2 PhD positions in the research programme ‘The Business Corporation as a Political Actor’ (1.0 FTE)

Hours per week: 
38 to 40
Faculty of Humanities
departement Filosofie en Religiewetenschap
Application deadline: 
25 February 2020

Job description

Companies are regulated by politics, but they also shape the political arena themselves, whenever they influence politicians and political parties. Moreover, companies fulfill public functions such as providing public goods, regulating their own business activities, or addressing societal problems, like environmental harms. Can this mix of private activity and public responsibility be legitimate, in a democratic society? Aren't corporations given too much political power? Are multinationals different in this respect from other companies? These questions are central in the recently awarded ERC Consolidator Grant project ‘The Business Corporation as a Political Actor’. 

The project is based on the hypothesis that a new social contract is necessary to make the public role of contemporary corporations legitimate. This requires transplanting notions traditionally used for legitimizing states – like respecting human rights, democratic procedures, and standards of social justice – to corporations. Is this possible? To answer this question, the project engages in a philosophical reflection on the possibilities to apply existing political theories of legitimacy to corporations. This is combined with practical case studies on different types of regulation of corporate activity: corporate governance regulating, tax policies, and competition law, etc. Home base of the project is Political Philosophy, but its aim is to integrate insights from other disciplines, such as law, economics, political science and history. 

You will be working under the supervision of the Program Leader, Rutger Claassen, as part of a research team consisting of two PhD candidates and two Postdoctoral Researchers. You will play an active role in the research team, organize and take part in workshops, public events and other activities. The positions are based at the Ethics Institute, which is part of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies of Utrecht University, which provides a stimulating and internationally oriented research environment. All positions start at 1 September 2020. 

Phd Position 1: ‘The Democratic Accountability of the Corporation‘ (4 years, 1.0 FTE). The first PhD project inquires whether legitimate corporate activity requires democratization. This will require an account of how internal democratisation (i.e. ‘workplace democracy ‘) as well as external democratisation (representation of outside stakeholders in corporate decision making) can be justified, and how both dimensions can be integrated into one coherent democratic theory. Furthermore, the sub project will address the question which variations in regimes of corporate governance can be distinguished in a global context, and how each of them embody the ideals of democracy. 
PhD Position 2: ‘Social Justice for Corporations’ (4 years, 1.0 FTE) The second PhD project aims to develop a theory of social justice for corporations; identifying to what standards of fair corporate conduct corporations should be held. This will include an account of the division of moral labour between corporations and governments, what substantive duties corporations owe to their employees, and which duties of fair taxation corporations owe to the political community(ies) in which they operate. 


  • You have completed a Master's in Philosophy or a related field. Additional knowledge in a field relevant to the project (especially Law, Economics, Political Science, History, Sociology or Business/Management Studies) is welcome;
  • You are specialized in Ethics and/or Political Philosophy, for example in the field of Political Authority/Legitimacy, Democratic Theory and/or Theories of Justice; 
  • You have an excellent track record and research skills, relative to experience; and excellent academic writing and presentation skills; 
  • You have the ability to work both independently and as part of a team; 
  • You have an active interest in interdisciplinary work which connects philosophical analysis to other relevant disciplines and societal challenges. 


We offer a position (1.0 FTE) for the duration of 18 months. In case of a good performance and a positive evaluation, the contract will be extended for the remaining period of 30 months (4 years in total). The gross salary ranges between €2,325 in the first year and €2,972 in the fourth year (scale P according to the Collective Labour Agreement Dutch Universities) per month for a 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). More information about working at Utrecht University can be found here.

About the organisation

A better future for everyone. This ambition motivates our scientists 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.

The Faculty of Humanities has around 6,000 students and 900 staff members. It comprises four knowledge domains: Philosophy and Religious Studies, History and Art History, Media and Culture Studies, and Languages, Literature and Communication. With its research and education in these fields, the Faculty aims to contribute to a better understanding of the Netherlands and Europe in a rapidly changing social and cultural context. The enthusiastic and committed colleagues and the excellent amenities in the historical city center of Utrecht, where the Faculty is housed, contribute to an inspiring working environment.

Additional information

For further information about the vacancy, please contact Prof Rutger Claassen (Project Leader), via r.j.g.claassen@uu.nl.


Everyone deserves to feel at home at our university. We welcome employees with a wide variety of backgrounds and perspectives. To apply, please send your curriculum vitae, including a letter of motivation via the ‘apply’ button below

N.B. Before applying, please read the full project description, which includes a description of the sub project for which you would like to apply.

To apply, please upload 4 documents:

  1. a one-page letter of motivation, followed by a one-page research note, setting out your ideas about how to work out the specific sub project for which you apply (see the sub project description in the PDF above);
  2. a curriculum vitae of maximum 3 pages, including the names and contact details of two scholars who can be contacted for a reference;
  3. grade transcripts;
  4. one writing sample of 20 pages max; 

Candidates can apply for one or both of the PhD-projects. In case you apply for both projects, please write a combined research note of 1-2 pages.

The application deadline is 25 February 2020.