PhD researcher on political polarisation

Deadline 27-05-2022

The Departments of Political Science of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and Université Catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain) are hiring 3 doctoral researchers for the project “The perception of differentness: polarization amongst citizens and dissatisfaction with representatives” (NotLikeUs) funded via an Excellence of Science (EoS) programme from the FWO and FRS-FNRS. One of these three vacancies is to be embedded in the Centre for Digitalisation, Democracy and Innovation (CD2I) at the VUB's Brussels School of Governance. The other two will be hosted by the VUB's Department of Political Sciences and Institut de Sciences Politiques Louvain – Europe (ISPOLE) at UCLouvain. 

Below are the specifications for the vacancy in the CD2I Centre at the VUB's Brussels School of Governance. The specifications of all three vacancies can be found on this page of the VUB EDGE project website.


  • Holder of a Master degree in Political Science or related field in Social Sciences and Humanities. Last year students are encouraged to apply, at the condition that they obtain their MA-degree before the start of the scholarship; i.e. October 1st, 2022.
  • Good organisational and time management skills
  • Ability to work in a team
  • A good command of English, and French and/or Dutch (or willingness to improve one’s command of the other language during the scholarship)
  • Specific skills are required for each of the research themes (see below)


  • This is a call for applications for three full-time doctoral position for four years:
  • Type of contract: CDD – 4 years contract
  • Length of contract: 12 months, renewable three times
  • Full time (100%)
  • Funding: FWO-FNRS EoS project NotLikeUS

The doctoral researcher will become an active member of the research project “The perception of differentness, polarization amongst citizens and dissatisfaction with representatives” (NotLikeUs). The project offers a stimulating working environment in a dynamic and international research team. The project involves 5 research teams from the Universiteit Antwerpen (UA), Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB), KULeuven, Université Catholique de Louvain (UCL), and Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB).

The researcher will be based at VUB. They will have an office and relevant administrative support in those institutions. They will have no teaching obligations but will be allowed to engage in a limited amount of teaching if this is judged appropriate for their academic development. They will be expected to contribute to collective work on the project, and to present and publish individual or collective research outputs. The VUB is an equal opportunity employer.

Starting date is October 1st, 2022.

The deadline for applications is 27 May 2022.  An online or face-to-face interview may be organised in June.

Context of the project

The project examines a hitherto under-examined driver of two of the main problems representative democracies are wrestling with: horizontal affective polarization among citizens and vertical political dissatisfaction with politicians. The ‘new’ driver is the perception that other-minded citizens and other-minded politicians are not only politically different—they have other political preferences—but that they also are different human beings with different social, cultural, and economic features. Ingroup-outgroup mechanisms make that such broad perceptions of differences lead to deepening intergroup animus. Although the theoretical logic of perceptual differences deepening dislike of others is not new, it has never been applied empirically to the study of horizontal polarization and vertical dissatisfaction. NOTLIKEUS engages in a broad and encompassing research program that (1) describes and conceptualizes citizens’ perception of differentness of other-minded citizens/politicians, (2) examines its causes, (3) analyses its effect on polarization and dissatisfaction, (4) investigates its ultimate effect on anti-democratic behaviour, and (5) explores possible solutions to the negative fall-out of high levels of perception of differentness. Drawing on both qualitative and quantitative methods, the project examines the Belgian case, a case that is suitable both theoretically and empirically.

Specifics about this vacancy within the project

Online Media and Perceptions of Differentness (Vrije Universiteit Brussel)

Primary location at which this project is based: Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Department of Political Sciences & Brussels School of Governance, Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels.

Promotor(s): Jonas Lefevere (VUB), with a co-supervision with another university part of the consortium

This PhD project seeks to understand the role of online media on people’s perceptions of differentness. The COVID-19 pandemic seems to have accelerated a shift in people’s use of online social media to connect to other individuals and groups. However, not everyone’s online network is similar: the networks of some individuals include people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and from various societal groups. Other people’s networks are more homogenous. This PhD project sets out to understand whether the different composition of online networks can affect individuals’ perceptions of differentness: Being in touch with members from different groups could take away biases, help see them as a fellow human being rather than as an enemy and increase tolerance towards their viewpoints. In turn, these perceptions of differentness may mitigate the extent to which people become dissatisfied and / or polarized.

This PhD project fits within the broader work package that investigates the causes of perceptions of differentness: as such, there is some room to investigate other potential causes of perceptions of differentness. In terms of methods, this PhD project mainly relies on quantitative methodologies (e.g., surveys, survey-embedded experiments, content analysis), but the entire team is expected to help support the qualitative data collections so the PhD project can also partially rely on these data collections.

Specific requirements for candidates: the project is focused on the case of Belgium, and this PhD project relies mainly on quantitative methods. So, familiarity with (1) quantitative methods (2) Belgian politics and society (3) speaking Dutch and/or French are considered assets for prospective applicants.


Questions regarding the PhD scholarships can be addressed to Professor Virginie Van Ingelgom -

Applications should include:

  • a letter of motivation explaining your interest for the project and clearly indicating for which of the theme(s) you are applying
  • a full CV (including degrees obtained for each study year, the title of your MA-thesis, and, when applicable, a list of publications, relevant courses taken, and conference presentations)
  • a project outline, including a central research question and research design (maximum two pages); if you apply for several of the themes, a project outline for each of them is needed
  • a recommendation letter

Please send the above documents electronically in one single file entitled Application_NotLikeUS_[NAME]_Position #1, to Professor Virginie Van Ingelgom ( AND to Catherine Goessens (