Doctoral positions – Campaign 2018: Profile n° 3

Nerds For Nature
Photo : Nerds For Nature (Creative Commons)
“Environmental activism: forms of militant involvement and use of digital technology”

Work-Package: “Biodiversity – Territories – Societies”

The deadline for the submission of applications is Sunday, 22 April 2018 (inclusive).
Recruitment procedure and schedule

Position description

The candidate’s project will lie within the general focus areas of the “Biodiversity – Territories – Societies” Work-Package. It will make a significant contribution to their advancement by studying the forms of active involvement in support of biodiversity and the environment in general, and more specifically the use of digital technologies to pool local stakeholders’ and in particular associations’ resources and rally support.

Civic environmentalism emerged in the 1960s and ’70s in a variety of forms in Europe. Individual and collective involvement in a local, national or international community is crucial and can help anchor sustainable development in these territories. We can also see political involvement being channeled into “direct” action rather than going through institutions or parties, as trust in public institutions is shaken and their legitimacy undermined. The adoption of new practical expressions of these forms of militancy is closely linked to the development of the Web, which appears to be a fertile breeding ground for democratic renewal. New socio-technical tools are emerging at the crossroads of digital technology and public participation, and playing a key role in biodiversity, more specifically through platforms for citizen involvement in defining and locating species.

Environmental activism has adopted practices and spaces for spontaneous action that are redefining the boundaries of citizenship and the way citizens inhabit territories. A variety of experiments are gaining ground in an endeavor to put these principles and values into action. Examples include collective gardens, urban beekeeping and farming, AMAP cooperatives to support local farmers, soft transport and green pedestrian paths, SEL local exchange systems and SCOP cooperative and participatory companies. These projects, many of which are part of the social and solidarity economy, seem to show that other systems of sharing and coexistence can be developed, particularly on a local scale and increasingly frequently with the help of digital technology. The principle underlying all of these experiences revolves around notions of proximity and the translation of lifestyles into tangible features in the territory.

The main objective of this thesis is to put forward fresh ideas about civic environmentalism by questioning the manner in which these forms of local activism are reshaping the way citizens want to live, the purpose of their living together, and their contribution to the territories, in particular through their economically significant contributions to the environment (direct/indirect evaluation). The aim is also to develop a better understanding of how local stakeholders, through their involvement in the territory, their interactions and their use of digital technology, are helping to invent new methods of governance and stewardship of urban spaces.

The thesis will accordingly situate this question in the Ile de France territory and potentially in a second territory, which could be the United States. The study of environmental activism will focus on the associations and groups concerned with issues involving the ecological transition, and who adopt practices aimed at rethinking relationships with the environment, whether natural or social.

To propose an understanding of these new forms of political action, it will be necessary to analyze the capacities of the groups involved in these activism projects. The literature on ecology movements, transition initiatives and the new experiences of citizenship and democratic renewal will therefore be considered. The literature review of the new forms of commons associated with biodiversity will also embrace the capacities endowed by digital technology, especially to association-type networks.

This work will involve comparing qualitative and quantitative approaches and methods already tried and tested in the CIVIC’ACT project. The PhD student will accordingly be able to draw on work already in progress on compiling a database from a survey of environmental activism in Greater Paris and the data collected on socio-environmental inequalities (see below). The task consists in establishing typologies of collective action in relation to territorialized environmental differences, giving precedence to differentiated map representations of the areas of action according to the types of involvement.

The questions addressed by the project team lie at the intersection of several themes: civil society dynamics and environmental processes; territorialized socio-environmental inequalities and the processes entailed in decision-making and public policies. The PhD student’s work will therefore make it possible to reuse and add to the corpus already available.

Planned collaboration

In a broader perspective, the thesis is part of the research being carried out by the CIVIC’ACT project. The CIVIC’ACT project derives from a Franco-American collaboration launched in 2011. Since 2014, it has been conducted as part of focus area 3 “Critical zone dynamics and urbanization conflicts” of the “Earth Politics” interdisciplinary research program at Sorbonne Paris Cité. The CIVIC’ACT project has set out to produce an analysis of the activities and role of voluntary-sector stakeholders in protecting, restoring, managing, improving, transmitting and defending the local environment, in particular in the Greater Paris region. CIVIC’ACT is coordinated by Nathalie BLANC (UMR 7533 LADYSS, Université Paris Diderot) and Jean CHICHE (CEVIPOF, Sciences Po). It is part of research being conducted by specialists from a variety of backgrounds (geography, political science, statistics and geomatics) on voluntary-sector action, both online and off-line, with regard to territorial inequalities.

