My research is concerned with questions of global ethics, or questions of how to live well in conditions of increasing human interconnection and accelerating social change. Over the past several years, I have focused on the contested idea of universal human rights, including how these ideas have developed, how they have transformed world politics and what further changes they may yet enable as ethical and political claims made within national and transnational institutions as well as within global social movements.
Philosophically, my work draws from pragmatist and pluralist traditions, especially developing a situationist ethics inspired by John Dewey, which sits alongside an agonistic pluralist commitment to radical democracy. At the centre of my research is a concern to interrogate the philosophical, especially ethical, ideas through which we understand the world, and which guide our actions. In turn, I am also try to attend to how philosophical reflection grounded in everyday political experience can assist in addressing pressing social problems, leading to my interesting in developing ways of doing “global ethics” in a manner that is engaged with practical political action.
The language of human-rights claims and numerous human-rights institutions shape almost all aspects of our political lives, yet we struggle to know how to judge this development. Scholars give us good reason to be both supportive and sceptical of the universal claims that human rights enable. All too often, however, our evaluations of our human-rights world are not based on sustained consideration of their complex, ambiguous and often contradictory consequences. Reconstructing Human Rights argues that human rights are only as good as the ends they help us realise. We must attend to what ethical principles actually do in the world to know their value. Human rights are a tool that should enable us to challenge political authority and established constellations of political membership by making new claims possible. Human rights claims mobilise the identity of humanity to make demands upon the terms of legitimate authority and challenge established political memberships. In this work, I argue that human rights should be guided by a democratising ethos that enables claims for more radical democratic forms of politics and more inclusive political communities.
This project looks at the claiming of a human right to land and housing by activist groups as an emerging challenge to dominant liberal conceptions of human rights. This project has looked at the development of a human right to housing, considering both the limited institutionalisation of such a right at the national and international levels, while focusing on how social movements have claimed and fought for such a right. This research combines empirical and philosophical work, and looks at the claiming of a human right to land and housing by activist groups around the globe, with a focus on the US and UK.
This project begins from the core premise that our theoretical thinking on questions of justice needs to start with the everyday experience of injustice. From this starting point, I examine and defend the potential of rights claims to forward radical political ends, in this case for a right to the global city. This rights-claim, I argue, challenges conventional coordinates of political membership (privileging the denizen over the citizen) and articulates an ethico-political demand for the transformation of the contemporary urban environment (moving from one defined by exclusion and exploitation, to one defined by inclusion and cooperation). This project is both theoretically and empirically innovative, as it (a) focuses normative work on lived experience rather than abstract principles, (b) brings the lived experience of injustice to bear on theorisations of justice, and (c) generates empirical knowledge through collaborative fieldwork with members of political protest groups and social movements.