Faculty of Education, Social Sciences and Law

School of Politics and International Studies

Political Theory and Cultural Values

In this Section:

The Political Theory and Cultural Values Research Group at the school of Politics and International Studies concentrates on addressing the challenges presented by the unprecedented and far-reaching processes of political transformation that are being experienced by contemporary societies across the globe. Our group of experts work within a variety of approaches in order to understand and theorise these changes, to initiate and shape key international debates around these themes, and to explore the possibilities for maintaining a coherent sense of political togetherness in a world marked by transformation and diversity.

The group is linked with the White Rose Association for Political Philosophy.

Our research aims

Our research aims to produce a more compelling view of politics which can help to explain change, and to suggest sustainable forms of politics for the future.  First, it is widely observed that contemporary changes have led to concerns about injustice, inequality, fragmentation, and disengagement.  Rather than assuming that these are simply the opposites of more positive values, the group asks what it means to analyse politics through these concepts.  Second, the group is concerned to respond to the challenges raised by increasing diversity, multiculturalism, and pluralism.  How are polities to navigate the tensions that are often claimed to be the products of such diversity?  Moreover, is it possible to talk of a shared allegiance to, and understanding of, the state, citizenship, and political culture at all?  Third, the group is concerned to theorise not only existing change, but also to generate a conceptual framework for new and sustainable political relations.  In particular, the group theorises the basis and implications for relations around the themes of friendship, the sentiments, compassion, and dignity.

History of the group

The political theory research group includes six core members along with a range of partners from across the School and University. We run a lively programme of research seminars, reading groups, public lectures and international conferences. Members of the group meet frequently to review and discuss their current research and to provide critical encouragement for their own work and for that of the political theory MA and PhD students that the group hosts.

Our current research activities span a range of areas united by our common interest in the interface between political theory, cultural values and practical politics.

Injustice, Rights and Activism

Jonathan Dean specializes in the critical analysis of protest and social movements. He is currently leading a British Academy funded project on gender relations and attitudes to feminism on the British left. Kerri Woods has research expertise in the area of human rights, she is currently working on problems of environmental justice and sustainability. Woods and Derek Edyvane co-organised the 2014 Association for Legal and Social Philosophy international conference on the theme of ‘Injustice’.

Diversity, Equality and Toleration

Edyvane has research expertise on problems of multiculturalism and political community. He recently completed an AHRC funded study on the concept of ‘civic health’ and is currently engaged in research on the related idea of incivility. Graham Smith has a research interest in the concept of secularism and is currently co-editing a volume – Confronting Secularism – on that theme. Dean has published extensively on feminist theory and politics, and Susan Gaines has conducted a study analyzing the determinants of support for same-sex marriage.

Friendship, Sentiment and Vulnerability

The idea of friendship as a political concept is a particular area of research strength in the group. Smith has published widely on friendship and the political and is co-editor of AMITY: The Journal of Friendship Studies. Edyvane and Woods organized a workshop at the Manchester Workshops in Political Theory dedicated to the theme of friendship in politics and co-edited a special issue on friendship for the journal, Res Publica. Woods and Gaines are also engaged in research on the ethics of sentiment and the concept of vulnerability.

Specific research interests

Jonathan Dean

Jonathan Dean specialises in the theory and analysis of protest, resistance and political participation. He is currently leading a Leverhulme-funded research project on left-wing populism in contemporary Britain.

Derek Edyvane

Derek Edyvane's research covers a range of issues and problems in contemporary political philosophy. He is particularly interested in the concept of political community and its relationship to the moral diversity and conflict characteristic of modern liberal democracies. Other research interests include multiculturalism, political ethics and political liberalism.

Susan Gaines

Susan Gaines' research interests take place at the nexus political theory and empirical political science. She is interested, particularly, in questions of ethics in politics and is currently working on projects that attempt to apply sentimentalist ethics to questions of public attitudes toward charitable aid requests. Susan is also interested in issues of gay and lesbian rights, public opinion, and politics and literature.

James Souter

James Souter's research focuses on states’ moral responsibilities to refugees. Building on his recent DPhil thesis, he is exploring the theoretical and practical implications of the notion of ‘asylum as reparation’; that is, the idea that states bear a special responsibility to protect refugees for whose flight they are responsible. He is also currently contributing to a project at POLIS entitled "The Responsibility to Protect in the Context of the Continuing War on Terror" with Jason Ralph and Derek Edyvane.

