My early work was in the philosophy of law, particularly the possibility of socialist legality given the Marxist antipathy to law. More recently my research has been in political philosophy, centring on egalitarianism and its relation to human flourishing. I have published six books and over 60 essays as journal articles or book chapters. More about my research can be found below.
As a student of political philosophy and an advocate for social change, I was struck by the inadequate approach to legal concepts such as individual rights and procedural justice in the socialist tradition and set out to remedy this in my doctoral research. This work was published in a monograph, The Concept of Socialist Law (Oxford, 1990), in which I argued that even the most egalitarian and communitarian societies would need legal institutions that protect individual liberty. Researched during the era of ‘glasnost’ in the former USSR and the Thatcher-Reagan era in the West, the book seemed a timely intervention, showing how the values of freedom and equality can be reconciled, and drawing on the liberal corpus of analytical jurisprudence and writings in the Marxist and socialist tradition.
I’ve also produced three collections on related themes: The Social Self (Sage, 2001, co-edited with David Bakhurst), The Egalitarian Conscience: Essays in Honour of G.A. Cohen (Oxford, 2006), and Family Values and Social Justice (Routledge, 2018, co-edited with Andrée-Anne Cormier). These include original papers by myself along with philosophers such as Ian Hacking (FRSC), Derek Parfitt, Will Kymlicka (FRSC), Thomas Scanlon, Joshua Cohen, Susan Hurley, John Roemer, Daniel Weinstock, and Jeremy Waldron.
I am continuing my research on the political philosophy of the celebrated Oxford philosopher, G.A. Cohen, currently completing a manuscript on his work, commissioned by Polity Press in their ‘key contemporary thinkers’ series. The book is organized around several paradoxes in Cohen’s thought that emerge in his ‘analytical Marxist’ commitments, his surprising engagement with libertarian thought, and his sympathy for conservatism whilst affirming radical socialist ideals. I’ve also been invited to contribute to Routledge’s ‘It’s OK’ philosophy series, with a book on ‘Why it’s OK to be a Socialist’, under contract for completion in 2024.
Equality and Human Flourishing
The egalitarian literature in political philosophy is extensive and well-traversed. But in my most recent monograph, Equality Renewed: Justice, Flourishing and the Egalitarian Ideal (Routledge, 2017), I venture a novel approach, centered on the idea that it is human flourishing – rather than income, goods, or resources – which we should aim to equalize. I draw on Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum’s concept of capabilities, but also take issue with their reluctance to elaborate the constituents of human flourishing. If we are to make people equal, I argue, we must embrace a perfectionist account, and attend not just to people’s physical needs, but also to sources of human wellbeing like nature and culture, as well as autonomy and self-determination. In my view, mainstream liberal political philosophy’s preoccupation with state neutrality impedes a proper understanding of the ills of inequality – a preoccupation that’s also at odds with both radical ideals and the reality of many practical policies (e.g., funding for the arts and urban planning, the latter’s principles being informed by conceptions of what it is to live well).
Cultural Heritage and Social Justice
My current work pursues what is arguably Canada’s most urgent political question: how Indigenous and settler peoples can find reconciliation given a history of dispossession and injustice which lives on in the present. I am leading a 12-person interdisciplinary team of Indigenous and settler philosophers, legal theorists, artists, and health care researchers on the project ‘Toppling Monuments: Colonial Trauma, Justice, Heritage and Restorative Healing’. The project considers the impact of colonial heritage on the wellbeing of Indigenous people, taking Kingston, Ontario, as a case study, and is funded by the Canadian Tri-agency’s ‘New Frontiers-Explorations’ programme, as well as the Queen’s ‘Wicked Ideas’ fund, which supports interdisciplinary research on complex and challenging issues.
This work builds on my longstanding activism and research in the field of heritage conservation, in which I address the problem of competing heritage narratives and the legacy of colonialism, the fate of controversial monuments, the connection to place and past, and built heritage and gentrification in historic neighbourhoods. My 2014 co-edited collection, Barriefield: Two Centuries of Village Life, paid tribute to Ontario’s first heritage district on its 200th anniversary, garnering considerable acclaim and a Lieutenant-Governor’s Heritage Award.