Department of Political Science

Dr Emily Mcternan

Dr Emily Mcternan

Associate Professor

Dept of Political Science

Faculty of S&HS

Joined UCL
1st Sep 2013

Research summary

My research defends the fundamental and pervasive significance of social norms and social practices for political philosophy, which are often overlooked in favour of considering laws and formal institutions. I've published this work in journals including Journal of Political Philosophy; Philosophy, Politics, and Economics; Political Studies; Ethical Theory and Moral Practice; Bioethics; and Journal of Applied Philosophy.

I do so across three debates. One is relational egalitarianism where I argue that social norms and practices are essential for any adequate account of living as social equals. The second is civic virtue, where I show that existing accounts of civic education are empirically ill grounded and defend instead cultivating social norms. 

The third is parenting, where I have argued that attending to background social norms and the nature of the value of parenting undermines the case for uterus transplants and the usual justifications of fertility treatment. Currently, I am expanding this research with Liam Shields to consider whether an appeal to the meaning of life might be a better justification for funding, and with Katy Wells to consider how the demands and duties of friendship and parenting conflict and what to do about it. 

But mostly, funded by a Leverhulme Research Project, I'm spending the academic year 2019-2020 writing a book: In Defence of Taking Offence. An inclination to take offence, to the right degree and at the right affronts, is an overlooked civic virtue.

Teaching summary

Currently I teach: 

Contemporary Political Philosophy II (MA) 

Meanings of Liberty (MA)

Philosophy, Values, and the Social Sciences (undergraduate)

I welcome PhD students, especially working topics related to social/relational egalitarianism or social norms in political theory. Currently I co-supervise two students: Matilda Carter, on social equality and people living with dementia, and Hannah McHugh, on republicanism and social inequalities. 

Please do get in touch if you might like to work with me -- but note I only accept students with a solid background in philosophy and/or political theory, including an MA or MPhil (or equivalent) on the subject.


I am an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, UCL.

Previously, I have been a Fellow in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method, LSE (2012-2013); and whilst at UCL, a Research Associate at the School of Philosophy, ANU (June- December 2015) and an academic visitor at ICREA-Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona (October 2018).

Until 2019, I ran the department's MA in Legal and Political Theory. I have also served as an Associate Editor at Res Publica, and am currently an Area Editor at Ergo. 

My research has been funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship, as well as from a Templeton Religion Trust project ('The beacon project') and an ARC grant ('Political normativity and the feasibility constraint'). I also co-created a social equality network with a BA/Leverhulme Small Grant. with Christian Schemmel, Fabian Schuppert, and Martin O'Neill.