School of Politics and International Relations

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Helen McCabe

Assistant Professor in Political Theory, Faculty of Social Sciences



I joined Nottingham in September 2017. In January 2020 I became an AHRC Early Careers Researcher Leadership Fellow with a project about forced marriage and modern slavery. I currently lead the interdisciplinary Forced Marriage Project at the University of Nottingham's Rights Lab Beacon of Excellence (part of the Law and Public Policy Programme). There is more information about the project on the "Forced Marriage" tab.

My D.Phil thesis looked at J.S. Mill's surprising claim to be a socialist: I completed it in 2010. Since then, I have been teaching analytical political theory and the history of political thought at the University of Oxford (2010-2013) and the University of Warwick (2013-2017); working on the book manuscript of my doctorate; publishing articles on Mill's socialism, his feminism and his philosophy of persuasive; and working on a project concerning his authorial relationship with Harriet Taylor Mill.

Expertise Summary

In 2018 I started a new project with the Rights Labs, a University of Nottingham Beacon of Excellence, on Forced and Servile Marriage. I lead an interdisciplinary team concerned with the meaning and experience of forced and servile marriage globally; measuring its prevalence more-accurately; understandings its causes and consequences; and developing more-effective interventions aimed at achieving the United Nations' station goal of ending it by 2030. Since January 2020 this work has been funded by an AHRC ECR Leadership Fellowship.

My previous research mainly looked at the political philosophy of John Stuart Mill, especially his connections to pre-Marxist socialism (particularly that of Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Victor Considerant, Henri Saint-Simon and Louis Blanc). I also work on in the nature of his intellectual relationship with Harriet Taylor Mill (whom he credited as his co-author), and in her independent status as a political philosopher.

Teaching Summary

I am not currently teaching, as I am on research leave as part of my AHRC ECR Leadership Fellowship.

I continue to supervise PhDs, and am always happy to be contacted by students considering PhD applications in my area of expertise.

Research Summary

In January 2020 I started a 24-month AHRC ECR Leadership Fellowship entitled "To Have and To Hold": Understanding the Relationship between Forced Marriage and Modern Slavery'. The project's three… read more

Recent Publications

From September 2018, I am working with a team of six researchers in a project to increase the presence of ethnic diversity in the curricula of politics and philosophy (also referred to as 'decolonising' the curriculum) in an effort to achieve greater representation of a wider range of perspectives, debates, and interpretations of the world. Entitled 'Represent! Regularising ethnic presence in the curriculum', the project will run for two years.

Project team

The project is funded by the Birmingham-Nottingham Education Partnership Fund. The project team is formed of:

  • Dr Helen Williams (principal investigator), School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Helen McCabe, School of Politics and IR, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Andrew Fisher, Department of Philosophy, University of Nottingham.
  • Dr Peter Kerr, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Emma Foster, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham
  • Dr Vipin Chauhan, Project Research Assistant/Associate

Brief description

This project will take a curriculum-based approach to the undergraduate attainment gap between white and BAME students in philosophy and politics.

Descriptive representation matters, including in the curriculum, and mainstreaming perspectives that are not the traditional white, European, middle class, male approaches is very important for increasing retention, engagement, and attainment of other demographics. The importance of mainstreaming more diverse perspectives has been highlighted under many guises, starting with critical pedagogy in the 1960s and proliferating into other headings, such as hidden curriculum, critical race pedagogy, and more recently decolonisation of the curriculum. Each of these headings addresses a slightly different aspect of the same underlying phenomenon: the decisions we make about what we teach and how we teach it, as well as the expectations our students have, can either foster inclusion or perpetuate social and ethnic inequalities.

Recently, decolonisation (or ethnic diversification) of the curriculum has received considerable press, but there is a clear call for a coherent methodology for decolonisation. The project will start with a review of the ways that educationalists across the world have undertaken diversification to propose a methodology for systematically improving representation without assuming unlimited knowledge and resources of those trying to decolonise their curriculum. Alongside this, we will audit what we already do, uncovering the implicit and explicit curriculum. In the second year, the main activity will be to work with staff and students to identify examples, authors, readings, and topics to ensure greater visibility of BAME authors and ideas in the mainstream curriculum, including diversifying our expectations in assessments. The Department of Philosophy has already begun such a review; Peter Kerr and Emma Foster (Birmingham) have undertaken a similar review for gender.

