ERC studentship for a project on emptying towns and villages in Eastern Europe and Russia

Applications are invited for a DPhil studentship in anthropology or migration studies. This studentship will be for a maximum duration of 3 years and include a stipend and research expenses of no less than £36,000 per annum (with additional support during the fieldwork year). Starting in October 2021 this studentship will be within the framework of the European Research Council project “Emptiness: Living Capitalism and Democracy After (Post)Socialism.” Funding from the European Research Council means that applicants of all nationalities are eligible for this project. If/when Brexit occurs, the project will be supported by the UK Government under identical rules.

The DPhil student will be part of a research team led by Dr. Dace Dzenovska and hosted by the University of Oxford’s School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography and the Centre on Migration, Policy, and Society. Under the supervision of Dr. Dace Dzenovska, the student will be responsible for developing and carrying out their own original project in Ukraine, Belarus, or Russia (other locations within the former socialist world may be considered) within the overarching analytical and methodological frame of the project. The student will also undertake collaborative work with other team members.

Project summary

The project will study the emptying cities, towns, and villages in Eastern Europe and Russia through the lens of “emptiness” as a concrete historical formation that has emerged in conditions when socialist modernity is gone and promises of capitalist modernity have failed. It proceeds from the following observations: (1), many towns and villages across the former socialist space are being abandoned by capital, the state, and people; (2), there is a proliferation of popular and scholarly imaginaries and discourses of emptiness as the ruination of material, social, and economic life, and the coming of a radically different future; (3), emptiness and emptying are politicized, with some political actors pointing to the risks of emptying and others considering narratives of emptying as themselves threatening to the existing political order; and (4), despite—or because—of politicization, emptying is subject to governance, as in the case of “shrinking cities” in East Germany. And yet, the material, social, and political contours of emptying and emptiness are poorly understood. This has considerable effects for how people act upon the concrete challenges that emptying and emptiness present.

The project mobilizes emptiness as an emic discursive figure derived from ethnographic research in the Latvian-Russian borderlands to study the withdrawal of the state, capital, and people in Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus (other locations in the former socialist world may be considered). The project aims to: (1), study the experiences and narratives of emptiness and emptying; (2), examine the politics and governance of emptying and emptiness; and (3), use postsocialist “emptying” and “emptiness” as lenses for analyzing global reconfigurations of relations between capital, the state, people, and place at a time when capital flows and statecraft are increasingly concentrated in “global cities,” with the rest of urban and non-urban spaces becoming radically disconnected.

Position requirements

The doctoral student will be enrolled on the DPhil Anthropology or DPhil in Migration Studies, both based at the School of Anthropology and Museum Ethnography. In addition to meeting the admissions criteria as described on degree websites (see below), the successful candidate will have good Russian and/or field language skills, be familiar with the region (previous work or education experience), and be prepared and willing to work with ethnographic methods.

Applications are to be submitted via the university’s application portal. The deadline is Friday, January 22, 2021. Please note that in addition to the materials requested as part of the regular admissions process, candidates must submit a letter outlining: (1) their interest in the research topic of the project; (2) previous relevant research or work experience; (3) links between their DPhil proposal and the topic/approach of the project; and (4) their overall suitability for the studentship within the framework of the project.

Further details on eligibility and on the application procedure are available on the university website pages for the DPhil in Anthropology and for the DPhil in Migration Studies.

Potential applicants who meet the eligibility criteria are welcome to contact Dr. Dace Dzenovska for more information ahead of the official closing date via email to, with “ERC Emptiness Studentship” in the email subject line.