Gepubliceerd op 05-01-2021

2 PhDs on Institutions for Collective action (UNICA)


Across Europe, new bottom-up and self-governing institutions for the provisioning of energy, food, care and many other goods and services are currently increasingly being set up by citizens. Citizens hereby govern and use resources collectively according to the rules they decide upon as a group. These modern day forms of citizen collectivities have many similarities in institutional design with guilds, commons, cooperatives, and other institutions that have been developed in Europe’s history. UNICA ambitiously aims at building a unified theory that both explains the factors behind the development and spread of such “institutions for collective action” (ICAs) across Europe over the past millennium, In the project elements have contributed to the claim that they would be more resilient than top-down, share-holder types of organisations will be identified. This will be done by:

  1. Creating a spatio-temporal taxonomy of archetypes of ICAs for the past millennium
  2. Analyzing the scaling strategies of various ICAs over time
  3. A study of the relationship between size and heterogeneity of both members and resources (for fishing collectivities and mutuals) and their impact on the institutional design of the ICA.

Hereby a novel conceptual framework for the historical study of various types of institutions for collective action (ICAs) will be applied in order to capture the dynamic interaction between membership, institutional features and resources of ICAs. The two PhD-positions that are available fit under the 3rd part of the project and will focus on the micro-level. Each of the PhDs will focus on a specific type of institution for collective action. One will focus on fishing collectivities (whereby the premodern period will also be covered) and one will focus on mutual insurances (focussing predominantly on developments in the 19th and 20th century).

Further information about the project can be found at: http://www.collective-action.info/unica


Institutions for Collective Action, longitudinal analysis, Social enterprises, Commons, mutuals, fishing collectivities, resilience


MICRO-analysis of internal functioning of fishing collectivities and mutuals

Remarkable about the growth of new ICAs today is their omnipresence in various sectors, and their tendency to utilise similar types of rules and mechanisms to achieve resilience – regardless of differences in resource types. In this context lists of rules for resilient ICAs, in particular the Design Principles List of Ostrom has received a lot of attention. However, this attention has somewhat obscured the subtle varieties in rules and their adjustments that took place over time as well as the attention for the way in which such rules play a role in dealing with variations in size and heterogeneity of both resources and members. Both between and within specific ICA-archetypes such varieties are present, which motivates our choice for in-depth micro-analyses of internal functioning of 2 substantially different types of ICAs, fishing collectivities (1200-2020) and mutual insurances (1900-2020). Two PhDs will be hired for these micro-analyses whereby one PhD will focus on fishing collectivities and another on mutuals. The geographical area of study within Europe will be decided upon by the PhD-student and supervisors. Both fishing collectivities and mutuals are interesting examples of different forms of collective action. Whereas fishing collectivities originally were organised as guilds but moved on as cooperatives after their dissolution, mutuals were a new form of ICA which took over part of the functions (insurances) of the guilds, which had been dissolved by the end of the 18th century. The continuity between the guilds and cooperatives and mutual can help us to understand the effect of resource type on the prevalence of collective action in specific sectors.

These differences in both resource types and member-expectations ensure that our focus on these ICA-archetypes will deliver a unique perspective on the range of instruments to deal with social dilemmas within an ICA-context over long periods of time. With these studies we aim at delivering a specific outcome that will add to the integrated theory on ICAs: we will build scenarios that help us 1) to identify the impact of group and resource size and heterogeneity in terms of utility and equity, and 2) how institutional design is adapted to moderate these effects.

UNICA provides two PhD-positions, of which one will be focusing on fishing collectivities and one will be focusing on mutual.


In terms of size and heterogeneity of membership, these studies will identify the level of utility and equity by using already designed parameters to evaluate, across time, the relationship between the member-group’s features on the one hand, and the way in which resources and access to the decision-making processes are distributed among members on the other. In terms of the study of size and heterogeneity of resources, these projects will consist of several data collection and analysis efforts. First of all, an overview will be made of how services and goods offered to the collectivity of members have evolved over time (stock and flow of the resources); how the diversity in functions was adjusted to the needs of the members over time (changes in utility); and to what extent rules were adjusted to balance changes in the members’ needs. In terms of institutional analysis, these studies will add to the Commons-rules-dataset  building upon extensive experiences of the research team in longitudinal analysis of ICA-regulation, as demonstrated in MIDI-project and Common-Rules-projectThe large database of historical cases of commons on which the MIDI-project builds allow us to track institutional change as a reaction to changes in resources, in the user group, and in external factors.

