PhD Research Fellow

Opportunity for fully funded PhD Research Fellow position (3 year-scholarship) to study the cross-cultural patterns of nomadic pastoral cooperation, social networks, inequality, and the evolution of political complexity in nomadic societies

Research Professor Marius Warg Næss (High North Department, Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research) has been awarded an ERC consolidator grant called COMPLEXITY: From small-scale cooperative herding groups to nomadic empires – a cross-cultural approach (Grant agreement ID: 101043382, This project will add to other successful past and current research projects carried out in the High North Department of NIKU.

We are now looking to fill 1 fully funded PhD Research Fellow position (3 year-scholarship) to study the cross-cultural patterns of nomadic pastoral cooperation, social networks, inequality, and the evolution of political complexity in nomadic societies. In principle, we favour candidates interested in establishing long-term field sites in Africa and Asia. However, we are happy to consider proposals for alternative field sites. Travelling expenses will be covered by the project.

Project Abstract

The main question of this research project is: can political complexity evolve from small-scale cooperative groups? The predominant view of nomadic empires – that they are caused by contact with agricultural neighbours – cannot explain how pastoralists transitioned from small, kin-based cooperative herding groups to complex hierarchical groups with the power to conquer their sedentary neighbours. By perceiving cooperative herding groups as the building blocks of nomadic societies, this project aims to develop a theoretical explanation of pastoral political organisation ranging from acephalous societies in Africa to imperial confederations in Inner Asia. While cooperative herding has been documented, previous studies have been based on single case studies. Thus, a cross-cultural investigation of pastoral cooperation is lacking. There is also a view that livestock, as the primary source of wealth, limits the development of inequalities, making pastoralism unable to support complex or hierarchical organisations. However, evidence indicates that environmentally induced livestock losses exacerbate rather than limit the development of wealth inequalities. COMPLEXITY rectifies this situation through three steps. First, by combining a systematic literature review of the ethnographic material with information in the eHRAF World Cultures database, COMPLEXITY will cross-culturally document the prevalence of cooperative herding groups. Second, by using a pluralistic methodology, e.g., experimental economic games, observations and interviews, COMPLEXITY will comparatively investigate to what degree pastoral cooperation is structured by evolutionary factors – such as kinship, reciprocity, social network structure, and norms – and investigate how cooperation affect pastoral performance and inequality. Third, by combining empirical data with modelling techniques, COMPLEXITY investigates whether cooperative herding groups can be considered prototypes for more complex organisations.

More about the project can be found at

Candidate profile

Required skills

  • Interest in long-term fieldwork with nomadic pastoral groups (approximately six months to one year) and the application of multiple methodologies, including interviews, experimental economic games, social network analysis, and ethnography.
  • Interest in and basic knowledge of quantitative methods and R/Python.
  • Degree in Biology, Anthropology, Experimental Psychology, Natural Sciences, or any scientific-related field.
  • Proficiency in English.
  • Teamwork and collaborative skills, willingness to travel together and collaborate in multiple steps of study design, data analyses, and publications with other students, postdocs, and senior staff in the research group.
  • Good scientific writing skills.

Desired skills

  • Experience with fieldwork among nomadic pastoralists, developing countries, and challenging conditions.
  • Previous fieldwork related experience from Africa or Asia.

NIKU offers

  • Salary grade starting at 500 800 NOK per year
  • Good insurance schemes
  • Membership in the Norwegian Public Service Pension Fund (Statens pensjonskasse), if eligible. Information is available at
  • A friendly and academically strong work environment

Place of work

NIKU’s office in Tromsø, Norway.

Applications must include the following

  • CV
  • Cover letter explaining why you are interested in the position and how you would approach the topic from a methodological and theoretical perspective. Maximum length: 3 pages.
  • Two reference letters


The desirable starting date is 2023; however, applications are considered until the position is filled.

For any further information please contact:

Research Professor Marius Warg Næss
Phone: +47 90721907

To apply

Send me an e-mail with all documents or, preferably, use the official job listing page: