ESR 15:
International forest conservation discourses and local decisions as telecoupled systems

Home Institution: University of Copenhagen, Denmark
Principal Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Ole Mertz
Co-Supervisor: Prof. Dr. Jonas Østergaard Nielsen
Application date: 16/10/2017-24/11/2017
Starting date: 01/07/2018 or earlier
Duration: 3 years


Conservation of biodiversity and ecosystem have been on the international agenda for many decades, but the urgency of conservation efforts are being emphasized by a wide range of scientists and conservation organizations as there is a continued and increasing pressure on natural ecosystems, especially in the Global South.  This has led to even more persistent calls for creating conservation areas, and, particularly in tropical forested regions, areas that are maintained as undisturbed as possible from humans in order to maintain high biodiversity of endemic and specialist species. These efforts translate into concrete actions on the ground and rely on obtaining goodwill from local forest users who may be dependent on the conserved areas in many different ways and to different degrees. Their decisions are crucial for the outcome of the conservation efforts and while there has been many studies analyzing mainly economic and policy drivers of such decisions, there is less knowledge on how the international conservation discourses influence local decision-making.

On this background, this ESR will:

  • Analyse to what extent international conservation rhetoric affects forest-dependent communities in Laos and Thailand as a telecoupled system,
  • Investigate whether local people change land use, livelihoods, or engagement in conservation when international pressure reaches them through media or national stakeholder,
  • Understand how local people navigate when conservation discourses and economic development discourses are in conflict, and
  • Use interviews at local (community), national (stakeholders) and international level (NGOs, UN) to disentangle the local impacts of conservation discourses on land use and livelihoods.

In doing so, the ESR is expected to provide a mapping of the impact of European and international environmental discourses at local level in SE Asia and a thorough understanding of the role of media in transmitting discourses and feedbacks as well as the interplay between conservation and development discourses. The ESR will be jointly supervised by Profs. Ole Mertz (Section for Geography, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management, University of Copenhagen, Denmark) and Jonas Nielsen (Geography Department & IRI THESys, HU Berlin, Germany). Two secondments will take place at World Conservation Monitoring Centre, Cambridge, UK and Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany.


Part of the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU), and among Europe’s top-ranking universities, The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is the largest research and education institution in Denmark with more than 40,000 students, 2500 PhD students and 9000 staff. The ESR will be attached to the research group Environment and Society in Developing Countries at the Section for Geography, Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management. The Section is one of the largest university-based geography units in Europe that maintains a strong focus on the interdisciplinary aspects of both human and physical geography.

We seek

A candidate having an MA/MSc (or the equivalent degree), in Geography, Development Studies, Environmental Science or related fields. We expect a strong interest in land system science, conservation and sustainability problems. Experience with both qualitative and quantitative research is an asset. The willingness to travel to the Global South is mandatory and research experience in Southeast Asia is an asset.


Prof. Dr Ole Mertz


Do you consider applying?

In any case please check the eligibility criteria in the first place.

To submit your application, please go to the the legally binding version.