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Dr Maria Dimova-Cookson

Associate Professor in Political Theory

BA (Sofia), MA (York), DPhil (York)

AffiliationRoom numberTelephone
Associate Professor in Political Theory in the School of Government and International AffairsSE101, Southend House+44 (0) 191 33 47182
Centre Director in the Centre for the History of Political Thought  


Maria Dimova-Cookson completed her DPhil in Politics on the political philosophy of the British idealists at the University of York. She has previously studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Sofia University and MA in political philosophy at the University of York. Her academic appointments have been at UCL, as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and University of Sheffield as a lecturer in political theory. Since 2005 she has worked at SGIA, Durham University.


Dr Dimova-Cookson’s research focuses on moral and political issues in the history of and contemporary political thought including the dual nature of liberty, justifications of human rights, moral development, value pluralism, ethical particularism versus ethical universalism, and multiculturalism. Her latest monograph Rethinking Positive and Negative Liberty argues that the distinction between positive and negative freedom remains highly pertinent today, despite having fallen out of fashion in the late twentieth century. It proposes a new reading of this distinction for the twenty-first century, building on the work of Constant, Green and Berlin who led the historical development of these ideas. Four book reviews have been published:


by Gary Browning in Utilitas

by Andrew Vincent in Global Intellectual History:

by George Crowder in European Legacy:

by Ruzha Smilova in Political Studies Review:


Her latest research project focused on the ideals of meritocracy and pluralism as two of the dominant strains of political thought in liberal democracies. In his latest book Michal Sandel speaks about ‘the tyranny of merit’ and reveals the problematic moral underpinnings of meritocracy. He argues it is a key factor behind the failure of liberal regimes to counter the rise of populism. If meritocracy is reviewed through the lens of autonomy, however, we can elicit the more specific ways in which it contributes to liberty and see in what form it could be protected and utilised. Autonomy and, in a similar fashion, merit, vary in nature depending on whether they are based on a concept of negative or positive freedom. The loss of common good lamented by Sandel, can be addressed through a more productive assessment of the relation between merit and common good. Value pluralism also has to be reconsidered in order to rehabilitate the role of final ends and ‘the truth’ in the context of politics as well as personal life. While pluralism has served the goal of protecting diversity and fostering toleration, it has undermined the capacity of liberalism to combat proactively injustices by engaging directly with ideological debates. While parity and incommensurability of values have to be registered and protected, this should only be seen as a temporary measure. The ambiguity between pluralism as tragic conflict of values and pluralism as value diversity needs to be resolved in order to engage in productive debates about values.

Research interests

  • • The concept of liberty; the positive/negative freedom distinction; contemporary theories of liberty
  • • The political philosophy of the British idealists and British political thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century
  • • The political philosophy of Benjamin Constant and Isaiah Berlin
  • • Human rights, multiculturalism and global justice
  • • Moral issues in contemporary political theory; moral development; value pluralism; ethical particularism versus ethical universalism; ethics of giving

Research groups

  • Durham Human Rights Centre (Law School)
  • Political Theory


Authored book

Chapter in book

Edited book

Journal Article

Supervision students