PhD research

Integrated data infrastructure for research and evidence-based policies in local public health

PhD candidate: Eline Berkers

My name is Eline Berkers, and I’m a PhD student in the department of Sociology and Tranzo (Academische werkplaats Publieke Gezondheid Brabant). The main aim of my PhD project is to valorize and increase the accessibility of data that is collected by various local institutions on health and health behavior, wellbeing, participation and related subjects. This data offers many possibilities, both for science and practice, but it is often underutilized. We start with societal issues that are relevant to our partners (e.g. the municipality of Breda and the Regional Health Services of Noord-Brabant) and combine this with a scientific perspective. The research topics are diverse and relate to important societal issues related to policy, healthcare, the living environment, mental health and wellbeing. By combining input from practice and science, we produce new insights that are relevant for both fields.

An example of a project is a collaboration with the municipality of Breda. For this municipality, we looked into the relationship between informal social support provided by family, friends and neighbours and use of formal support, provided by municipalities under the Social Support Act (in Dutch: Wet Maatschappelijke Ondersteuning). We used a new combination of data by merging data from the municipality registration about municipal support, with survey data about informal social support. In this way, we verified if the assumptions behind the Social Support Act were supported in this municipality. This gave new insights into how this act works in practice.

Privacy risks in the Big Data society

PhD candidate: Angelica Maineri

Has the Cambridge Analytica scandal eroded trust in social media? Do people accept surveillance in public areas to a larger extent than online? Will the Dutch citizens accept a COVID-19 health passport to be allowed in public places? These questions tap on a common theme: how people react to privacy risks in a datafied society. Risks of privacy violations are not new; however, they have become more prominent since digital technologies now enable information flows at a speed and breadth which is unprecedented in history.

When social life is constantly quantified and rendered into (big) data, our personal information is no longer in the sole hands of ourselves and institutions legitimately representing us, but it also depends on how others behave, on private companies which increasingly mediate our daily lives, and on broader socio-technical systems. Therefore, it is no longer sufficient to regard privacy as an individual responsibility, but the context has to be considered. The impact of individuals’ social positions and cultural predispositions on privacy evaluations has to be situated into a pattern of norms pertaining the transmission of personal information (e.g., who has access, why and how a violation is sanctioned), as well as into a societal context (e.g., the spread of ICTs, the presence of a global health threat to justify invasive surveillance).

In my work, I draw on sociological theories to investigate the interplay between micro (i.e., individual preferences and resources), meso (i.e., social and informational norms), and macro (e.g., societal context, technological affordances) factors in shaping the perception of and reaction to privacy-related risks, by using survey data and quantitative methods.

Entrepreneurs’ willingness to care about society within the welfare state

PhD candidate: Michiel van Rijn

Social entrepreneurship combines a social aim with business logics. Whereas social entrepreneurs primarily aim at enhancing the quality of life around the world, welfare states aim to alleviate the social risks in life. It can be argued that both social entrepreneurs and the welfare state have similar goals, for example by creating work integration initiatives for the long-term unemployed or establishing initiatives to counter loneliness among the elderly. The common denominator is the quality of life of people.

However, the question arises how social entrepreneurs react to the welfare state. Moreover, if the welfare state already foresees in the livelihood of economically and/or socially deprived people, what is then the legitimacy of the social entrepreneur? In my dissertation project, I study the importance of social goals for entrepreneurs, what motivates people to become an (social) entrepreneur, and what motivates social entrepreneurs to monitor their social impact. All this is studied in the context of the welfare state, allowing the project to have an international comparative perspective.

DRIFTING APART? The Educational Cleavage and the Resilient Society

PhD candidate: Quita Muis

The influence of large-scale processes like globalization and modernization are impacting people’s position in society in different ways, arguably most strongly so along the lines of education. Both economically and culturally, but also socially and politically, educational groups seem to be drifting apart or ‘polarizing’. Yet, what exactly is polarization? There are a variety of ways in which this phenomenon can be approached, all leading to different conclusions regarding its occurrence. In my dissertation, I investigate different forms of (educational) polarization together with potential drivers such as group identification and misperceptions, and potential consequences such as segregation and democratic erosion. This PhD-project is connected to the European Values Study (EVS) and the Impact Program of Tilburg University.