Department of Political Science

Prof Adam Swift

Prof Adam Swift

Professor of Political Theory/Political Philosophy

Dept of Political Science

Faculty of S&HS

Joined UCL
24th Sep 2018

Research summary

I work on a wide range of issues in political theory, and with a wide range of collaborators. In recent years I have come to specialize in debates around equality of opportunity, education and the family.

I am currently working on a collaborative project based at the University of Warwick – Faith Schools: Principles and Policies –funded by the Spencer Foundation. This combines philosophical and empirical research to explore the principles that should guide states in the regulation of religious schooling and the policy implications of those principles in particular contexts.

My first book - Liberals and Communitarians (with Stephen Mulhall), (Blackwell 1992, 2nd edition, 1996) – offers an overview of the debate between liberals and their communitarian critics. It provides accessible summaries of various key players – Rawls, Dworkin, Raz, Sandel, MacInture, Walzer, Taylor, Rorty – and an analytical framework for assessing their various claims.

My involvement in the UK team on the International Social Justice Project resulted in Against the Odds? Social Class and Social Justice in Industrial Societies (with Gordon Marshall and Stephen Roberts), (Oxford University Press, 1997). This brings together normative theories of social justice and concepts of meritocracy with empirical data on social mobility in 13 countries. The team also produced various articles on popular perceptions of, and attitudes to, social justice and on the normative significance of popular opinion.

Having written an accessible introduction to political philosophy - Political Philosophy: A Beginners’ Guide for Students and Politicians (Polity, 2001, 4th ed 2019) – I started to assess, from a moral perspective, the mechanisms by which parents transmit advantage (and disadvantage) to their children. My first book on this topic - How Not To Be A Hypocrite: School Choice for the Morally Perplexed Parent (Routledge 2003) – looks specifically at school choice. My second - Family Values: The Ethics of Parent-Child Relationships (with Harry Brighouse), (Princeton University Press 2014) – offers a general theory of parents’ rights.

My current research extends this work in two directions. With Anca Gheaus, I am exploring whether close personal relationships generate duties, or merely permissions, to favour particular others. With Mark Philp, I am thinking about children’s responsibilities to their ageing parents.

With Harry Brighouse, I have co-written several papers on educational justice. Having got together with a couple of empirical education scholars, we published Educational Goods: Values, Evidence and Decision-Making (with Helen F.Ladd and Susanna Loeb) (Chicago University Press 2018), which is intended to help educational policymakers make better policy.

Alongside these substantive interests, 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.

I am an Associate Editor of Philosophy and Public Affairs and on the Editorial Boards of Theory and Research in Education, Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy and Moral Philosophy and Politics.

Teaching summary

At UCL I am Director of the MA in Legal and Political Theory. I teach the core module 'Peer Assisted Learning' and an optional module 'Social Justice, Social Mobility, Education and the Family'.

I also run the PhD Political Theory workshop and give some lectures to 1st year PPE students for their module 'Introduction to Politics'.


I grew up in North London - Highbury then Hampstead - and went to William Ellis School, which was a boy's 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, spent a year 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 the Department of Politics and International Relations.

In 2013 I moved to Warwick as Professor of Political Theory, and in 2018 moved to the same role at UCL.