Social media platforms in sub-Saharan Africa: their role and potential in shaping urban water resilience narratives.

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    Cardiff University
    United Kingdom
    Natural sciences
    Social sciences


Cardiff University School of Geography and Planning invites applications for a fully-funded PhD Studentship, available to start in October 2020. The successful applicant will have the scope to develop an independent project assessing the extent to which social media analytics can be used to undertake a comparative analysis of how various social media platforms consider water shocks and contribute to building urban water resilience. The focus is on four cities in sub-Saharan Africa: Lagos, Nigeria; Dodoma, Tanzania; Cape Town, South Africa; and Windhoek, Namibia. The PhD will contribute to a wider research programme examining urban resilience to water shocks in sub-Saharan Africa funded by a UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship. (https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/research/explore/find-a-project/view/1883310-water-stressed-cities-individual-choice,-access-to-water-and-pathways-to-resilience-in-sub-saharan-africa)

Building resilience to water crises is recognised as one of the primary challenges facing human society today. The pressures are particularly acute in sub-Saharan Africa where rapid rates of urbanization and economic growth - combined with the challenge of climate change and unsustainable water management practices - are creating both slow burn and rapid onset water stress. In the case of water stressed cities, the relative role of individual actions in framing collective resilience outcomes to water shocks is particularly underexplored. Whilst some writers point to the potential for altruistic and morally-informed outcomes from such collective action, others highlight the risks of vulnerability being transferred between groups or over time.

The role of different media in influencing individual actions, through the construction of framing narratives, is well recognised, but the part played by social media in shaping water supply choices in urban Africa is less understood, particularly in the role it may play as a space for collective reflection. Traditionally, community groupings formed spaces for reflection but social media is now leading to the creation of new spaces. Online platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have been referred to as part of a new public sphere, where individuals and organisations can participate in debate, discussion and other forms of political or civic action, such as mobilising support for campaigns. Social media can act as focal points for online discussion of contentious topics and the organising logic of these platforms (particularly Twitter) around ‘trending’ topics and hashtags means that conversations and debates can easily – and rapidly – develop over time. Not all social media platforms are the same and this PhD studentship is offered to undertake a comparative analysis of how water shocks are addressed on various social media platforms across four cities in sub-Saharan Africa.

Within this context, applicants have the scope to develop an independent project assessing the extent to which social media analytics can be used to examine the following broad themes:

• The potential offered by various social media platform in African cities to improve awareness of public perceptions of water shocks.

• The extent to which different social media platforms provide influential collective spaces of reflection

• Whether disruptive water shocks act as critical junctures (or moments of change) which alter prevailing framing narratives

• Which sentiments attach to forms of water supply and which gain traction/exposure at different points in time

• The potential role of social media in the framing of governance narratives

Methodological considerations

It is suggested that the PhD studentship may examine three social media platforms. The focus will be on how these platforms are used, what shapes these patterns of usage and, where feasible, what content is shared. The suggested platforms are Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp.

Key milestones for the research will be:

• Establishing methodologies to interrogate how different platforms are used, and by whom, at the city level

• Establishing protocols for the collection of relative social media content across key platforms

• Where feasible, creation of analytical databases of relevant social media content

• Analysis of available databases to identify the sentiments expressed and the narratives exposed in social media debates.

Supervisory team

The successful candidate will be jointly supervised by Dr. Adrian Healy (School of Geography & Planning and Cardiff University Water Research Institute); Dr. Wil Chivers (School of Social Science and Wales Institute of Social & Economic Research, Data & Methods) and Dr. Luke Sloan (School of Social Science and Cardiff University Social Data Science Lab).


What is funded

Studentship awards commence in October 2020 and will cover your tuition fees, a maintenance grant (currently £15,009 p.a. for 2019/20 for full-time students, updated each year); and access to an additional Research Training Support Grant (RTSG).


We welcome applications for both full and part-time study, and the studentship is available as either '1+3' (i.e. one full year of research training Masters followed by three years full-time Doctoral study, or the part-time equivalent), or '+3' (i.e. three years of full-time doctoral study or its part-time equivalent), depending on the needs of the applicant.


You need a first class or strong second class honours degree, or an appropriate Masters degree, in human geography/social sciences or cognate discipline related to social media analytics. Training will be provided in requisite digital skills or social science perspectives dependent on background.

How to Apply

Applicants should apply to the Doctor of Philosophy in Geography and Planning using the following link: https://www.cardiff.ac.uk/study/postgraduate/research/programmes/program...

Please apply for the programme Doctor of Philosophy and enter a start date of October 2020. Please select whether your application is for full-time study or part-time study (we will give equal consideration to each). The closing deadline for applications is 31st July 2020 at 12 noon. Incomplete applications or applications received after the deadline will not be accepted. Your application should contain the following and include reference to:Social media platforms in sub-Saharan Africa: their role and potential in shaping urban water resilience narratives.

1. Covering letter. Set out your reasons and motivation for applying to study at Cardiff University and the pathway; your understanding and expectations of doctoral study; your academic interests generally, and particularly of those relating to your proposed research. The letter should be no more than two pages.

2. Academic / Professional Qualifications Where appropriate, this should also include proof of English Language Competency (7.0 IELTS minimum).

3. References Two academic references. Candidates must approach referees themselves and include references with their application.

4. Curriculum Vitae. It should be no longer than two pages.

5. Research Proposal. Referring to the context of the study your application should consist of a short (maximum 1000 words excluding bibliographic references) outline of your contribution to the outlined proposal above. This should be structured as follows:

- aims and purpose of the research (including research objectives and research questions)

- critical overview of the academic literature relevant to the field

- proposed methodology (we accept this will not be highly detailed)

- academic contributions of your research

This program is available in English only. To request information in Welsh, please contact the Postgraduate Recruitment Team (postgradmarketing@cardiff.ac.uk). Further details of the studentship can be discussed with Dr. Adrian Healy (Healya2@cardiff.ac.uk).


The responsibility for the funding offers published on this website, including the funding description, lies entirely with the publishing institutions. The application is handled uniquely by the employer, who is also fully responsible for the recruitment and selection processes.