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Legal and Political Theory


UCL is one of Britain's leading centres for research and teaching in legal and political theory, and exploring the normative issues raised by public policy. In addition to the six political theorists based in the Department of Political Science (Richard Bellamy, Cécile Laborde, Saladin Meckled-Garcia, Emily McTernan, Avia Pasternak and Albert Weale), the School of Public Policy programme involves Jo Wolff, James Wilson and Véronique Munoz-Dardé from Philosophy and Stephen Guest, Georges Letsas, Philip Schofield and John Tasioulas from Laws. A seminar in Legal and Political Theory convened by Emily McTernan in the Autumn Term is complemented by the Colloquium in Law and Social Philosophy convened by John Tasioulas in the Spring Term. Jo Wolff organises the twice yearly Philosophy in Practice Research Network events and Saladin Meckled-Garcia organises symposia and cross-faculty research initiatives in human rights for the UCL European Institute.

Recent speakers at these UCL seminars have included Tim Scanlon (Harvard), Cecile Fabre, Jeremy Waldron (NYU), Joseph Raz (Columbia), Thomas Pogge (Yale), Quentin Skinner (Queen Mary), Amartya Sen (Harvard) and Miranda Fricker (Sheffield). In addition to the MA, there is a growing group of theory-oriented PhD students, for whom there is a workshop for presenting work in progress.

In the Department of Political Science, the core team members interact closely with a number of colleagues, with expertise in human rights and the law (Dr Lisa Vanhala), democracy and democratisation (Dr. Sherrill Stroschein), European constitutionalism (Dr. Christine Reh), intrastate conflicts (Dr. Kristin M. Bakke), international political economy (Dr. David Hudson) and human rights empirical studies (Dr. Rod Abouharb). In addition, colleagues in the Constitution Unit specialise in the area of constitutionalism and democracy in the UK.

Research Team Expertise and Experience

  • Prof. Richard Bellamy (MA, PhD Cambridge) has written extensively on questions of citizenship, democracy, constitutionalism and public ethics, and generally in the areas of European social and political thought post-1750 and contemporary analytical and legal philosophy. He is currently writing studies of the democratic legitimacy of European Union and of international human rights conventions, and the ethics of democratic leadership and of political compromise.
  • Prof. Cécile Laborde (DPhil Oxford, FBA) is the Director of the MA in Legal and Political Theory and has published on toleration, patriotism, republicanism, multiculturalism and secularism, as well as on global justice, theories of law and the state, and the reception of John Rawls in Europe. She is currently the Principal Investigator for a 5-year ERC-funded project on the special status of religion in contemporary legal and political theory.
  • Dr Emily McTernan (PhD Cambridge) is the Director of the MA in Legal and Political Theory. She has published on social norms and the scope of justice. Her current research addresses responsibility-sensitive theories of justice and the role of empirical research in political philosophy. She is currently working on a monograph on responsibility-sensitive egalitarianism and work.
  • Dr Saladin Meckled-Garcia (PhD UCL) has published work in the following areas: methodology in political philosophy and normative theory; international ethics, human rights and non-state actors, human rights and democracy, law and human rights protection, market ethics and egalitarian justice theories, neutrality and toleration in state practice, cosmopolitan approaches to international justice, theories of responsibility, subsistence rights and imperfect obligations, international legal theory, and theories of legal interpretation. He is a Director of the UCL Institute for Human Rights, where he is involved in a number of initiatives linking normative theory to practical decision-making. He is currently working on a monograph on Human Rights and Responsibilities
  • Dr Avia Pasternak (D.Phil, Oxford) is a lecturer in political theory and in global ethics, and the director of the MSc in Ethics and Global Governance. She has published on collective responsibility, collective agency, collective punishment and economic sanctions. She is currently working on a manuscript on the collective agency and responsibility of states.
  • Prof. Albert Weale (MA, PhD, Cambridge, FBA) has worked extensively on questions of political theory and public policy including social, environmental and health policy. From 2008 to 2012 he chaired the Nuffield Committee on Bioethics. He has also written on democratic theory generally as well as on political legitimacy and the EU. In 2013 he published Democratic Justice and the Social Contract (Oxford: OUP), and he is currently completing a book on modern social contract theory.
  • Aurelia Bardon is a Research Assistant with the ERC-funded Religion and Political Theory research project.
  • Dr. John Filling (DPhil Oxford) is Teaching Fellow in Political Theory. He works on normative political theory and the history of political thought. He has written on the concepts of freedom, domination, and equality, and is preparing a book on freedom in Hegel and Marx.
  • Dr Lois Lee is a Research Associate with the ERC-funded Religion and Political Theory research project.
  • Deborah Savage is Teaching Fellow in Political Theory.

Main Research Themes and Publications

1. The Justification of Normative Principles and Their Application to Public Policy

Our first research theme addresses the questions of how normative principles should be justified, and how they can help us guide political action in real-world circumstances.

  • Richard Bellamy, `Dirty Hands and White Gloves: Liberal Ideals and Real Politics’, European Journal of Political Theory, 9 (2010), pp. 412–430.
  • Emily McTernan, ‘How to Make Citizens Behave: Social Psychology, Liberal Virtues, and Social Norms’, Journal of Political Philosophy, Online First 2013.
  • Albert Weale, ‘Co-Payments in the NHS: An Analysis of the Normative Arguments’ (with Sarah Clark), Health Economics, Policy and Law, 5:2 (2010), pp. 225-46.
  • Albert Weale, ‘New Modes of Governance, Political Accountability and Public Reason’, Government and Opposition, 46: 1 (2011), pp. 58-80.

