2 PhD positions at VUB and KU Leuven in the field of housing and neighborhood studies

Published at: 2 March 2021

For a new project on ‘Reconceptualizing the right to housing from a personal and neighborhood perspective’ Cosmopolis Centre of Urban Reseach of Vrije Universiteit Brussel and OSA Urbanism & Architecture of KU Leuven are jointly recruiting two PhD researchers.

Reconceptualizing the right to housing from a personal and neighborhood perspective

Public housing systems are under pressure due to the limited offer, declining social cohesion and increasing shifts towards private provision and middle-income target groups. In response to a permanent housing crisis and declining public housing systems, civil society, activist groups and housing movements are setting up new housing initiatives. We are interested to understand how the right to housing is guaranteed or reclaimed in the new bottom-up initiatives and in the public housing strategies that aim to provide affordable housing solutions. In deprived or low-income neighborhoods the spatial expression of the housing crisis becomes apparent in substandard housing conditions, affordable housing shortage and processes of social exclusion and gentrification. On the personal level, poor and insecure housing conditions produce residential alienation. Based on a mapping of affordable housing solutions and in-depth interviews with residents of these new initiatives and public housing projects in two neighborhoods in Brussels and Antwerp, we aim to contribute to a new theoretical understanding of the right to housing. By reconceptualizing the right to housing from a personal and neighborhood perspective, we contribute to a better understanding of the legitimacy of affordable housing solutions, whether they are public or bottom-up initiatives or combinations of both.

Research groups and collaboration

The project is conducted jointly by Cosmpolis Centre for Urban Research VUB under the supervision of prof. Michael Ryckewaert and OSA Urbanism & Architecture KULeuven under the supervision of prof. Viviana d’Auria. Overall project coordination occurs at Cosmopolis with the support of dr. Nele Aernouts. Cosmopolis Centre for Urban Research (40 FTE, 6 professors) is dedicated to research in social, urban and economic geography, urban studies and spatial planning and urban design. In the housing field, Cosmopolis focuses on policy-oriented and action research, combining quantitative and qualitative research techniques as well as participatory urban design research and ethnographic techniques. OSA Architecture & Urbanism (25 FTE, 3 professors) focuses on urbanism as the act of intervening in the city and urbanism as science. With regard to housing OSA works with the social sciences to develop multiple perspectives on housing and its meaning for cities and vulnerable urban residents. OSA develops mapping methods that integrate knowledge from different disciplinary fields.


We aim to recruit 2 PhD researchers that combine experience in urban design, spatial planning and/or architecture with experience in ethnographic, interviewing and/or other social science methods.

  • The candidate holds a Master’s degree in the field of urban design and/or spatial planning preferably combined with a degree in architecture, engineering-architecture, urban studies, urban governance, geography, social sciences, ethnography or other relevant fields.
  • The candidate at least distinguished her/himself from other fellow students with excellent academic results
  • The candidate meets the requirements to begin doctoral training and has a keen interest in conducting research, including fieldwork
  • The candidate preferably has interdisciplinary experience and a sensitivity for housing issues, neighborhood research and social and spatial justice issues
  • The candidate is a good communicator and enjoys working in a team
  • The candidate is fluent in English
  • Knowledge of Dutch and/or French is an asset; in absence thereof the candidate is prepared to acquire a working knowledge of either or both these languages to conduct interviews


  • The successful candidate engages her/himself to complete a PhD
  • The successful candidate will publish and co-publish in relevant international scholarly journals to effectively disseminate research results
  • The successful candidate will participate in workshops, seminars and conferences locally and internationally
  • The successful candidate is expected to conduct literature review, policy and stakeholder analysis as well as in-depth interviews, spatial mapping and field observations
  • The selected candidate can be involved in limited teaching tasks (up to max 10% of the time) in master’s programs at VUB or KU Leuven


We offer two full-time PhD fellowships for 48 months starting in September 2021 under the joint supervision of profs. Ryckewaert, d’Auria and Aernouts. The PhD candidates will be hired at Cosmopolis VUB or OSA KU Leuven respectively, and will spend their research time in both research units. The candidates will enroll as PhD students at VUB and KU Leuven and will obtain a joint-PhD degree from both institutions.


Applications for and enquiries about these positions should be sent to michael.ryckewaert@vub.be and viviana.dauria@vub.be by May 3rd, 2021 and should comprise

  • a letter of motivation (max. 1 A4)
  • an updated CV
  • copies of the diploma and transcripts of records for the BSc and MSc degrees

Candidates are invited to indicate in their motivation a preferred focus for either interviewing and ethnographic research or spatial mapping and analysis of built space. Students obtaining their master’s degree in the Summer of 2021 are welcome to apply. Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview. The selected researchers are expected to start in September 2021.