Professor Adam Swift
I grew up in North London - Highbury then Hampstead - and went to William Ellis School, which was a grammar school when I joined and became a comprehensive while I was there. In 1980 I went to Balliol College, University of Oxford, to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I spent 1983-84 at Harvard as a Kennedy Scholar, and then came back to Oxford, this time Nuffield College, for my M.Phil in Sociology and my D.Phil: For A Sociologically Informed Political Theory.
In 1988 I returned to Balliol as Tutorial Fellow in Politics and Sociology and stayed there for 25 years, during which I founded and directed the Centre for the Study of Social Justice in Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations.
In 2013 I moved to the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Warwick as Professor of Political Theory, and in 2018 I moved to the same role at UCL.
- Research Summary
After early work on the communitarian critique of liberalism, my interest in combining political theory with empirical social science led to a project interrogating social mobility data, and people’s beliefs about social justice, from a normative perspective. This got me thinking about the mechanisms that generate the intergenerational transmission of advantage (and disadvantage) within families and to their children, ranging from sending them to elite private schools to reading them bedtime stories.
My wider interest in educational justice has developed in various directions. I was part of an interdisciplinary team aimed at helping educational policymakers make better decisions, while another collaborative project has combined philosophical and empirical considerations in proposing a framework for the regulation of religious schools in England.
Alongside these substantive topics, I have worked on methodological issues in political theory, including debates around ideal and non-ideal theory and the relation between philosophy, politics and empirical social science.
A full list of my publications is available here
- Educational Goods: Values, Evidence and Decision-Making (with Harry Brighouse, Helen F. Ladd, and Susanna Loeb) (Chicago University Press, 2018).
- Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships (with Harry Brighouse), (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014).
- How Not To Be A Hypocrite: School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent (London: Routledge Falmer 2003).
- Political Philosophy: A Beginners’ Guide for Students and Politicians (Cambridge: Polity, 2001). (2nd edition, 2006; 3rd edition, 2013; 4th edition, 2019.) (Translated into Czech, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Polish and Spanish.)
- Against the Odds? Social Class and Social Justice in Industrial Societies (with Gordon Marshall and Stephen Roberts), (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997).
- Liberals and Communitarians (with Stephen Mulhall), (Oxford: Blackwell 1992). (2nd edition, 1996.) (Translated into Spanish, Korean and Japanese.)
Selected Journal Articles
- ‘The Political Morality of School Composition: The Case of Religious Selection’ (with Matthew Clayton, Andrew Mason and Ruth Wareham), British Journal of Political Science (First View June 26 2019)
- ‘Dethroning Democratic Legitimacy’ (with Zofia Stemplowska), Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy 4 2018, pp. 3-27.
- ‘Do comprehensive schools reduce social mobility?’ (with Vikki Boliver), British Journal of Sociology 62(1) 2011, pp.89-110.
- ‘Legitimate Parental Partiality’ (with Harry Brighouse), Philosophy and Public Affairs 2009 37(1), pp.43-80. [German translation in M. Betzler and B. Bleisch (eds.) Familiäre Pflichten (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2015)., pp.175-216.]
- ‘Putting Educational Equality in its Place’ (with Harry Brighouse), Education Finance and Policy 3(4) (2008), pp. 444-466.
- ‘The Value of Philosophy in Nonideal Circumstances’, Social Theory and Practice 34(3) 2008, pp.363-388
- ‘Parents’ Rights and the Value of the Family’ (with Harry Brighouse), Ethics 117 (October) 2006, pp.80-108. [Reprinted in A. Bailey et al (eds.) The Broadview Anthology of Social and Political Thought: The Twentieth Century and Beyond (2008).]
- ‘Equality, Priority and Positional Goods’ (with Harry Brighouse), Ethics 116 2006, pp.471-497.
- ‘Would Perfect Mobility be Perfect?’, European Sociological Review 20(1) 2004, pp.1-11.
- ‘Class Analysis from a Normative Perspective’, British Journal of Sociology 51(4) 2000, pp.663-679.
- ‘Meritocratic Equality of Opportunity: Economic Efficiency, Social Justice, or Both?’ (with Gordon Marshall), Policy Studies 18(1) 1997, pp.35-48.
Selected Book Chapters
- ‘The Value of Parenting’ (with Harry Brighouse), in F. Baylis and C. McLeod (eds.) Family Making: Contemporary Ethical Challenges (New York: OUP, 2014), pp.11-28.
- ‘Family Values and Schools Policy: Shaping Values and Conferring Advantage’ (with Harry Brighouse), in D. Allen and R. Reich (eds.) Education, Justice, and Democracy (Chicago: Chicago UP, 2013), pp. 199-220.
- ‘Ideal and Nonideal Theory’ (with Zofia Stemplowska), in D. Estlund (ed.) Oxford Handbook of Political Philosophy (New York: OUP 2012), pp.373-389.
- 'Political Theory, Social Science and Real Politics' (with Stuart White) in D. Leopold and M. Stears (eds.) Political Theory: Methods and Approaches (Oxford: OUP 2008), pp. 49-69.
- ‘Justice, Luck, and the Family: The Intergenerational Transmission of Economic Advantage from a Normative Perspective’ in Sam Bowles, Herbert Gintis, and Melissa Osborne-Groves (eds.) Unequal Chances: Family Background and Economic Success (Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 2005), pp.256-276.
I am Director of UCL’s MA in Legal and Political Theory, for which I teach both a core module (‘Peer Assisted Learning’) and an optional one ('Social Justice, Social Mobility, Education and the Family'.) I supervise PhD students across a wide range of topics in political theory, with a preference for those that come closest to my own research interests. I also contribute some lectures to our Introduction to Politics for PPE students.