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Helen McCabe

Assistant Professor in Political Theory, Faculty of Social Sciences

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Biography

I joined Nottingham in September 2017. In January 2020 I became an AHRC Fellow with "To Have and to Hold", a project about forced marriage and modern slavery. I currently lead the work on forced marriage in the Rights Lab, a University of Nottingham Beacon Research of Excellence (I am part of the Law and Policy Programme). You can hear me talk about my work in a podcast on The Rights Track here or with Global Partnerships here.

I am also the Principal Investigator on project funded by the AHRC in collaboration with researchers, activists, and artists in Kenya and the NGO World Reader, seeking to amplify the voices of survivors of human trafficking in Kenya through ethical storytelling and participatory photography. We have recently been awarded follow-on funding for a further 18 months of work on this project (starting February 2021).

In October 2020 I won a UKRI-funded ESRC COVID-19 Rapid-Response grant looking at the impact of COVID-19 and COVID-related decision-making on people already experiencing, or vulnerable to, forced marriage in the UK. You can hear me watch me talk about this research at an event hosted by Global Partners here.

My D.Phil thesis looked at J.S. Mill's surprising claim to be a socialist: I completed it in 2010. My book, John Stuart Mill, Socialist is published with McGill-Queens University Press (Spring 2021). Since graduating from my D.Phil, 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); 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. You can hear me talking about Harriet Taylor Mill here. I also have a chapter on her in the recent "Philosopher Queens" (Unbound), and wrote the new, revised, entry on her in the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Expertise Summary

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; 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 Leadership Fellowship.

Since 30 October 2020 I have been working on an ESRC-funded COVID-19 rapid-response grant investigating the impact of COVID-19 and COVID-related decision making on people experiencing, or vulnerable to, forced marriage in the UK. With Dr Katarina Schwarz I co-authored a submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding the impact of the UK government's response to COVID-19, which is available here. I also talked about this issue at a Global Partners online conference about human trafficking, which you can watch here.

I also lead work on using ethical storytelling and participatory photography to help create communities with survivors of human trafficking and forced marriage in Kenya. We have learned useful tips about working remotely in a pandemic as well as substantive findings about the impact of these ethical, survivor-oriented methods, which should be of interest to NGOs as well as other academics.

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). My book came out in 2021. 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. Mill and Taylor's views on worker-owned democracies have interesting implications for thinking about resilience and "building back better" after COVID-19.

Teaching Summary

I am not currently teaching, as I am on research leave.

I continue to supervise PhDs, and am always happy to be contacted by students considering PhD applications in my area of expertise - either the history of political thought, or forced marriage.

Research Summary

In January 2020 I started a 24-month AHRC 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

I was awarded an AHRC Leadership Fellowship in January 2020. The project is 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. An initial article was published in British Journal for the History of Philosophy in May 2020.

My project also looks to map the existing legislation on forced and servile marriage globally, and the definitions currently in use in international statues and domestic legislation. I am also interested in the views of survivors of forced marriage, and how they see the relationship between forced marriage and other 'conventional servitudes'.

In October 2019 I became Principal Investigator on an AHRC GCRF Network+ grant from the Anti-Slavery Knowledge Network (and University of Liverpool) seeking to amplify the voices of survivors of human trafficking in Kenya through ethical storytelling and participatory photography. Our project partners are Against Human Trafficking Kenya (HAART) and World Reader.

In October 2020 I began an ESRC- funded project investigating the impact of COVID-19 and COVID-related decision-making on people experiencing, or vulnerable to, forced marriage in the UK. Key staff at Karma Nirvana at Co-Investigators on the project. This is urgent research arising from the experience and needs of the Karma Nirvama and the Forced Marriage Unit, as revealed during the recent "lockdown". It also meets urgent needs identified in the ESRC's review of the "Impacts of social isolation among disadvantaged and vulnerable groups during public health crises" (published June 2020). Karma Nirvana has already run a survey of BAME support services for victims of domestic violence and honour-based abuse (which can include forced marriage), and reported "community and outreach services suffered the biggest due to the lockdown and social distancing measures" moving their work online or to telephones, and often needing to divert resources away from tackling forced marriage. This has had significant impacts on children and adults at risk of forced marriage in BAME communities (who are disproportionately affected by both forced marriage and COVID-19). Both Karma Nirvana and the Forced Marriage Unit report significant decreases in calls to their helplines, particularly from third-parties such as teachers, social-workers and health-care workers. Karma Nirvana also significant increases in the complexity of cases that they do handle caused by COVID-19 and related social restrictions (e.g. arranging transport and safe accommodation).