Potential outcomes

The project will result in the incorporation of more BAME authors and themes as part of the core curricula in the participating departments. The resources (website with database, curriculum changes) will provide a blueprint to expand the changes beyond the participant departments.

Current Research

In January 2020 I started a 24-month AHRC ECR Leadership Fellowship entitled "To Have and To Hold": Understanding the Relationship between Forced Marriage and Modern Slavery'. The project's three research questions are:

1) When, if ever, is forced marriage a form of modern slavery?

2) Does forced marriage as currently defined in law really encapsulate the normative problem?

3) What types of marriage, if any, ought to be seen as forms of modern slavery?

This is part of a long-term, multi-disciplinary project on forced marriage - its meaning, experience, prevalence, causes, consequences and how to end it. I start from the question of definition, exploring the conceptual links between forced and servile marriage (counted as 'conventional servitudes' and 'institutions and practices similar to slavery' in the 1956 Supplementary Convention on Slavery and the Slave Trade) and slavery - particularly how lack of consent, which is seen as a hallmark of forced marriage is connected to the hallmark of slavery, the exercise of powers associated with property rights over one person by another. I take analyses provided by feminists authors writing in the context of earlier waves of abolitionist activity of marriage as a form of slavery as a useful starting point, as well as looking to map the existing legislation on forced and servile marriage globally, and the definitions currently in use in international statues and domestic legislation. I presented an early paper on this in Johannesburg and Karlsruhe in 2018 and in Bonn in July 2019. I have articles on the topic currently under review.

Past Research

I recently submitted the manuscript of my book John Stuart Mill: Socialist (under contract with McGill--Queens University Press), on which I gave related papers in Nottingham, Paris, York and Boston in 2018, and will speak in Frankfurt, Lisbon, and Ohio this coming year. This work stems from my doctoral research, which looked at Mill's somewhat surprising assertion of being 'under the general designation of Socialist'. I considered this in its historical context (particularly of 'utopian' socialism such as that of Robert Owen and his followers, Henri Saint-Simon and his followers the Saint-Simonians); Charles Fourier and Victor Consideration; and Louis Blanc, Philipe Buchez and other cooperative socialists in France) and found it to be a plausible claim. Mill's socialism is akin, but not identical to, many of these 'utopian' socialists. I also considered his socialism in a more conceptual fashion (particularly given John Rawls' claim that Mill was a supporter of 'property-owning democracy' rather than 'liberal socialism') and found that Mill's commitments to the free development of individuality; equality; social harmony; progress and general utility make him plausible a 'liberal socialist'.

I am also working on Mill's co-authoring relationship with his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill. I presented on this topic in Lancaster (October 2017), London (February 2018), New Orleans (March 2018), and Boston (August 2018). I am investigating the extent to which we should think of Mill's body of work as 'his', 'hers' or 'theirs' and what this would mean for his, and her, status as a thinker in the 'canon' of Western political theory; and link this to other work being done on (particularly female) collaboration and co-authorship. Among other things, I hope this speaks to the demand to liberate the curriculum, and restore forgotten women their rightful place in history. This is a key part of another piece of research in which I am currently involved (funded by the Birmingham and Nottingham Education Partnership) on trying to end the BAME attainment gap through diversifying the curriculum and making ethnic diversity mainstream in our teaching.

Future Research

My future research will increasingly focus on forced marriage, and how to end it, along with other forms of modern slavery, by 2030. In particular, I will focus on prevalence, causes, consequences and means of ending it. I am collaborating with researchers in the Rights Lab's Climate programme, and NGO Rescue Global, to consider to relationship between climate change and forced marriage, and how humanitarian efforts can build resilience against forced marriage in a climate of increasingly severe natural hazards.

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