PhD position

Job Description

The PhD candidate will work in an ERC-funded project focusing on older women’s sexuality (Later-in-Life Intimacy: Older Women’s Unruly Practices, Places and Representations (LiLI)). The PhD researcher will be based at Ghent University (Belgium) and is expected to work in Ghent and conduct fieldwork in the Belgian context. More specifically, the PhD candidate is expected to carry out the research related to Component II of the study (see project summary below), which focuses on the mutual constitution of physical/digital space and normative ideas of 50+ women’s sexuality, and the ways in which 50+ women disrupt spatial normativities. Focus will be on 50+ women’s living arrangements or ‘home’ spaces and spaces/places in the (semi)pubic sphere that are used by older women in ways that subvert norms or that are created to enable non-normative intimate practices. Main empirical methods will be long-term participant observation in the selected contexts, interviews and creative participatory and mapping methods. The PhD candidate will work in a multidisciplinary team, under the supervision of the PI of the project.

We offer a full-time job initially for a period of one year, but extendable to four years after positive evaluation. The salary is according to standard Ghent University regulations for PhD students. The starting date is 1 May 2021.


Project summary:

“Almost half a century ago, Simone de Beauvoir denounced what she called the ‘conspiracy of silence’ in public and scholarly debates about women growing older. Little has changed since then. In spite of the expanding number and proportion of older women in the population and the changing cultural norms regarding sexuality, older women are still often overlooked in research, and their sexuality in particular is still a taboo. Older women are supposed to become asexual and when their sexuality is considered, it is interpreted within a medicalized and phallocentric framework that starts from young adult standards. So far, social sciences and humanities have failed to develop a viable alternative to this line of thinking. The proposed project aims to rectify this significant gap in research and break the silence around older women and sex. A multi-disciplinary team of scholars with expertise in anthropology (component I), social geography (component II), cultural studies (component III) and feminist philosophy (integration) will collaborate and tackle challenging research questions in order to acquire a fundamentally new, affirmative understanding of women’s later life sexuality. A radical multi-method ethnographic research methodology will be developed, (1) based on long-term participant observation in various settings and (2) with a specific focus on ‘unruly’ sexual strategies of older women across different social categories. By uncovering counter-hegemonic knowledge of older women—knowledge that usually stays under the radar of academic attention—the project has great potential to revolutionize how we look at women, old age, and sex. A shift in thinking is needed because the prevalent conceptualizations are blatantly oppressive for older women. Moreover, the project’s methodological-theoretical design that brings older women’s subversive sexual strategies to the forefront of research has also the potential to open the way for radical changes in feminist theorizations of intersectional power, sexual desire and ageing.”


Job Profile:

We are looking for an outstanding candidate who has a strong interest and drive for research, a passion for both empirical work and theory, and high levels of motivation to complete their research successfully. The candidate must be able to demonstrate excellent academic qualifications and study results.

Specific skills and qualifications that are required:

  • A Master’s degree in Gender Studies, Social or Cultural Geography, Anthropology or Sociology with excellent qualifications at BA and MA level;
  • Acquaintance with feminist theory is required, as is the willingness to delve into sexuality and ageing studies, and theories developed within the social/cultural geography and the sociology and/or anthropology of space and place;
  • Familiarity with ethnographic research methods;
  • Willingness to conduct (internet)ethnographic fieldwork in a number of settings (and provided that the current corona restrictions allow it), such as retirement homes and other living arrangements, clubs, bath houses, saunas, sexualizes spaces (both online and physical spaces), etc. and to have conversations with older women about intimacy and sex;
  • Ability to conduct fieldwork in French or Dutch, or in a (widely spoken) minority language in Belgium;
  • Excellent oral and written communication skills in English;
  • Willingness to live and work in Belgium; prior knowledge of the Belgian context is not required but is a plus.


General skills and qualifications:

  • Critical analytical skills, ability to critical reflection and theoretical analysis;
  • Ability to work independently and good collaboration skills and ability to join a multi/interdisciplinary academic project;
  • Strong work ethic, punctuality and skills in planning that enable to finish the PhD thesis in four years;
  • Resilience to continue or take a different approach when faced with difficulties, risks or uncertainties, flexibility, ability to cope with the stress that comes with an academic job;

The successful candidate will be expected to:

  • Undertake ethnographic fieldwork in selected settings, independently and/or in collaboration with the rest of the team;
  • Publish at least one or two articles or book chapters in collaboration with supervisor and successfully complete a PhD thesis within a period of four years;
  • Follow the Ghent University doctoral training programme;
  • Partake in and organize weekly team meetings, and other meetings, seminars and conferences within the scope of both the ERC project and the research centre & department;
  • Participate in relevant academic conferences;
  • Provide limited assistance in teaching and administration;


How to apply?

All applications must be received no later than 22 February 2021 with the following documents attached as one file, and in the following order:

  • Curriculum Vitae, including the names and contact addresses of two academic references, who will be contacted for recommendation letters after the applicant is shortlisted.
  • Motivation letter (why do you want to join the project and what can you bring to the project?), with brief description of your academic accomplishments (including grades, honours and awards), previous research and/or other experience or accomplishments that demonstrate your academic excellence and suitability for the position.
  • A research proposal (1 page, in English) describing research ideas related to the project description (including the theoretical approach and expertise you may contribute to the project and potential research sites and analytical-methodological approach)
  • One (published or unpublished) paper or MA thesis which demonstrate your critical analysis and writing skills (in English, Dutch or French)


Shortlisted candidates will be notified during the second week of March 2021. Job interviews (via Skype, due to UGent Corona-restrictions) will take place on 15 March 2021. Applications must be sent to