On the other hand, some risks for forced marriage may have lessened during 'stay at home' - e.g. being taken abroad for forced marriage. Social distancing regulations may also have had an impact (e.g. banning meetings between households).

The over-arching research question we seek to answer, therefore, is:

What has been the impact of the UK government's response to COVID-19, and the pandemic itself, on children and adults vulnerable to, or already experiencing, a forced marriage, and on those tasked with tackling and preventing this crime?

This project is a collaboration between the University of Nottingham's Rights Lab (RL), KN and FMU. We will engage in mixed-methods research to answer the following sub-questions:

• What was the impact on the volume of calls to national helplines? Were there discernible changes regarding: whether calls came from people at risk, or third parties (And which third parties?); whether marriages mentioned on calls were from specific groups or localities, or whether they had an international element, or were solely domestic; and the issues which had prompted, or were dealt with, during or as a result of, the call? Were there discernible effects on people's vulnerability to forced marriage from COVID-19 and COVID-related decision-making? Were total numbers of forced marriages were impacted? If so, in what ways, and why?

• In what ways were efforts to support or help those at risk impacted by COVID-19 and COVID-related decisions? How did government, civil society and voluntary-sector stakeholders responsible for tackling forced marriage in the UK change their normal practice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and COVID-related decisions? What challenges did they face, and how did they overcome them? What lessons can be learned, and shared, for the future? What actions were they able to take to protect people at risk (or help people already experiencing forced marriage)?

• Were people at risk of forced marriage, or already experiencing it, considered as a distinct vulnerable group by policy-makers and legislators, and in what ways? In what ways might such consideration be highlighted in future decision-making? How was consideration for their human-rights balanced against valid concern for public welfare?

• Were any FMPOs issued during 'lockdown'? How was necessary evidence gathered? How were the FMPOs administered? Were any existing FMPOs breached during 'lockdown'? If so, how, and how was this breach brought to the attention of the authorities? What action was taken as a result by relevant stakeholders?

• What are the probable on-going risk-factors associated with COVID-19 and COVID-related decision-making for people vulnerable to, or already experiencing, forced marriage? Are there ways these might be mitigated by civil society, the voluntary sector, the government, the courts, or other relevant bodies?

• What are the ethical dimensions of the impacts of COVID-related decision-making in this area? What tensions have been identified between collective actions/obligations and individual human rights? How might those tensions be recognised and navigated in future?

In answering these questions, we will have addressed the UKRI priority questions about the pandemic's "social impact upon vulnerable groups and regions" ("with a particular focus on identifying those most at risk and how policy making can best support them," especially in relation to BAME communities and children and young people), about how "civil society, the voluntary sector and faith groups have acted and how their actions have influenced community resilience," and about the "ethical dimensions of (un)equal impacts of COVID-related decision-making" and "tensions between collective actions/obligations and individual and human rights".

Current Research

In January 2020 I started a 24-month AHRC 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 201, in Bonn in July 2019. An article was published in British Journal for the History of Philosophy in May 2020, about which I presented at APSA in Augus 2020. I have also presented on a related issue at Stirling's philosophy seminar series in October 2020 (online).

Since 30 October 2020 I have been working on an ESRC- funded project investigating the impact of COVID-19 and COVID-related decision-making on people experiencing, or vulnerable to, forced marriage in the UK. Staff from Karma Nirvana are Co-Investigators on the project.

Past Research

My book, John Stuart Mill: Socialist is forthcoming with McGill-Queens University Press). I have given related papers in Frankfurt and Toronto in 2020 (online because of COVID-19) and Nottingham, Paris, York and Boston in 2018. 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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