2. Pluralism, Toleration and Neutrality

The second theme covered by our research concerns the issue of how to justify common political principles given the diversity of citizens’ moral beliefs and commitments.

Selected publications
  • Richard Bellamy, Liberalism and Pluralism: Towards a Politics of Compromise. London: Routledge, 1999
  • Cécile Laborde, Critical Republicanism. The Hijab Controversy and Political Philosophy. OUP 2008.
  • Cécile Laborde, ‘Equal Liberty, Non-Establishment and Religious Freedom’, Journal of Legal Theory, 20 (2014).
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, "Toleration and Neutrality: Incompatible Ideals?", Toleration, A Special Issue of Res Publica, 7(3), (2001).
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, ‘Toleration and Neutrality: saving an unhappy marriage?’ (A Reply To Peter Jones' critique of ‘Toleration and Neutrality: Incompatible Ideals?’) in Castiglione, D., and McKinnon, C., eds., Toleration, Neutrality and Democracy, Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2004.
  • A. Weale, 'From Contracts to Pluralism?', in P. J. Kelly (ed), Impartiality,. Neutrality and Justice Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1998, pp. 9-34.

3. Rights, Democracy, Constitutionalism

A third set of questions addressed by our research is: How can rights – and in particular human rights – be justified, and interpreted? And how can they best be entrenched and protected?

Selected publications
  • Richard Bellamy, Political Constitutionalism: A Republican Defence of the Constitutionality of Democracy, Cambridge University Press, 2007
  • Richard Bellamy, ‘Political Constitutionalism and the Human Rights Act’, International Journal of Constitutional Law (I-Con), 9 (2011), pp. 86-111
  • Cécile Laborde, ‘Political Liberalism and Religion: On Separation and Establishment’, Journal of Political Philosophy, Early View, 24 July 2011.
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, ‘Neo-Positivism About Rights: What's Wrong with Rights as Enforceable claims’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, CV(1), 2004.
  • A. Weale, Democracy 2nd ed. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.

4. International Justice and Cosmopolitanism

The fourth research area asks whether principles of social justice should apply globally, and whether any particular value should be granted to national self-government and state sovereignty.

Selected publications
  • Richard Bellamy (with Dario Castiglione) `Between Cosmopolis and Community: Three Models of Rights and Democracy within the European Union', in D. Archibugi, D. Held and M. Koheler (eds) Transnational Democracy, (Polity, 1998), pp. 152-78
  • Cécile Laborde ‘Republicanism and Global Justice: a Sketch’, European Journal of Political Theory, January 2010.
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, 'On the Very Idea of Cosmopolitan Justice', Journal of Political Philosophy, Vol. 16/3, September 2008
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, ‘Do Transnational Economic Effects Violate Human Rights?’ Ethics & Global Politics, September 2009.
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, ‘International Law and the limits of Global Justice’, Review of International Studies, forthcoming in 2011/12.
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, ‘Is there a ‘global human rights deficit’? Consequentialist liability and cosmopolitan alternatives’, in Brock, G., ed., Cosmopolitanism for and against, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
  • Avia Pasternak, ‘Limiting States’ Corporate Responsibility’, The Journal of Political Philosophy 21 (2013), pp. 461-381.
  • Avia Pasternak, ‘Cosmopolitan Justice and the League of Democracies’ Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy, 15 (2012), pp. 649-999.
  • Avia Pasternak, ‘Sanctioning Liberal Democracies’, Political Studies, 57 (2009), pp. 54-74.

5. Republicanism and Liberalism

The fifth research area assesses and defends the distinctive claims of the republican tradition, notably as an alternative or a complement to mainstream liberal approaches in Anglo-American political philosophy.

Selected publications
  • Richard Bellamy, Rethinking Liberalism, London: Continuum, 2005.
  • Cécile Laborde (ed.), Republicanism and Political Theory (with John Maynor), Oxford Blackwell, 2007.
  • Cécile Laborde , ‘Republicanism’ in Michael Freeden (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies, OUP, 2013.
6.     Individual and Collective Responsibility

The sixth research area addresses questions of individual choice and collective responsibility.

  • Emily McTernan, ‘The Inegalitarian Ethos: Incentives, Respect, and Self-Respect’, Politics, Philosophy & Economics, 12 (2013), pp. 93-111.#
  • Saladin Meckled-Garcia, ‘Does the WTO violate human rights (and do I help it)? Beyond the metaphor of culpability for global poverty’ Political Studies, 2013.
  • Avia Pasternak, ‘Sharing the Costs of Political Injustice’, Politics Philosophy & Economics 10 (2011), pp. 188-210.
  • Avia Pasternak, ‘The Collective Responsibility of Democratic Publics’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 41(2011), pp. 99-124.
  • Avia Pasternak ‘The Distributive Effect of Collective Punishment’ in Richard Vernon and Tracy Issacs (eds.), Accountability for Collective Wrongdoing, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Research Themes

Related links

Research Assessment Exercise

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Page last modified on 18 feb 14 14:44

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