Postgraduate research opportunity

Human rights in postgrowth proposals and policies

Sustainable Transitions - Governance, Ecological Management and Society - Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme 2024-25


Project area title: Human rights in postgrowth proposals and policies

Course: Applicants wanting to undertake this research project should apply for a PhD in Law

Funding: The University of Essex is offering six PhD research scholarships for students to participate in one of our Sustainable Transitions DTP projects.


This is an opportunity to conduct fully funded interdisciplinary research under the Sustainable Transitions Leverhulme Doctoral Training Programme at the University of Essex.

Amidst concern that the prevailing ‘green growth’ model advanced under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development will not avert climate, ecological and socioeconomic crises, increasing attention is being given to alternative post-growth and growth-agnostic policy approaches at a wide range of governmental and institutional levels. Research on the relationships between human rights and post- growth proposals such as degrowth or doughnut economics – in theory and practice - is in its infancy. This research project would develop the understanding of obstacles and opportunities to centre human rights in postgrowth approaches as a normative and legal foundation, to protect dignity and well-being and against the abuse of power.

Interdisciplinary focus

International human rights law will provide a normative framing to analyse current shortcomings for human well-being in green transitions, and equally to analyse postgrowth proposals such as degrowth and doughnut economics and their contribution to social and environmental justice, and how this is advanced in local contexts. The project will incorporate political ecology (and human geography more broadly) approaches to analysing degrowth or doughnut economics as a series of proposals and programs that substantiate concrete alternatives within existing socio-economic arrangements and locations.

Political ecology, as the study of the intersection and relationship between politics, economics and the environment, will ensure a clear emphasis on social, economic and environmental processes as determinants of human rights. Political ecology focuses on mobilising critical social science approaches to these intersections, making use of a broad methodological approach incorporating qualitative methods such as ethnography, in-depth interviews and focus groups. Such methods can lead to an understanding of the way that postgrowth proposals may or may not produce socio-economic tensions and conflicts that bear upon human rights.

Training and support

You will be supported through the Sustainable Transitions training programme which provides initial training in interdisciplinary research methods, training in the secondary discipline within the project area, and ongoing training throughout the duration of the programme. All doctoral scholars benefit from the support of Proficio, which entitles you to £2,500 that can be used to purchase training courses either within or external to the University. Additionally, all scholars are entitled to an additional £10,000 that can be used to cover research costs and further training. Doctoral scholars are encouraged to audit/attend University masters and degree level courses where appropriate. You will also have the support of the Sustainable Transitions management team as well as your own supervisory team. All Sustainable Transitions scholars will become part of the University of Essex Centre for Environment and Society through which ongoing events and networking opportunities are available.

Person specification

The successful applicant will have a postgraduate taught degree (e.g. international law, international development, political ecology, environmental studies, human geography, human rights, gender studies) that includes a focus on human rights.

They will also have an interest in developing interdisciplinary research drawing on social science based approaches.

Research proposal

The project area is broadly defined, leaving scope for the applicant to develop their own specific research proposal as part of the application. The successful candidate will further develop their proposal in close consultation with the supervisory team.


The primary discipline supervisor takes the lead responsibility for supervising the project. For further detail relating to supervision see the Guidance for Applicants (.pdf) document.

Additional background information

As governments and key institutions increasingly adopt pro-environmental policies and measures, a series of strong critiques extending into the heart of international climate processes has emerged around the compatibility of economic growth and action on key environmental issues such as climate change. In particular there is a conflict between the hegemonic framing of the issue as one where environmental issues are not only compatible with continued economic growth but will be solved through ‘green’ growth, and a series of critiques setting out how economic growth is incompatible and antagonistic to resolving the broad set of environmental crises we collectively face.

While debate continues over what constitute growth, and whether economic growth broadly understood necessarily includes increasing material and energy usage or is necessary for developing human well- being or flourishing, there has been a recent proliferation in postgrowth policy statements, frameworks and visions.

The social and environmental shortcomings of green growth approaches have resulted in increased attention to other pathways to secure human and environmental well-being under approaches like postgrowth, degrowth and doughnut economics. The human rights implications of these approaches remain underexplored, yet scholars are starting to identify broad synergies as well as potential tensions. Also, whilst increasingly addressing climate change as a human rights issue, and whilst human rights abuses have been arising in green transition contexts, the human rights community has given scant attention to what it would look like to live within planetary boundaries whilst actively protecting human rights and may learn valuable insights from engagement with postgrowth scholarship. While some work has started to be done to explore whether or not human well-being and flourishing is actually possible within planetary boundaries, under-explored is the question of how any transition to such a postgrowth state will impact human rights.

As socio-economic programs and policy developments have emerged as alternative approaches to social provisioning and economic production, including doughnut economies, circular economy, the commons, a renewed cooperativism and social economy, including at formal EU and national policy levels, there is thus an urgency to analyse the impacts of these developments, including the interest and engagement with degrowth and post-growth policies, on human rights and well-being.

Supervisory team references

  1. Bueno De Mesquita, J. (2024). Re-interpreting human rights in the climate crisis: moving beyond economic growth and (un)sustainable development to a future with degrowth. Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights
  2. Beuret, N., (2021). Containing climate change: The new governmental strategies of catastrophic environments. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space. 4 (3), 818-837
  3. Beuret, Nicholas and Bettini, Giovanni and Turhan, Ethemcan (2021) On the Frontlines of Fear Migration and Climate Change in the Local Context of Sardinia, Italy. Acme: an international e-journal for critical geographies, 20 (3). pp. 322-340.
  4. Bueno de Mesquita, J., Ohdedar, B., Chirwa, D., Fyock, C., Madhav, R (forthcoming, 2025), Law for a Post-growth Era: Global Perspectives on Environmental, Human Rights and Economic Law (Edward Elgar)
  5. Bueno De Mesquita, J. and Forman, L., (2023). Normative Frameworks: Human Rights and Social Justice in Global Health. In: Global Health Law & Policy: Ensuring Justice for a Healthier World. Editors: Gostin, L. and Meier, BM (Oxford University Press)