and forms of knowledge. This work builds upon research on the co-provision of infrastructure services and innovative approaches to social design in urban environments. Based on studies in varied urban contexts, the researcher will engage with civil society and user initiatives to explore their creativity and practices and to feed insights into actual transition processes (contact: Albert MeijerUtrecht School of GovernanceFaculty of Law, Economics and Governance).

4. “Governance of Urban Transitions”
 (0.75 – 1.0 FTE): Based on in-depth research in selected cities and engagement with local stakeholders, the postdoctoral researcher will critically explore the capacity of local governments, utility companies, etc. to introduce and sustain urban transitions. New technologies or socio-technical practices do not simply replace former infrastructure systems with new ones, but usually add to them and imply new forms of interference, conflict and uncertainty. Introducing change across siloed domains of infrastructure policy and provision thus imposes exceptionally high governance requirements. The postdoctoral researcher will thus explore the transformative capacity and legitimacy of urban governance regimes confronted with the challenges of sustainability transitions (contact: Jochen MonstadtDepartment of Human Geography and Spatial PlanningFaculty of Geosciences).

5. “Urban Sustainability Assessment” (0.75 FTE): To assess progress in urban transitions, the postdoctoral researcher will review and apply sustainability assessment methods and indicator systems (e.g. physical, environmental, health, social). The ultimate goal is to provide direction to decision makers for urban transition processes worldwide towards circular, healthy, resilient and inclusive cities. Close collaboration with the other postdoctoral researchers is required in order to integrate the research findings for achieving the overall project objectives outlined above (contact: Bert BrunekreefInstitute for Risk Assessment SciencesFaculty of Veterinary Medicine).

Close collaboration among the postdoctoral researchers is required in order to integrate the research findings for achieving the overall project objectives outlined above. For all positions, expertise in empirical-analytical research, in transdisciplinary methods as well as in working across urban contexts is required.



We seek highly motivated candidates who hold a PhD in a relevant discipline such as human geography, urban planning, public administration, political science, innovation studies or environmental sciences, who show leadership and who initiate new research projects within the research hub, both independently and in collaboration with other researchers of the hub. If you:

  • have experience in conducting transdisciplinary sustainability research leading to high-quality publications and societal outcomes;
  • have a good (international) research network;
  • see added value in collaborating in inter- and transdisciplinary research projects;
  • are able to acquire external research funding in competition;
  • have a proven record of research in one of the fields above;
  • are willing and confident to teach subjects beyond your niche of expertise and to supervise bachelor and master students (in case of an application for a full-time position);
  • are proficient in both written and spoken English;
  • are a team player and are looking forward to contributing to, and collaborating with different transdisciplinary groups;

We encourage you to apply. Research experience and networks in one or more of the urban contexts listed above is an advantage.

See here for more details and how to apply!