Masters and Ph.D Opportunities

Masters and Ph.D. Opportunities

School of Environment, Resources and Sustainability (SERS), Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo

Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR)


BREAKING NEWS:  Full funding for one Ph.D 

 Looking for students interested in working on projects relating to environmental politics and either paganism/heathenry or preppers and off-grid survivalism (with fieldwork on the American Redoubt movement). I would also be interested in hearing from students with an interest in the Canadian fiddle music and step dancing and the political sociology of class, rurality, pioneering/settlement and First Nations in the national self-identity.


Topics: Limits to Growth, Political Economy, Spirituality & Radical Ontologies, Environmental Politics, Energy/Complexity, Indigenous Politics, Resources, reMaker society, Open-source Economics, Distributism, Transition, Degrowth, neo-Paganism, preppers and prepping

Disciplinary background:  historical sociology, social/analytical psychology, social anthropology, ecological economics, history, human ecology, pagan studies, environmental studies, radical geography, Big History

For further details contact:  Dr Stephen Quilley



Academic papers:


 Biophysical limits to growth are back on the agenda – whether under the guise of ‘planetary boundaries’ (Rockstrom et al 2009) or the possibility of global economic collapse (Turner 2014), worst-case climate scenarios (Barnofsky and Hadley 2012) and environment-related geo-political crises resulting in regional wars, mass migration and political disorder. Mainstream approaches to sustainable development (‘smart growth’, ‘ecological modernization’, ‘green-tech’, ‘social-ecological innovation’, ‘environmental governance’) have not delivered the promised paradigmatic transformation of behaviour, institutions, economic systems and values. The discourse of resilience together with the concept of the Anthropocene underline a dramatic sea-change in the ethos of modern societies. Although ‘business as usual’ continues to provide the default setting, the unthinking assumption of socio-economic progress is giving way to a growing insecurity at the level of both individuals and societies.

Applying the insights of complex systems, we use the heuristic of a gravitational landscape metaphor. Global capitalism, the consumer society and growth-driven modernization has proved to be phenomenally deep and resilient ‘basin of attraction’.  Limits to growth and climate change are making this basin shallower and less resilient. Non-linear system change may result in systemic collapse. But it may also engender a shift to more communitarian, post-capitalist, alternative forms of modernity. We are interested in developing projects that explore the latter. Specific areas of interest include:

  • The economic anthropology of Karl Polanyi: the concept of dis- (re)embedding, modernization and the relationship between state/market and individualization
  • Norbert Elias & ecological civilizing processes
  • Ernest Becker, ‘terror management theory’ and green hero/immortality projects
  • Radical ontologies, neo-paganism and ritual – and environmental politics
  • Open-source economics, craft and the Maker movement
  • T Odum, energy, complexity and civilization
  • Environmental politics and limits to growth
  • Migration, diversity and the wicked dilemmas of low energy cosmopolitan/liberal societies
  • Indigenous politics, limits to growth and an ‘alternative modernity’
  • The politics and political economy or degrowth, Transition towns
  • Environmental politics and the prepper movement
  • Radical political economy – theory and social history (guilds, Social Credit, basic income, William Morris, Chester-Belloc, Henry George….to Andre Gorz, regulation theory, anarchism, Libertarianism, Frankfurt School)
  • Social Innovation: theory and strategies for rapid cross-scale change
  • Environmental politics and non-linear change in complex systems
  • Distributism and the ‘Third Way’
  • Permaculture
  • Big History and ontological /epistemological change

 Current student projects

 Katie Kish: Wicked dilemmas of modernity and ecological economics. Katie’s research focuses on the future of modern livelihood with case studies on preppers, makers, and homesteaders.




Perin Ruttonsha: Sustainability Transition within Complex Adaptive Systems:  In her doctoral research, Perin applies concepts from complexity, socio-ecological resilience, social innovation, systemic design, limits to growth, and biomimicry discourses in considering opportunities for systems transformation along sustainability pathways. Central to her work is a process-oriented, relational, multi-layered approach to transition, which iteratively navigates conceptual, technological, and political factors. She is particularly interested in the human dimensions of change and the scaling of complexity through innovation. Website:

 Barb DavyContemporary Paganism and Environmental Politics:  Barb is interested in the role of non-rational drivers in institutional and behavioural change and ecological conscience formation. This involves a critique of the ontological and moral individualism that underlies many otherwise competing political and philosophical perspectives. The project investigates the potential of ritual and processes of re-enchantment in social-ecological transformation.  Points of departure include Turner’s concept of ‘communitas’, the political economy Karl Polanyi and Graham Harvey’s anthropology of the ‘New Animism’.


