Postdoctoral research position on the Governance of the Water-Energy-Food Nexus in the Cape Town metropolitan region

 The Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning at Utrecht University is looking for a Postdoctoral Researcher to join our research project 'Nexusing Water, Energy and Food to Increase Resilience in Cape Town Metropolitan Region'.  The project is led by Jochen Monstadt, Professor of Governance of Urban Transition, Utrecht University, and Mark Swilling, Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Development, Stellenbosch University. Partners in this project are the Utrecht Centre for Water, Oceans, and Sustainability Law 

, the University of Western Cape, the Western Cape Economic Development Partnership and ICLEI Africa.

This project critically explores the water-energy-food (WEF) nexus through three main points of departure: the first is to understand the multi-dimensional interaction of water, energy and food systems. The second is to assess how the water-energy-food nexus materializes in selected socio-spatial contexts in Cape Town. Thirdly, the aim is to understand the wicked governance challenges of mitigating, coping with, preparing for, and adapting to urban resource crises. Finally, the project will develop multi-scale procedural guidelines and policy briefs to inform ‘nexusing’ practices.

To achieve these objectives, the research adopts a complex systems approach which systematically addresses the multi-dimensional nature of the water-energy-food nexus. Through a multi-disciplinary approach and in close collaboration with societal partners, WEF ‘nexusing’ will be explored as a broader process-oriented approach to how resources do, and can, interact and be governed across siloed domains. This is a crucially important endeavor in the city of Cape Town which faces a triple exposure to interrelated water, energy and food crises. Through this expanded perspective, and emerging from the urgent need for concerted urban action, this broader view of ‘nexusing’ will be framed through the conceptual lens of urban resilience. The research will assess the vulnerabilities and resilience of complex system interactions to develop recommendations for coordinating resilience strategies that work complementary to existing governance arrangements.

As a member of the project, your research will focus on the institutional and socio-technical challenges shaping the governance of WEF nexuses in the Cape Town metropolitan region. On the one side, you will analyze how WEF systems are governed horizontally through the forms of, and barriers to, coordination and collaboration across siloed WEF domains. This involves an analysis of the institutional, socio-technical, political and spatial conditions that influence how water, energy and food providers, stakeholders from the private sector, civil society organizations, public officials and urban planners collaborate to increase the resilience of urban WEF systems. On the other side, you will explore the territorial governance of WEF systems, i.e., how potential mismatches between municipal/provincial jurisdictions and geographies of water, energy and food systems shape effective resilience strategies. Research methods include policy, institutional and socio-technical analyses, interviews with key stakeholders and multi-stakeholder workshops. The research will be conducted complementary to legal analyses of multi-level governance of WEF systems, metabolic flow analyses as well as analyses of economic and livelihood strategies in six neighborhoods across the metropolitan region.

You will be based at Utrecht University and closely collaborate with fellow researchers in South Africa. Besides conducting empirical research and publishing, you will also be partly responsible for the coordination of the consortium, the support and guidance of PhD candidates in South Africa and the organization of research and outreach activities in South Africa. At the same time, you will have limited teaching responsibilities in our bachelor’s program ‘Human Geography and Spatial Planning’ and in our master’s program ‘Spatial Planning’. 


Successful candidates will have a PhD degree and/or postdoctoral experience in the field of urban and/or regional planning, sustainability and/or infrastructure governance, human geography, political sciences, international development studies, or a related field. As our successful candidate, you will have experience in qualitative methods, working across disciplinary boundaries, conducting interviews and co-organizing workshops. 

Proven expertise in the study of urban and/or environmental governance is an advantage. You are willing to travel to South Africa to conduct field work (if the COVID-19 situation allows), and have experience with field work in the global South, preferably in South African cities. You are able to work independently and are highly motivated to produce high-impact academic and policy-relevant outputs.

Apart from possessing excellent research and academic skills, you need to have strong affinity and/or experience with transdisciplinary research to engage societal actors (i.e., public officials and civil society organizations) in research and outreach. You need to possess strong organizational, coordination and communication skills and be a good team player with affinity to work in an international research environment, because you will also be involved in the coordination of the project.

Utrecht University is an equal opportunity employer and values diversity in research, teaching and administration. Therefore, we encourage applications from women and people in under-represented groups who are looking for new and challenging career opportunities.


We offer a temporary position (0.8 - 1.0 FTE), initially for a period of one year. In case of good performance, the contract will be extended to a total of ca. 2.5 years. The gross salary - depending on previous qualifications and experience  - ranges between €2,960 and €4,670 (scale 10 according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for full-time employment. Salaries are supplemented with a holiday bonus of 8% and a year-end bonus of 8.3% per year.

In addition, Utrecht University offers excellent secondary conditions, including an attractive retirement scheme, (partly paid) parental leave and flexible employment conditions 

 (multiple choice model). For more information, please visit working at Utrecht University 
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About the organisation

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scholars in executing their leading research and inspiring teaching. At Utrecht University 

, the various disciplines collaborate intensively towards major societal themes. Our focus is on Dynamics of Youth, Institutions for Open Societies, Life Sciences and Sustainability.

Utrecht University's Faculty of Geosciences 
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 studies the Earth: from the Earth's core to its surface, including man's spatial and material utilisation of the Earth - always with a focus on sustainability and innovation. With 3,400 students (BSc and MSc) and 720 staff, the faculty is a strong and challenging organisation. The Faculty of Geosciences is organised in four Departments: Earth Sciences, Human Geography & Spatial Planning, Physical Geography, and Sustainable Development.

The Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning 

 investigates sustainability challenges in the context of an ongoing worldwide trend of increasing urbanization. The Department’s ‘Urban Futures’ research program 
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 focuses on the enhancement of long-term economic developments of cities, the inclusion and social inequalities in relation to transnational mobilities, the health outcomes of urban living as well as on the governance and planning of sustainability transformations of cities and urban regions. It develops novel theoretical and empirical approaches that are not solely at the forefront of academic debates but that also create new perspectives on successful policies and interventions to address urban challenges. Institutionally, the successful candidate will be affiliated with the Spatial Planning section, one of the five sections of the Department of Human Geography and Spatial Planning.

The Spatial Planning 

 section is a dynamic, ambitious and internationally leading team with a focus on fundamental and policy-oriented research on the governance of urban transformations. Our ‘Urban Futures’ research program is the basis for our Research Master ‘Global Urban Transformations’ 
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 and Professional Master's in Spatial Planning 
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, Human Geography and International Development Studies 
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. The Department also runs a large and highly appreciated Bachelor's program and is part of the Netherlands Graduate School of Urban and Regional Research for PhD candidates. Unique characteristics of the department are a special team focusing on innovations within teaching methods, its strong involvement in the transdisciplinary sustainability research theme and professional consultancy for public partners. 

Additional information

For more information about this position, please contact: Jochen Monstadt 

 (Professor of Governance of Urban Transitions) or Dr. Shaun Smith 
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 (Assistant Professor).


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives.

If you have the expertise and the experience to excel in this role, then simply respond via the 'Apply' button. Applications should include: 

  1. a motivation letter;
  2. a Curriculum Vitae;
  3. the names of at least two referees (with e-mail contact addresses and phone numbers).

The application deadline is 23 August 2022.

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