PhD Studentship: Building effective, accountable and inclusive institutions for sustainable natural resource use and livelihoods

University of Birmingham

Birmingham, United Kingdom 🇬🇧

[Go to above “To Apply” link, type “inclusive” in keyword search]


Many millions of people living in rural areas of developing countries depend heavily on renewable natural resources – including water bodies, fisheries, forests and grazing land – to provide food and income. Poorer socio-economic groups are disproportionately dependent upon these resources. Access to and use of these resources is managed through a diversity of governance actors and arrangements, including customary institutions, community-based organisations, local and central government, collaborative structures and the private sector. Despite a diversity of arrangements and experience, there are few situations where sustainable use and improved livelihoods have been achieved.

This failure has been repeatedly linked to the nature and quality of associated governance institutions (Bixler et al., 2015; Selfa and Endter-Wada, 2008). Research findings have not, however, led to significant change in policy, practice and outcomes. It is hypothesized that failure to improve outcomes is at least partially due to the focus of research being almost exclusively on the institutions/structures of governance themselves without looking at the wider context and historical background.

Adding a historical perspective to analysis of contemporary policies and institutional structures helps to furnish that wider context while offering a clearer sense of how and why thinking about and approaches to natural resource governance have evolved. Although all would agree on the importance of studying the historic circumstances in which institutions conducive to effective resource governance arise, there has been little work that actually analyses ongoing initiatives, and links their recent past to their present performance (Austin, 2017; Hodge, 2016; Macekura, 2016, Johnson, 2004). However, to build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions in natural resource governance, the wider political, economic and historical context must be understood. Attention must be given to the genealogies and development of these institutions over time, the actors involved, as well as the ways in which they are rooted in and tailored to their specific social, cultural and political contexts.

The aim of this PhD project is to draw specific lessons about the nature and quality of resource governance institutions by analysing the political and economic environment, and historical context, of governance arrangements from several natural resource sectors (e.g. fisheries, forests, water). This calls for a consciously interdisciplinary approach combining methods and concepts from Development Studies, Geography and History, encapsulated within the body of thinking and literature on political ecology. An analytical framework informed by political ecology will be developed to link the wider political, economic and historical context with the nature and performance of natural resource governance institutions. This will focus in particular on investigating factors affecting the effectiveness, accountability and inclusiveness of governance structures and processes. From the analysis, findings will contribute to knowledge on how to develop effective institutions that can deliver on sustainability and poverty alleviation through taking into consideration how they operate within specific political, economic and historical contexts. Lessons for policy and practice will be developed.

The project will pursue this research on the basis of 3-4 case studies, balancing the need for depth and breadth of analysis, with fieldwork undertaken within one country. The precise case studies and country will be selected with the successful candidate. The purpose of selecting one country is to enable an in depth of analysis of the political, economic and historical context and how that affects the quality and performance of institutions. Data will be generated through analysis of relevant documents, including past and present policies and legislation, and interviews with government officers, a range of community members to include people of different ages, gender, ethnicity and wealth status, relevant NGOs and local and national politicians.

Funding Notes

The Global Challenges Award comprises of:
Full payment of the tuition fee at Research Councils UK Fee Level for year of entry to be paid by the University
An annual maintenance grant at current UK Research Councils rates to be paid in monthly installments to the Global Challenges Scholar by the University.
Full Time students only.
Tenure of award can be for up to 3.5 years.
See the University of Birmingham website for further details:


  • Austin, G. (ed.) 2017. Economic Development and Environmental History in the Anthropocene: Perspectives from Asia and Africa, London.
  • Bixler, R.P., Dell’Angelo, J., Mfune, O., Roba, H. 2015. The political ecology of participatory conservation: institutions and discourse. Journal of Political Ecology, 22: 164-182.
  • Hodge, J.M. 2016. Writing the History of Development. Humanity 7.1:125-74.
  • Johnson, C. 2004. Uncommon ground: the ‘poverty of history’ in common property discourse. Development and change, 35(3), pp.407-434.
  • Macekura, S. 2015. Of Limits and Growth: The Rise of Global Sustainable Development in the Twentieth Century. New York.
  • Selfa, T., Endter-Wada, J. 2008. The politics of community-based conservation in natural resource management: a focus for international comparative analysis. Environment and Planning A, 40:948-965.