Two Ph.D. Positions. Philosophy, History, and Social Studies of Biology (Germany) Deadline: Oct. 15, 2019

Ruhr University Bochum

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January 1, 2020


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Program Details

The Institute of Philosophy at the Ruhr University Bochum seeks applications for 2 Ph.D. positions – one in philosophy of biology, one in history of biology. They will be part of the Emmy Noether-research group “The Return of the Organism in the Biosciences: Theoretical, Historical, and Social Dimensions”, financed by the DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft). Doctoral students will conduct their research under the supervision of the project’s PI, Dr. Jan Baedke.

The successful candidates are expected to actively contribute to the above project. The PhD projects should (1) address relevant conceptual, epistemological, and/or methodological issues on (or related to) the notions of organism, biological individuality, environment, or organism-environment relationship (Ph.D. 1); or (2) study historical debates and/or central positions, figures or publications in early 20th century holistic biology, organicism, and/or dialectical materialism, with a focus on (or related to) the notions of organism, biological individuality, environment, or organism-environment relationship. This work should be supported by archival research and/or digital humanities approaches (Ph.D. 2).

Each candidate’s work should leads to a Ph.D. dissertation within 3 years. The candidates will be encouraged to present his or her research at international workshops or conferences, and at meetings of the research group, which will be composed of two PhD-students, one Post-Doc, two Mercator Fellows (who will visit the research group), and the PI. Research collaborations with other team members and fellows, as well as with members of and the Chair of History and Philosophy of Science are encouraged. Candidates will enjoy the groups’ administrative facilities and financial support.

Project summary: Individuality is a key concept in human societies. How we define individuals and their boundaries affects our social relations, what kind of rights and duties we have, as well as when we are considered healthy or sick. In all these realms, the biological side of humans’ individuality – the organism – plays a crucial role. Currently, after many decades dominated by the paradigm of the gene, the concept of organism is making a comeback in the bio- and biomedical sciences. The organism is again recognized as a causally efficacious, autonomous, and active unit that transcends the properties of genes – especially in fields like epigenetics, niche construction theory, and evolutionary developmental biology (Evo-Devo). This project investigates these recent developments from a perspective of integrated history and philosophy of science. It focuses on (i) biotheoretical and conceptual, (ii) historical, as well as (iii) social and anthropological dimensions of today’s ‘return of the organism’. Especially, it aims at offering solutions for theoretical and societal challenges of organism-centered biosciences in the 21st century. This concerns the problem, (i) that while organisms are increasingly recognized as agents that actively construct their own development and their environments, large genomic datasets also reveal that they are inextricable linked with and fully embedded in their material and social environment. This ambiguous new character of the individual – to stand out and at the same time to disappear – leads to various methodological and explanatory challenges in the biosciences. This complex current situation can better be understood (ii) when compared to periods in the history of biology, especially in the early 20th century, in which the organism emerged as a central unit in biology. In order to identify the relevant conceptual debates and the solutions they offer with respect to today’s challenges, archival research is combined with methods of text mining. Finally, this project investigates (iii) how current individualistic and anti-individualistic developments in biology drive trends in personalized medicine and public health debates. This includes, first, novel responsibilities of individuals as self-determined health care agents, but also new worries about social heteronomy. Second, the ambiguous status of the organism stirs debates about suitable targets of policy interventions – individuals or collectives (e.g., social and ethnic groups) – to combat diseases such as cancer and obesity. This includes the biomedical trend to return to racial classifications for studying disease susceptibilities of environmentally embedded individuals.

Eligibility/ Requirements

For both positions a M.A. in philosophy or history (or another relevant discipline) is required. The candidates should have a strong interest in integrating historical and philosophical studies of science in their work. Although no prior knowledge of history and philosophy of biology is required, such knowledge will be considered as a plus. For more specific requirements:

(1) For the Ph.D. position in philosophy of biology: Expertise (or some knowledge) in philosophy of science is required. Mastering the German language is not required.

(2) For the Ph.D. position in history of biology: Expertise (or some knowledge) in history of science is required. Additional (though not necessary) skills are: Being able to read German, having experience in archival research and/or computational methods of text mining and analysis.

Application Process

Applications in German or English should include:

  • A cover letter that addresses one‘s interest in and suitability for PhD position (1) or (2),
  • A brief description (maximum: 2 pages) of research topics, questions or ideas of interest that fit to
    the group’s profile.
  • A full CV (including the topic of your MA dissertation)
  • A copy of the relevant degree/certificate (and the official list containing your MA grades)
  • A representative writing sample (such as an extract from your MA dissertation, a paper that you
    have written, etc.)
  • A letter of recommendation

If the applicant meets the relevant general requirements and personal qualifications, the salary is 65% of occupation group 13
TV-L of the pay scale for the German public sector.

Submit your documents electronically to under the subject line “Application Emmy Noether Ph.D.”. Short-listed candidates will be interviewed (if necessary, via Skype).

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