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Centre for Political Thought

Specialism In British Political Thought

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We are rare among Politics Departments in the UK in containing a high concentration of expertise in British political thought. Coverage extends from the radical political ideas of the seventeenth century through to contemporary political thought, with a particular focus on the period from the late-nineteenth century to the present.

We take an unusually broad approach to the subject, embracing both analytical and historical methods. Some of our research focuses on political concepts and the philosophical movements in Britain that have shaped them. But we are also interested in political thought as expressed in political practice and through a variety of cultural mediums, including popular publications.

We have particularly close interests in the connections between political thought and identity in Britain at the level of party, nation, and religion. Our research informs a range of specialist modules in political thought at Master's level. We can also offer supervision to Ph.D. students on topics that include:

  • Political thought of the seventeenth century, including Winstanley, the Diggers and the Levellers
  • British Idealism
  • Popular Liberalism and intellectual Liberalism since the late-nineteenth century
  • Nationalism and patriotism in England and Britain since the late-nineteenth century
  • Regional and political identities in British politics
  • Political ideas and British political parties

Relevant members of staff and their research interests are as follows:

Gidon Cohen

The main focus of his research is on British political parties in the twentieth century with a stress on the relationship between ideas and political practice. His research extends across the political spectrum from parties of the far left to the far right, with an emphasis on the British Labour movement. He is particularly interested in how grassroots political actors have understood and related different identities; class, nation, locality, race, religion and gender. He is also interested in the question of how we relate historical studies of ideas to our contemporary understanding of political theory, which fits in with a more general concern with the relationship between the discipline of history and the study of politics.

Recent Activities:

He is currently working on a history of Labour and Conservative grassroots activism in the post-war North East, as well as on a number of projects including an article on interpretation and biography.

Maria Dimova-Cookson

Dimova-Cookson's research focuses on British Idealists with a particular focus on T.H. Green, Bernard Bosanquet and R. G. Collingwood. She examines their moral and political philosophy: their ideas on liberty, justice, rights, methods and the nature of moral action. She is currently working on a review of late nineteenth and early twentieth century British political thought, studying Herbert Spencer, Green, Bosanquet and Hobhouse, looking at the specific ways in which the political, ethical and epistemological ideas of these thinkers overlapped and diverged.

Recent Activities:

In April 2012 Dr Dimova-Cookson presented at Political Studies Association annual conference in Belfast a paper ‘The Ethics of New Liberalism versus the Metaphysics of the British Idealists: can Hobhouse support his social reform without the metaphysics of self-transformation?’ The paper examined Hobhouse’s recommendations for social reform towards a greater social equality and greater state involvement in the provision of work and ‘living wage’. It questioned the thinker’s critique of Bosanquet’s metaphysics in the light of his own ethics of personal development and social progress. It argued that his particular ethics of social reform and the British idealist metaphysics of personal transformation are mutually implicit. The paper was then developed into a chapter ‘Welfarist and Moral Justifications of the Strong State: Reconciling Hobhouse’s and Bosanquet’s Perspectives on the Role of the State’ for a collection on The Victorian Legacy in Contemporary Political Theory, edited by Stephen Guy and Catherine Marshall. Dr. Dimova-Cookson has also written a paper on Hobhouse’s concept of liberty (‘Liberty as welfare: the basecamp counterpart of positive freedom’) arguing that the latter does not simply build on, but marks a development from T.H.Green’s concept of positive freedom.

Julia Stapleton

The main focus of her research is political ideas in Britain in the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She is particularly interested in writers and thinkers - including professional scholars - who engaged in political controversy at a non-specialist level. Her subjects hitherto have included Ernest Barker, Gilbert Murray, Arthur Bryant, and G.K. Chesterton. She has been concerned with the conceptions of English and British national identity and related ideals of patriotism that have underpinned the work of such writers in the field of political thought. She is also interested in the connection between religious beliefs and identities, on the one hand, and the political imagination, on the other.

Recent Activities:

Julia Stapleton has recently published a critical edition of G.K. Chesterton’s contributions to the Daily News, the Liberal daily newspaper with the largest circulation in Edwardian Britain. The edition is part of the ‘Pickering Masters’ series and is entitled G.K. Chesterton at the Daily News: Literature, Liberalism and Revolution, 1901-1913, 8 volumes (Pickering and Chatto: 2012). It was the focus of a conference organised by the G.K. Chesterton Institute for Faith and Culture held in London in November 2012.