 Clay Dasilva: Anthropic Imaginaries & Biospheric Realities: Analyzing the Ontology and Normativity of Growth vis-à-vis The Natural Environment

Clay is exploring the range of different perspectives/worldviews with regard to the relationship between human activity, economic growth and the biosphere. Questions include: (1) What are the ontological and politico-normative commitments & assumptions associated with such perspectives (2) To what extent are such ontological commitments and assumptions tenable and evidence-based? (3) How do individuals and groups understand the directions in which society (variously) could, should and cannot go in light of such ontological commitments and worldviews?



Katharine Zywert: Limits to growth, health systems and an alternative modernity: Katharine’s research investigates functional models for health systems in an era of constrained economic growth and social-ecological instability. In the Anthropocene, trends such as declining resource and energy flows, fiscal constraints, the extinction of medicinal plant species, changing ecologies of disease, and aging demographics are converging to transform health and medicine. Using ethnographic methods, I aim to identify social arrangements for health systems that can secure both human wellbeing and environmental sustainability over the long-term.




Some Points of Departure  


An era of limits:

Barnofsky A.D. & Hadly E.A. et al (2012) ‘Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere’ Nature 486, 52–58 (07 June 2012) doi:10.1038/nature11018

Greer, J.M. (2009) The Ecotechnic Future: Envisioning a post-peak world (New Society Publishers)

Rockström, J., et al. “A safe operating space for humanity.” Nature 461.7263 (2009): 472-475

Tainter, J. (1990). The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge University Press.

Turner, G. (2014) ‘Is Global Collapse Imminent?’, MSSI Research Paper No. 4, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, The University of Melbourne.

The state, the market, the ‘I’ and the ‘We’

Polanyi, K. [Dalton, G. Ed. ] (1968). Primitive, archaic, and modern economies: essays of Karl Polanyi (pp. 9-54). New York: Anchor Books.

Elias, N. (1991) The Society of Individuals (Blackwell)

Bauman, Z. (1991) Modernity and Ambivalence (Polity)

Scott, J. (1998) Seeing like a State:  How certain schemes to improve the human condition have failed (Yale)

Ontology and non-rational drivers of behavior

Becker, E. (1973) The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press Paperbacks

Turner, E. (2012). Communitas: The anthropology of collective joy. Palgrave Macmillan.

Turner, V. (1995). The ritual process: Structure and anti-structure. Transaction Publishers

Whitehouse, H. (2004). Modes of religiosity: A cognitive theory of religious transmission. Rowman Altamira.

Whitehouse, H., & Lanman, J. A. (2014). The Ties That Bind Us. Current Anthropology, 55(6), 674-695.

Harvey, G. (2005). Animism: Respecting the living world. Wakefield Press.

Radical political economy

Carson, K. (2010) The Homebrew Industrial Revolution (

Pope Francis, (2015) Enciclica Laudato Si  —

Open Source Ecology (2015) ‘Distributive Economics.’ Available at – Accessed 1st Jan 2015.

Polanyi, K. 1944. The Great Transformation (Beacon)


Energy and civilization

Quilley, S. (2011) ‘Entropy, the Anthroposphere and the Ecology of  Civilization: An Essay on the Problem of ‘liberalism in One Village’ in the Long View’ The Sociological Review 59 (June): 65–90. doi:10.1111/j.1467-954X.2011.01979.x.

Environmental politics

Quilley, S.  (2013) ‘De-Growth Is Not a Liberal Agenda: Relocalisation and the Limits to Low Energy Cosmopolitanism’  Environmental Values 22 (2): 261–85.

— (2012). Resilience Through Relocalization: Ecocultures of Transition. Ecocultures Working Paper: 2012–1, University of Essex.

— (2012). System Innovation and a New ‘Great Transformation’: Re-embedding Economic Life in the Context of ‘De-Growth’. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 3(2), 206-229.

Ophuls, William. (2011) Plato’s revenge: politics in the age of ecology (MIT Press)

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