Graham M. Smith

Graham M. Smith's research focuses on the notion of friendship and how this relates to our understanding of the political. He understands friendship to be a concern with the bonds between person and person. These bonds can be located and conceptualised in a variety of ways but they provide the basic fabric upon which the political is woven. He understands the political to indicate a domain of order and value constructed by persons who must negotiate their mutual dependency and freedom. He is currently writing a monograph 'Friendship and Political Theory' (Edinburgh University Press, 2018).

Kerri Woods

Kerri Woods' recent research has been on cosmopolitan accounts of obligations to ‘distant others’ and the role of sentiment in the motivation and justification of such obligations. She has longstanding interests in human rights theory and various topics in environmental ethics, including climate change ethics and environmental human rights.

We supervise research in all areas connected to our specialist interests, including the following areas:

  • Ancient and modern political thought
  • Contemporary political philosophy
  • Critical and continental political theory
  • Ethics
  • Feminism and feminist theory 

International postgraduate recruitment into our school is significant. Over fifty per cent of our postgraduate students are students from overseas, and their presence brings differing insights, perspectives and experiences of global issues into the ethos of our school.

We also hold regular seminars for students and postgraduate research students substantially engage in this research group’s activities.

PhD Supervison areas

Please see individual profiles for supervision details.

Current Studentships

Our current and recent students have had success in winning many competitive scholarships including Leeds University Research Scholarships, POLIS scholarships, and White Rose AHRC scholarships.

Postgraduate Taught Programmes

Postgraduate taught modules

  • Advanced Political Analysis
  • Political Theory in Action
  • Global Justice
  • Plus a range of options from within the department and across the university.

Undergraduate modules

  • Freedom, Power and Resistance: An Introduction to Political Ideas
  • Justice, Community and Conflict
  • Revolution and Reaction
  • Culture and Community
  • Challenges to Feminist Political Theory
  • Philosophy of Human Rights
  • Radical Political Ideas
  • Machiavelli and the Making of the Modern World
  • Plus a range of options from within the department and across the university.

Latest key publications

  • Jonathan Dean: 'Tales of the Apolitical’. Political Studies 62 (2): 452-467 2014; Rethinking Contemporary Feminist Politics (Palgrave MacMillan, Gender and Politics series), 2010
  • Edyvane: 'What is the Point of a Public Morality?'(Political Studies, 60, 2012); Civic Virtue and the Sovereignty of Evil (Routledge 2013)
  • Susan Gaines: 'Morality, Locality or Equality?:Analyzing Determinants of Support for Same-Sex Marriage' Co-authored with James C. Garand (Political Research Quarterly 63, 2010)
  • Graham M. Smith: 'Friendship and the Political: Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Schmitt (Imprint Academic, 2011); Confronting Secularism, co-edited with Brian Black and Gavin Hyman (Bloomsbury, 2014); 'Friendship, State and Nation’, Friendship and International Relations, eds. Koschut, S. and Oelsner, A. (2014)
  • Kerri Woods: 'Human Rights (Issues in Political Theory), (Palgrave, 2014); 'Whither Sentiment? Compassion, Solidarity and Disgust in Cosmopolitan Thought’, (Journal of Social Philosophy, 43, 2012); 'On Climate Justice, Motivation and Harm', May Thorseth and Dieter Birnbacher (eds), The Politics of Sustainability: Philosophical Perspectives, Routledge, 2015; 'Environmental Human Rights', Cheryl Hall et al (eds), The Oxford Handbook for Environmental Political Theory, Oxford University Press, 2015.

Editorial boards

Our team is actively engaged in range of editorial roles with academic journals, research councils and other funding bodies.

Graham M. Smith is the co-editor of AMITY: The Journal of Friendship Studies, an open-access peer-reviewed journal hosted by The National Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies’, University of Otago, New Zealand.

Kerri Woods is the treasurer of the Association for Social and Political Philsophy (formerly the Association for Legal and Social Philosophy).


Local networks

The Centre for Interdisciplinary Studies brings together over 170 academic staff from across the arts and humanities, social sciences, medicine and healthcare studies. The Centre enjoys excellent connections with Gender and Women’s Studies departments at universities regionally, nationally and internationally, and many of our students and visiting academics are from countries in Africa, Asia, Europe and the US.

The Inter-Disciplinary Ethics Applied Centre aims to to help students, professionals and employees to identify, analyse and respond to the ethical issues they encounter in their disciplines and their working lives. They carry out teaching and research in applied ethics, and offer consultancy and training to professionals, businesses and public bodies.

