School of Politics and International Relations

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Political Theory and the History of Ideas

Research in this theme combines historical, sociological and practical approaches to classical and contemporary political thought. SPIR ensures that connections between political theory and its other research themes help to enable theoretically-informed scholarship and ensure that all our sub-disciplinary themes are opened to theoretical debate and inquiry. We have developed strong links between political theory and British politics (Mike Kenny), and international relations (JF Drolet, Robbie Shilliam, David Williams). Staff are also active in the Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought  (CSHPT), founded by SPIR in 2007 and run in partnership with the Schools of History and Law.

Research has explored the history and impact of neo-conservative political thought (JF Drolet), the history and legacy of the New Left (Madeleine Davis), political expressions of English nationhood (Mike Kenny), contemporary democratic theory and the challenges of multiculturalism (Thomassen, Woodford), the role of Liberalism in global governance (David Williams), German and postcolonial thought in international politics (Robbie Shilliam), and the nature of subjectivity (Caroline Williams, Clare Woodford). Our scholars have pioneered the application of political theory, particularly ‘recognition’ theories, to analyse contemporary social problems (Mike Kenny, Robbie Shilliam, Clare Woodford). Robbie Shilliam has developed extensive public engagement activities with local ethnic minority community groups, which uses his research on black diasporas and post-colonial thought to foster debate about the challenges facing BEM communities, and possible solutions to these.

The Centre for the Study of the History of Political Thought is one of the leading centres in Europe in its field and provides a vehicle for collaboration with leading scholars such as Richard Bourke, Quentin Skinner and Gareth Stedman-Jones. Highlights of this collaboration include an outstanding speakers programme featuring major figures in the discipline; the hosting of international conferences organised by SPIR staff on, e.g. Adam Smith (2010) and the Italian Risorgimento (2010), Continental Philosophy and Spinoza (2013), and Fifty Years of E.P. Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class (2013); the fortnightly Seminar in the History of Political Ideas; the annual Nicolai Rubenstein Lecture; the London Summer School in Intellectual History; the annual International Symposia in the Humanities and Social Sciences; and several major conferences organised by PGRs through the research group. The Centre also hosts a peer-reviewed journal managed by PGRs: The Journal of Intellectual History and Political Thought.

In 2013, the School launched Theory Lab to develop collaborative research and innovation in contemporary political theory – see the link on the left for more information on this initiative.

Staff active in the Political Theory and History of Ideas research group:

Dr Madeleine Davis, Dr Jean-François Drolet, Professor James Dunkerley, Prof Mike Kenny, Dr Robbie Shilliam, Dr Lasse Thomassen, Dr Caroline Williams, Dr David Williams, Dr Clare Woodford

Current research students:

Victoria Briggs, George Currie, David Hexter, Robert Ledger, Luke Maynard, Tabea Richardson, Paul Sims (co-supervised with History), Hazel Stroud, Alen Toplišek, Baris Tufekci, Alan Wager

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