PhD Position (3 years) at Université catholique de Louvain:
Analysis of Images and Videos on Climate Change
– Deadline for application: 30. September 2020

Hiring Context

The Research Centre in Communication (part of the Institute for Language and Communication, UClouvain, Belgium) has an opening for a fully funded three-year PhD fellowship in video and images analysis. This opening is done in the context of a pan-European interdisciplinary research project on climate change communication analysis. You will work within a team of more than 10 researchers and academics from Belgium, France and Norway. The fellowship will start between 15 November 2020 and 15 January 2021 for 36 months. The offer is open until 30 September 2020, but candidates that suit all requirements can be interviewed before this date. We specifically encourage women to respond to this call for applications, as we are committed to equality of opportunity. Due to the Covid-19 specific context, face-to-face & teleworking conditions will depend on official conditions at the start of the job.

Research Context

Climate change today is undoubtedly a challenge for humanity. The Special IPCC 1,5 °C report highlighted the numerous dramatic consequences of climate change; yet, the response of our societies has been slow, contradictory and elusive. The humanities and social sciences are called on to make a crucial contribution to the understanding of how humans approach and make sense of climate change, in order to reduce the value-action gap, using innovative forms of communication to identify entry-points for climate action.
This research project has the transformative aim to improve the scientific understanding of why societies remain indifferent to the risks of climate change, and to understand how multimodal devices and recommendations can convert apathy into action. The project will focus on Belgium, France, and Norway. The cooperation between specialists in linguistics, semiotics, law and governance studies, anthropology and psycho-social analysis can significantly improve the state of the art, by combining expertise on texts and images as indications of sensemaking by individuals and cultures, and expertise on social and psychological factors that influence behaviours and attitudes. In Belgium, the research will be undertaken in collaboration with some non-governmental organizations: (1) a cooperative which will receive assistance transforming their communication strategy for calls to action; and (2) a network of organisations, which will contribute to a real-time social-network analysis of a new communication strategy in 2020-2021.
One of the main tasks of the project is to increase knowledge on the visual aspect of online discourses on climate change and climate change mitigation. The analysis of the most “famous” (most seen, shared and commented on) images and videos on climate change from YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Reddit and of the interaction between images and verbal texts will also aim at improving our knowledge of the role of visual content in climate change mitigation.


Job Description

On each platform, the most famous climate change images and videos will be identified and collected. These images will be analysed with a semiotic approach, which is useful for understanding the implicit potential meaning of images, including interactions with texts. The same approach will be applied to a corpus of comments on this visual content, in order to analyse how real viewers produce meaning in relation to images and videos. Intertextual connections will also be examined. This analysis will allow for a comparison between different countries and different platforms.
The aims of the research are the identification of patterns and tendencies concerning the most influential images on climate change in the countries of focus. We aim to 1) identify iconic, narrative and rhetorical multimodal configurations in (dominantly) visual content concerning climate change, and to 2) analyse the attitudes and discursive forms of commentary concerning this content, whether in favour of or against climate mobilisation. For example, how different forms of opposition to climate change mitigation policies are expressed, in comments on the visual content but also through recycling, use and manipulation of this content? How do climate skepticism is expressed and articulated through disagreement and conflict, in particular in relation to and through visual contents? This analysis will contribute to the understanding of how people interpret and manipulate these images, and of how images participate in creating meaning concerning climate change and climate change mitigation practices. The global approach is inspired by the semiotic tradition of analysis, taking into consideration also the theoretical and methodological contributions of social semiotics and pragmatics.
On this basis, the PhD aims to offer advice on effective climate change communication. A result of the research will be also a scientific support to the production and test of prototypes of multimodal and innovative communication devices on climate change for the partners, including for example augmented and virtual reality. Devices and prototypes will be produced by the project team with the support of MIIL (Media Innovation & Intelligibility Lab, UCLouvain); they will be tested by the PhD student with techniques that are made available by the Social Media Lab of UCLouvain, in particular, eye-tracking, interviews, and user experience tests.

The PhD candidate will work mainly in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, under the supervision of Andrea Catellani (IL&C, UCLouvain) and Louise-Amélie Cougnon (MiiL, UCLouvain). S/he will be affiliated with the Institute for Language and Communication. Applicants from outside the EU are responsible for obtaining the necessary visa or permits.
The candidate’s activities will include the following:

  • taking part in the doctoral training programme;
  • working actively on a PhD thesis, with the aim of defending it by the end of the three-year position;
  • contributing actively to the global research project;
  • reporting on the results of the PhD project in scientific articles and at conferences, with the support of the supervisors.

Research Profile

  • A master’s degree in Semiotics, Visual Studies, Communication, Information and Communication Studies, Linguistics or any similar degree.
  • Excellent academic record and strong interest in visual and multimodal analysis and on climate change communication analysis.
  • Fluency in French; good level of English (minimum B2); proficiency in Dutch and/or Norwegian will be considered as an add-on.
  • Skills in semiotic analysis or willingness to acquire such skills.
  • Skills and familiarity with the analysis of social media corpora and images or willingness to acquire such skills.
  • An experience in climate change or political discourse and images research are an asset, but not a requirement.
  • Capacity to work both independently and as part of a team.

Application Procedure and Timetable

If you are interested in this position, please send to Prof. Andrea Catellani

  • a detailed CV in English or in French;
  •  a copy of Bachelor’s and Master’s diplomas;
  • a transcript of records for Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees;
  • a cover letter, describing, at least, your motivation and how your profile responds to the offer;
  • a sample piece of academic writing in English or French;
  • the names and contact details of two academic referees.

Deadline for application: 30 September 2020
Shortlisted candidates will be invited for an interview (in Louvain-la-Neuve or online) in October 2020.
Questions about this offer can be directed to Andrea Catellani (