Sources to be used for this research:


Members’ behaviour will be reconstructed on the basis of archival evidence documenting exploitation levels and contribution to the ICA’s resource maintenance. The utility members obtained from resource exploitation will be linked to changes in their background and how this affected their within-group behaviour. Conversely, the degree to which members were treated fairly (social equity), will be derived from records on their access to resources and involvement in decision-making processes. Other sources needed to study group dynamics will mainly consist of bookkeeping (to reconstruct the involvement of members in the appropriation of the resources, administrative work and labour done for the organization, etc.) in combination with membership lists and other sources indirectly related to the case (such as parish registers) to retrieve sufficient biographical information about individual members. Resource availability will also be distilled from meeting records and from other, wherever relevant and available, sources (such as economic surveys). Regulation data will be retrieved from rule-books or other sources in which the rules were noted, e.g. minutes of general meetings of the organization.

Required profile

  • Master’s degree in Humanities or Social sciences, with a specific interest in longitudinal approaches to understanding societal problems
  • Affinity with historical research and dealing with archival sources is a plus for these positions
  • For the PhD-position on fishing collectivities, a keen interest in natural resource management is a plus
  • For the PhD-position on mutual insurances, a keen interest in the financial sector/insurance sector is a plus
  • Inquisitive nature
  • Social skills to engage with other colleagues and societal stakeholders and interested in experimenting with new research approaches
  • People skills to work in a team, willingness to contribute to the work of others and the functioning of the research team
  • Sufficient discipline to master a broad base of scientific literature
  • Multi-disciplinary attitude

Expected output

  • At least 3 ERIM-list articles
  • Active participation in the team’s functioning and contributions to knowledge valorization via Collectievekracht.eu
  • Collaborative efforts to work together with various partners, both academic and societal.


The project is embedded in the department of Business-Society Management under the so-called ORG (Organisation) pillar of the Research school (ERIM). As a research team we will be expanding the already existing network of local, national and international partners through building partnerships with organisations (such as VLaams Instituut voor de Zee, International Cooperative and Mutual Insurance Federation (ICMIF.org), and the International Association for the Study of the Commons) and research initiatives such as the Institutional Grammar Initiative (see institutionalgrammar.org).

Societal relevance

The project will allow us to connect micro-changes to macro-results, and to reflect on the potential outcomes of the current new “wave” of institutions for collective action. These results will be transferred to COLLECTIEVEKRACHT.eu, a self-governing platform for self-governing ICAs today, which is also an important part of the project to which all project members contribute. This platform will be developed on the basis of the principles of Extreme Citizen Science, in cooperation with and co-funded by several external parties. Other means of communication and valorisation will be an interactive redesign of www.collective-action.info, several conferences, further elaboration of the ICA-team’s network among academics, and by strengthening the ties with non-academic partners.

Scientific relevance

Given the slow changes that characterize institutions in general as well as the delay in visible impacts that resource use and management may have in the long run, a “longitudinal approach” is essential to understand how ICAs function; over time, a multitude of institutional arrangements for resource management have emerged to tackle numerous changes in economy and society. Comparative analysis over space and time is needed to identify the variety in these arrangements and the mechanisms behind them. In this project, this longitudinal approach will be linked to other approaches from other disciplines than history.

Employment conditions

ERIM offers fully-funded and salaried PhD positions, which means that accepted PhD candidates become employees (promovendi) of Erasmus University Rotterdam. Salary and benefits are in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO).

Contact Information

For questions regarding the PhD application and selection procedure, please check the Admissions or send us an e-mail via phd@erim.eur.nl.

Erasmus Research Institute of Management

The Erasmus Research Institute of Management (ERIM) is the joint research institute of the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) and the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE). The research undertaken by ERIM is focused on management of the firm in its environment, its intra- and interfirm relations, business processes, strategies, finances, consumers, markets and their interdependent connections.

Since its founding in 1999, the objective of ERIM is to carry out first-rate research in management and to offer an advanced doctoral programme in Business and Management. The Erasmus Doctoral Programme in Business and Management is a highly advanced international programme designed to train future researchers. The English-taught programme includes systematic coaching and academic and personal development from leading academics. Within ERIM, over 350 senior researchers and PhD candidates are active in five research programmes, spanning all areas of management research. From a variety of academic backgrounds and expertise, the ERIM Community is united in striving for excellence and working at the forefront of creating new business knowledge.

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