Anne Phillips

Political theorist and Graham Wallas Professor of Political Science

I have a very tangible link to earlier generations of LSE women in the shape of Beatrice Webb’s desk, which sits in my office.

Anne Phillips

Anne Phillips
Anne Phillips

I am Anne Phillips, Graham Wallas Professor of Political Science in the LSE Government Department. Despite the title, I am more of a political theorist than political scientist. More specifically, I specialise as a feminist political theorist, researching and teaching on issues of equality, democracy, representation, and diversity. I was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2003 and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2012. I have honorary doctorates from the Universities of Aalborg and Bristol, and received the Political Studies Association Sir Isaiah Berlin Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016.

Tell us about your background?

I was the first generation in my family to go to university. My parents never had that opportunity - my mother left school at 14, and though my father got a scholarship to extend his schooling, that only took him up to 15 – and they were both keen for us to make as much use as we could of our own very different educational opportunities. All four of the children ended up with university degrees. I studied Philosophy and Politics at the University of Bristol (1968-1971) before going to SOAS for an MSc in West African Politics (1971-72), and then did a PhD at The City University, London, on Colonial Policy in British West Africa. I took far longer on the PhD than we allow our students these days – only submitting in 1982 - but this was partly because in those days you could get an academic job before completing a PhD, and that rather delayed the research.

Apart from a brief and rather disastrous term as a supply teacher in a secondary school, I have always worked in the university sector. My first post (1975) was as a Lecturer (subsequently Professor) in the Politics Department at City of London Polytechnic (subsequently London Guildhall University), where I taught political theory, the politics of developing countries, and feminist politics. It was an exciting time to be in the polytechnic sector, because we attracted so many amazing students who had missed out on the conventional academic route, and attracted staff who were keen to develop new courses and curricula. It was also particularly exciting for me, because the Fawcett Library – forerunner of the Women’s Library, now housed at LSE - used to be in a basement at City Poly just a few floors below my office, and I spent many hours there poring over old suffrage journals.

Tell us about your time at LSE?

I moved in 1999 to LSE to become the School’s first Professor of Gender Theory and Director of the LSE Gender Institute. The Gender Institute is now the thriving Department of Gender Studies, the largest research and teaching unit of its kind in Europe, but in 1999 still lived a rather hand to mouth existence, with a tiny permanent staff, and very dependent on the support of various gender scholars across the School. Helping to build it up into what it is today is one of the things I am proud of in my academic career.

In 2004, when my initial period as Director came to an end, I moved to a joint appointment between the Gender Institute and the Government Department, and have since moved to a sole appointment within Government, though still retaining close links with colleagues in Gender. For those of us whose interests cut across the standard disciplinary boundaries, it is sometimes difficult to find the ideal ‘home’. One of the great things about LSE is that there areso many people working here whose research and teaching interests cut across boundaries, but the institutional set-up still isn’t as fluid as it could be in accommodating or encouraging this. Still, I think I’ve been pretty lucky in the combinations I’ve managed to work out during my time here.

I have a very tangible link to earlier generations of LSE women in the shape of Beatrice Webb’s desk, which sits in my office. She and Sidney left their desks to the School on condition that they were used, not just treated as museum pieces, and for the moment, I’m the person with Beatrice’s desk. In the nearly 20 years since I joined LSE, there has been a significant increase in the number of women studying and teaching here, and in the number promoted to professor, though we are still a long way short of equality. But perhaps as well as the overall numbers, the really good sign is that women academics are increasingly as likely to have children as their male counterparts. The typical woman academic of earlier decades did not have children: men could combine an academic career with being a parent, but given all the assumptions and expectations, this was much harder for women to do. That combination remains a challenge, but more and more women now do it, and LSE can take some credit for this in its policies regarding parental leave.

What are you most proud of?

When you research and write, it’s usually the last book that you wrote that you most care about (so, for the moment, The Politics of the Human, published in 2015). But the book that has been most influential is an earlier one, The Politics of Presence (1995), which helped provide some of the theoretical underpinnings for movements to address the political under-representation of women and people of minority ethnicity. The book that has been most shaped by my experiences of teaching at LSE is Our Bodies, Whose Property? (2013), which grew very much out of discussions with successive years of MSc students taking my feminist political theory course.

Anne's nomination

Anne was nominated by a member of staff from the Department of Gender Studies who said:

Professor Anne Phillips is one of the most distinguished political theorists of our time. She writes on issues of democracy and representation, equality, multiculturalism, and difference. A Fellow of the British Academy,  she is synonymous with establishing a sub-discipline 'feminist political theory'. Her numerous books include Engendering Democracy, The Politics of Presence, Multiculturalism without Culture and more recently, The Politics of the Human. She teaches feminist political theory at LSE.

Read more

Department of Government

Department of Gender Studies

The Women’s Library at LSE

Graham Wallas on the LSE History Blog by Sue Donnelly