The Cultural Studies Reading Group conducts research within the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies which caould be classified more broadly as 'Cultural Studies'. Some of their work relates explicitly with issues of the popular, of reception and audiences, and of the political/ideological dimension of culture.

National networks

The White Rose Association for Political Philosophy links political theorists and philosophers in the universities of Leeds, Sheffield and York. Derek Edyvane acts as University's contact. He has also worked on a knowledge transfer project with Theos think tank.

Jonathan Dean is collaborating with Kristin Aune (Reader in Sociology, University of Derby) in the co-editing of a special issue of Social Movement Studies, as well as leading a British Academy grant (‘Gendering Protest’) with Bice Maiguashca (Senior Lecturer in Politics, University of Exeter). He is also in the process of developing a wider network of scholars working on gendered aspects of protest and radical left politics.

Members of the group are affiliated with a range of professional associations including the Political Studies Association, the Association for Political Thought, the Association for Legal and Social Philosophy, the American Political Science Association, the Midwest Political Science Association, and the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association.

International Networks

Global Network for the Study of Human Rights and the Environmentare a global network of thinkers, researchers, policy-makers, opinion-formers and community activists whose diversity forges new conversations and relationships. Kerri Woods is a memeber of this network and has participated in the European-funded 'Rights to a Green Future' research network.

Derek Edyvane is engaged in a network of collaboration with researchers based at the universities of Zagreb and Rijeka, Croatia, and is a founding member of the Rijeka Summer School in Political Philosophy (organised in association with the Center for Advanced Studies of South East Europe).

Key conference presentations and guest lectures

Jonathan Dean

  • 'Contested Equalities: an Analysis of Debates about Feminism and Intersectionality on the British Left', conference presentation at the Atgender Spring Conference, Barcelona, June 2014.
  • ‘The Strange Non-Death of Feminist Activism’ Invited lecture at Feminist Changes, Changing Feminisms, Kings College London, October 2012.
  • ‘Tales of the Apolitical: Feminist reflections’, conference presentation at the Ninth European Feminist Research Conference, Central European University, Budapest, May 2012.

Derek Edyvane

  • ‘Identifying Incivility’, workshop co-organiser at MANCEPT workshops in political theory, 2014.
  • ‘Civic Virtue and the Sovereignty of Evil’ (symposium dedicated to Edyvane’s book), University of Rijeka, Croatia, September 2011.
  • ‘Civic Health and Civic Vitality’ invited lecture at Lancaster University, May, 2012.

Susan Gaines

  • ‘Justice in Plato’s Republic’ Invited lecture at the University of Louisville, McConnell Center for Political Leadership. July 2013.
  • ‘Testing Machiavelli: Is it Better to be Feared than Loved?’ Presented (with M. Rodwan Abouharb) at the Conflict Resolution Society Conference, University of Essex, UK. September 2013.

Graham M. Smith

  • Political Friendship’, at European Consortium of Political Research, (Glasgow, September 2014).
  • 'Friendship and IR: Beyond the Western Paradigm?', panel co-convenor at International Studies Association, (New Orleans 2015).
  • Justice and Fraternity (series of panels organised and co-chaired with Preston King and Heather Devere) International Political Studies Association (Madrid, 2012).
  • Friendship and IR’ invited paper for Friendship and International Relations: Conceptions and Practices at Harvard University (February 2012).

Kerri Woods

  • Keynote Lecture, ‘Environmental Human Rights’ Future Generations and Grand Challenges Conference, Trondheim University, Norway, May 2015.
  • Keynote Lecture, 'Sustainability, Values and Rights', Rights to a Green Future European Research Network Final Conference: http://www.greenrights.nl/news-meetings/item/1642-upcoming-final-conference, Utrecht University, Nov 2014.
  • Guest lectures on Sustainability and Environmental Human Rights at Utrecht University Centre for Ethics, May 2013.
  • Keynote lecture at Finnish Environmental Social Science annual colloquium, Nov 2012.

Key rountables and consultancy work

Derek Edyvane was the lead participant on a discussion panel (‘Britain 2.0? The Union, England and Political Community After 5th of May’) at Houses of Parliament, October 2011.

Kerri Woodshas contributed to Expert Consultation of the Independent Expert on Environment for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN, Geneva, June 2013.

Media work

Jonathan Dean has published articles in The Guardian newspaper, The Conversation and given an interview to the Yorkshire Post.

Derek Edyvane has published in The Conversation.

We hold a regular programme of research seminars throughout the year.

Details of the 2015/16 programme will appear here shortly.

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