Our Research Culture
A strong cluster of political theorists, including both internationally renowned and up-and-coming scholars, provides a dynamic, constructive research environment for IPT students, in line with the distinguished tradition of the University of Edinburgh. We are very much research-active and welcome the opportunity to discuss our own work with students. Further, we regularly organise scientific events featiring an exciting range of guest speakers.
The Just World Institute brings together leading scholars and public figures to discuss the normative impact of some of the greatest problems facing the world today. Past workshops, seminars and public lectures have addressed topics including moral responsibility for climate change, the role of aid in tackling global poverty, and proportionality in war. Speakers have included Jeff McMahan, Judith Lichtenberg, David Luban, Henry Shue, Cecile Fabre, and Simon Caney.
IPT students are also encouraged to attend the weekly meetings of the Political Theory Research Group. This provides a constructive, informal forum for the discussion of draft papers by staff, guest speakers and graduate students, and papers regularly go on to be published in leading journals. To sign up for our weekly meetings, please get in touch with the convener, Dr Mihaela Mihai, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The political theory community is also very public-facing, regularly participating in UK or international conferences and policy debates, becoming involved in university-level policy on ethics, and making our ideas accessible to a wider public through blogging. One venue for public engagement is the University’s Global Justice Academy: an interdisciplinary network that supports research, teaching and knowledge exchange on global justice issues. We are also working a number of more concrete outreach initiatives, such as podcasting.
Two research projects currently run by political theorists at Edinbrugh deal with complex complicity and political violence respectively:
The grey zone of bystanders, collaborators and beneficiaries of violence escapes the scope of main Transitional Justice (TJ) institutions and poses tough questions for scholars and architects of post-conflict societies. This interdisciplinary project shifts the focus of academic and political debates by pursuing three objectives: conceptually, it departs from the dominant victim-perpetrator paradigm and theorises the many faces in the grey zone by analysing the interplay between structure and agency; normatively, it argues that no account of TJ is complete without engaging the grey zone; empirically, it tests if, in tackling the grey zone, cinematographic and literary representations can supplement typical TJ mechanisms (trials, truth commissions, lustration). Four cases are analysed: authoritarianism plus military occupation (Vichy France), apartheid (South Africa), totalitarianism (Romania 1945–1989) and military dictatorship (Argentina 1976–1983). The cases provide a variety of contexts of complicity and feature the most frequently used TJ mechanisms. They serve to a) examine the relationship between the official story emerging from state-orchestrated TJ mechanisms and artistic narratives of complicity; b) contextually distinguish disclosive from obscuring artistic representations of the grey zone; c) explore the contribution of these representations to TJ efforts by studying their effect on public debates about—and institutional responses to—the past.
This research project aims to advance Political Theory’s contribution to the interdisciplinary study of political violence. The 21st century presents us with new forms of political violence that challenge our moral and cognitive capacities. Faced with controversies over genocide, terrorism, and torture, scholars must both reflect on what is actually happening and offer guidelines about how to alleviate the harm. Yet, the academic field in Political Theory appears to be at a standstill. Torn between an intransigent moralism and a complacent realism, it does not offer useful tools for grasping the fluid nature of violence and for re-imagining our world as a better place. While moralists overemphasize the binding force of ethical principles in political decision-making, realists state that no definition of genocide, terrorism and torture can be shielded from abuse and manipulation. And whereas moralists lose sight of what actually motivates people to engage in politics, realists insist that there are no evaluative standards external to politics. Building on insights from the philosophy of judgment and the pragmatist tradition, I will sketch a normative middle position between moralism and realism. The project’s main goal is to work towards a reinvigorated Political Theory, one that recognizes the guidance of ethical principles without disregarding real politics. This goal will be reached through a pragmatically grounded account of judgment. A set of case studies from a variety of contexts will supplement the theoretical work. While the project aims to contribute primarily to Political Theory, its approach is interdisciplinary in nature. The project will also benefit from a variety of dissemination measures, which will creatively combine academic knowledge production, institutional recommendations and outreach activities. These measures will deepen the project’s impact on civil society and decision-makers.
More broadly, IPT students enjoy a vital and varied research environment as part of the School of Social and Political Science. They have the opportunity attend regular seminars, lectures, workshops and other events from various perspectives in the broad field of international studies. Political theory staff and postgraduate students also participate in a wider community of social, legal and moral philosophers from subject areas such as Law, Philosophy, and Divinity.
Edinburgh is a research intensive university and a member of a number of international consortia of research universities, including the League of European Research Universities (LERU), the Coimbra Group, and Universitas 21. The University is also well recognised in international assessments, with the most recent QS rankings placing Edinburgh 17th in the world.