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Contested Modernity and the Growth of Environmental Politics in Britain

Paul Sims, PhD Candidate, Schools of Politics & IR and History
Supervisors : Professor Adam Fagan (Politics & IR) and Dr Helen McCarthy (History)

As a PhD student at Queen Mary I am based in both the Politics and History schools, researching the development of environmental politics in twentieth-century Britain.

While existing accounts of the emergence of environmental politics have emphasised the importance of post-1970 developments, my research argues that the inter-war and post-war periods were crucial to the growth of environment politics in Britain. Central to my argument is the contention that environmental politics emerged from efforts to negotiate the challenges posed by modernity in the middle part of the twentieth century, both in terms of addressing questions of whether industrial and urban development was out of control, and responding to the risks that technological innovations posed to human health.

I approach subject through four key developments of the period – the passage of planning and National Parks legislation in the 1930s and 1940s, the response to the London smog disaster of December 1952, reactions to nuclear power and nuclear weapons in the 1950s, and the establishment of the Department of the Environment in 1970.

While my thesis focuses on environmental politics, it will aim to make a contribution to wider debates on the social and political history of twentieth-century Britain, particularly through its examination of the growth of the state and consideration of the question of “consensus” politics in the post-war period.

In addition to my research, I am a teaching assistant on two first-year undergraduate modules: Background to British Politics, convened by Professor Tim Bale in the School of Politics & IR, and Unravelling Britain, convened by Dr Robert Saunders in the School of History.

Before coming to Queen Mary, I graduated from the University of Oxford in 2006 with a BA in Modern History, before completing my MA in Historical Research at Birkbeck, University of London in 2012. Away from academia I have also worked as Assistant Editor of New Humanist, the magazine of the Rationalist Association.

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