In 2016, the LabEx DynamiTe contributed to the CIVIC’ACT project by financing a one-year post-doctoral position and a three-month research engineer position. This recruitment enabled us to compile a database of environmental associations in the 131 communes of Greater Paris. We expanded it by forming partnerships with local organizations to collect data on the groups and associations with which they work. We sent out a questionnaire to 753 online associations, asking about their resources, practices, networks and fields of action, which we subsequently followed up with a series of interviews (carried out by the post-doctoral fellow). With the CEVIPOF (the Sciences Po political research center), we compiled a sample of 31 communes that are representative of Greater Paris in terms of land use. We then systematically contacted all of the environmental associations in the communes or arrondissements concerned and conducted a semi-guided interview with an active member. This procedure gave us access to a diverse sample of stakeholders, including more marginalized groups within the broader mass of environmental associations. Lastly, the research engineer created a map base with which we can visualize certain aspects of voluntary-sector activism. We therefore have at our disposal:

  • an online survey administered to 153 environmental associations in Greater Paris (the associations that replied to a survey initially sent out to 750 associations), with which we have been able to draw up a typologized picture of voluntary-sector environmentalism (resources, territories, fields and repertories of action, etc.);
  • a corpus of ongoing interviews (60 of the 90 planned) conducted with members of associations in Greater Paris, in 30 sampled communes divided into three categories of communes in order to account for the diversity of territories in Greater Paris and the role played there by environmental citizens’ groups;
  • an ongoing mapping initiative in the territories in which these associations are active, as well as various visual representations used to compare the role of citizen involvement in Greater Paris and in various cities in the United States;
  • a database documented by the work of the research engineer recruited in 2016 and open to students through the Image Unit containing all of the data collected.

In 2007, the American team with which the French team is working presented its data in the form of an online-accessible map platform as part of the “Stew-Map” (Stewardship Mapping and Assessment Project) initiative. The latter has been launched in several US cities for widespread dissemination of an interactive map of the fields of action of associations working in the environmental field. The issue of transferring and disseminating the data collected and analyzed by the project was therefore raised early in the process. The French team is accordingly considering ways to set up a web platform with a map-based entry point to showcase the maps for publication during 2018.

Required skills and abilities
  • Master’s degree (in geography, spatial planning, sociology, information and communication technology, or political science) and an interest in interdisciplinary urban studies;
  • experience in using qualitative methods to conduct interviews of local stakeholders;
  • experience in using quantitative methods, notably to manage georeferenced databases, would be appreciated.
Additional information

Contract start date: 01/09/2018 or 01/10/2018 (as desired)

Length of contract: 3 years

Host laboratory: UMR 7533 LADYSS (Université Paris Diderot – Olympe de Gouge building)

Thesis supervisor: Nathalie BLANC, CNRS Director of Research, Director of the UMR LADYSS

Assigned university: Université Paris Diderot – PhD School “Economies, Spaces, Societies, Civilizations: Critical thinking, politics and social practices”

Net monthly remuneration: approx. €1,350 (additional teaching assignments possible, depending on the host/assigned establishment)


Recruitment procedure and schedule

The application must be submitted electronically by application form ( It must demonstrate that the candidate fulfils the requirements indicated in the position profile (specified tasks and skills).

The application will include:

  • a description of the doctoral project (2 to 5 pages maximum) indicating the theoretical basis of the research, the research-related issues, the methodology to be used, a feasibility report with a 3-years period and project schedule;
  • curriculum vitae;
  • transcript of higher education record for first year of masters studies (Master 1) and the first semester of research masters (Master 2);
  • a letter of recommendation from the supervisor of the research master’s thesis;
  • a letter confirming the forthcoming defence of the candidate’s master’s thesis (prior to Friday, 31 August 2018).

It is recommended for the candidate to establish contact with the thesis supervisor in advance.

The deadline for the submission of applications is Sunday, 22 April 2018 (inclusive).

For your information: when the deadline for applications has passed, the LabEx DynamiTe will contact the director(s) of the potential host unit(s) and will add one letter of invitation to the application.

The candidate(s) appointed following the evaluation of the applications and interviews (which will take place during the week of 11 June 2018) will be informed of the results of the application process from Monday, 18 June 2018.

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