The Centre for Complex Systems in Transition (CST) is a flagship research initiative at Stellenbosch University (SU) that brings together research on transdisciplinary, complexity, sustainability and social-ecological resilience to inform pressing national, continental and global sustainability and development challenges. The CST hosts leading scientists and students from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and fosters collaborations with a variety of departments across the university, nationally and globally, providing a vibrant hub for solution-oriented, transdisciplinary sustainability science, that is primarily funded from external research grants. The primary objective of the CST is to co-produce transformational knowledge on the dynamics of multi-scale social-ecological change in partnership with key stakeholders, and thereby provide strategic insights into the new modes of research and governance that can bring about a just transition to a more equitable and sustainable society, in southern Africa and globally. 

This call is associated with the Reconfiguring Energy for Social Equity (ReSET) research project, led by Dr Megan Davies. The CST seeks to contract a Researcher to join the ReSET project, which forms part of the Energy Transitions research group. 

About the Reconfiguring Energy for Social Equity (ReSET) research project 

ReSET is a research collaboration funded by the Volkswagen Foundation with academic partners from the Netherlands (Utrecht University), India (Indian Institute for Human Settlements), Germany (University of Freiburg) and South Africa (Stellenbosch University). ReSET aims to investigate how the transition from fossil to renewable energy can be leveraged to address the Sustainable Development Goals, specifically SDG7 (transition to renewables) and, while doing so, deliver on SDG5 & SDG10 (reducing inequalities) and SDG16 (inclusive and just institutions). This 4-year project (2020 – 2024) also investigates how investments in the energy transition can improve social equity in the global north and south and illuminate key principles that can help achieve this. 

ReSET’s guiding research question is: what processes of institutional work determine the social equity outcomes (SEOs) of investments in the Energy Transition? We address this question by investigating in four countries the emergence of RE configurations that explicitly aim to improve social equity outomes by re-imagining, re-coding and re-configuring the energy transition. 

For more details, see 

Specific requirements 

The CST seeks a PhD student interested in working on issues related to energy transitions, particularly focused on the ‘institutional work’ of aligning investments in the energy transition with social equity outcomes. The focus of the ReSET project will be on the advancing the role of municipalities in South Africa’s energy transition. The candidate will be required to conduct and lead a case study focused on South Africa’s energy transition, with a focus on municipalities, as well as contribute towards international comparative research. 

It is expected that the ideal candidate be familiar with the contemporary dynamics of South Africa’s political economy of energy, with a specific focus on the dynamics of urban energy transitions. Applicants should have a keen interest in sustainability transitions, energy policy, governance, and socio-economic development. The candidate must enjoy working in international research collaborations as well in partnership with social actors. Students need to be able to communicate and write in English. Preference will be given to students who can work independently, are well organised, and who will be willing to participate in the regular activities of the CST at Stellenbosch University. All candidates should show evidence of strong scholarly performance and commitment to publishing. 

A Master’s degree is a specific requirement for the PhD bursary. The ideal candidate will have a Master’s degree (or submitted Master’s dissertation) in a relevant discipline such as energy policy, energy systems, energy economics. Other disciplines such as political science, sociology, anthropology, public policy, public administration; with a dissertation focused on urban energy governance, energy policy, energy systems, the politics of energy transitions, political economy of energy transitions will be welcome. 

The successful candidate will be registered at Stellenbosch University, and co-supervised by Dr Megan Davies and Prof Mark Swilling at the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition. The candidate will be registered within the Faculty of Economics and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University. Successful candidates will be expected to commence their degree in the 3rd quarter of 2021. 

Bursary value 

PhD full time over 4 years: R250 000 p.a, excluding fieldwork expenses and top-ups. 

To apply 

Interested candidates should send: 

  • a motivation letter detailing why you are well-suited to undertake this project, including your previous experience, your general area of interest, as well as your specific interest in this project and project-related ideas, 
  • a 2-page CV that includes your academic record, previous work experience, any scientific publications on which you have been an author, and the names and contact details of at least two academic referees, 
  • transcripts of university-level academic qualifications, 
  • at least one example of recent written work (e.g. a paper, report, thesis chapter). 

Applicants possessing the prescribed minimum qualifications are invited to submit the above required documents electronically to Dr Megan Davies by 26 March 2021.