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ISEK - Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies Social and Cultural Anthropology

Vacancy: 2 PhD Positions in Social Anthropology

Research project

The Department of Social Anthropology and Cultural Studies (ISEK) at the University of Zurich is offering two PhD positions within a 4-year research project titled “Aspirations for Change 4.0: The Making of Innovation in Vietnam,” funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and led by Prof. Dr. Annuska Derks. The project seeks to critically examine the idea of “innovation,” and the widely held belief that it is a panacea for society’s problems and development, within the context of Vietnam. To do this, the project will explore global and local conceptions of innovation in relation to Vietnam’s particular history of colonialism, socialist revolution, more recent economic liberalization policies and current development aspirations, attending to the specific actors, practices and discourses/narratives involved. Independent research will be carried out across various sectors where innovation is seen as key to development success within the so-called “4IR,” or Fourth Industrial Revolution, era (e.g. higher education, entrepreneurship, sustainable energy, etc.).

The PhD projects will address the subject of innovation within two of these different sectors in Vietnam: Project 1 will focus on “Digitalization and the sharing economy,” and Project 2 on “High-tech agricultural production.” Project 1 will examine how the sharing economy is integrated into the overall economic system in Vietnam by focusing on the making of innovation at the crossroads of technology and economy. The PhD researcher will explore the meanings, practices and networks of sharing mediated by digital-based sharing platforms (e.g. Grab, Vay Mượn, Vietnammm, Luxstay) and their relation to issues of access, exclusion and communality.  Project 2 will focus on the emergence of “high-tech agriculture,” or “Agriculture 4.0,” as a means of addressing the demands of Vietnam’s increasing population, urbanization, export needs, and various pressures from climate change. The PhD researcher will look at the different actors and practices involved in the making of high-tech agriculture and investigate the relations and frictions with existing farming practices as well as the transformations experienced by farm owners and workers. As integral parts of the overall “Aspirations for Change 4.0” research scheme, these two PhD projects seek to explore the central question: How is innovation made in Vietnam?

Your duties and responsibilities

As a PhD researcher you will be working on one of the two above-mentioned research projects, the objective of which is to earn a doctorate in Social Anthropology. You are expected to conduct at least one consecutive year of ethnographic fieldwork in Vietnam, with shorter stints of research at other times for follow-up data collection, conferences, etc. The rest of the time you will be based in Zurich at ISEK, where you will be able to benefit from regular project meetings, participate in the Social Anthropology Colloquium Series and write your PhD dissertation. You will have the opportunity to present your work at international workshops and conferences and participate in the organization of an international workshop to be held at the University of Zurich.

Your profile

We are looking for a PhD candidate who:

  • has graduated with excellent results on a research-based MA thesis in Social Anthropology or a related discipline
  • has fieldwork experience, ideally in Southeast Asia/Vietnam
  • has excellent written and spoken English language skills; Vietnamese language skills are also a major advantage
  • is able and willing to work individually as well as in a team
  • takes initiative and enjoys organizing and engaging in (international) academic exchange
  • has a keen interest in exploring ideas and practices related to innovation and development

Our offer

The appointment will be for a period of 4 years, starting on the 1st of September 2020 or by mutual agreement. The salary is based on rates set by the Swiss National Science Foundation (

As an ISEK doctoral student, you will become part of a dynamic, innovative and stimulating research and teaching environment, with excellent opportunities for further qualifications, and a motivated faculty interested in academic exchange. As a PhD student at a Swiss university, you will also have the opportunity to join the “Swiss Graduate Program in Anthropology” (

Your application

We look forward to receiving your application. Please enclose the following documents:

  • Motivation letter, stating clearly why you are interested in this project and pursuing a PhD at UZH
  • A short description of the research project you wish to pursue, 1) “Digitalization and the sharing economy” or 2) “High-tech agricultural production,” and your ideas regarding this particular focus, including initial thoughts on fieldwork location(s) and research questions
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Abstract from your MA Thesis
  • Sample chapter of your MA thesis (or an alternative piece of academic writing)
  • Copies of your academic degrees
  • Names and contact details of two referees

Please send your electronic application by Friday January 31st, 2020 to:


For inquiries regarding the project, please contact Prof. Dr. Annuska Derks: