Professor Anne Phillips

Professor Anne Phillips

Emeritus Professor

Department of Government

Key Expertise
Feminist Theory, The Body, Multiculturalism, Gender, Modernity

About me

Anne Phillips is Emeritus Professor in the Department of Government, having previosuly held the position of Graham Wallas Professor of Political Science. She joined LSE in 1999 as Professor of Gender Theory, and was Director of the Gender Institute until September 2004. She subsequently moved to a joint appointment between the Gender Institute and Government Department, and later to a sole appointment in Government.

She was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 2003 and Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in 2013, She holds honorary degrees from the Universities of Aalborg and Bristol, and in 2016 received the Sir Isaiah Berlin Award for Lifetime Contribution to Political Studies. Her most influential work is The Politics of Presence: the Political Representation of Gender, Race, and Culture (1995). As well as engaging with issues of democracy and representation, she has addressed the relationship between equality and difference; the uneasy relationship between feminism and liberalism, feminism and multiculturalism; and the dangers in regarding the body as property. Her most recent book is Unconditional Equals, published by Princeton University Press, 2021.

Research interests

  • Equality
  • Feminist Theory
  • The Body
  • Multiculturalism and Cosmopolitanism
  • The Human and Humanism
  • Gender and Modernity

Video & audio





Unconditional Equals
(Princeton University Press, 2021)

Drawing on political, feminist, and postcolonial theory, Unconditional Equals argues that we should understand equality not as something grounded in shared characteristics but as something people enact when they refuse to be considered inferiors. At a time when the supposedly shared belief in human equality is so patently not shared, the book makes a powerful case for seeing equality as a commitment we make to ourselves and others, and a claim we make on others when they deny us our status as equals.

The Politics of the Human
(Cambridge University Press, 2015. ISBN: 9781107475830)

The human is a central reference point for human rights. But who or what is that human? And given its long history of exclusiveness, when so many of those now recognised as human were denied the name, how much confidence can we attach to the term? This book works towards a sense of the human that does without substantive accounts of 'humanity' while also avoiding their opposite – the contentless versions that deny important differences such as race, gender and sexuality. Drawing inspiration from Hannah Arendt's anti-foundationalism, Phillips rejects the idea of 'humanness' as grounded in essential characteristics we can be shown to share. She stresses instead the human as claim and commitment, as enactment and politics of equality. In doing so, she engages with a range of contemporary debates on human dignity, humanism, and post-humanism, and argues that none of these is necessary to a strong politics of the human.

Our Bodies, Whose Property?
(Princeton University Press, Spring 2013 Princeton, USA. ISBN 9780691150864)

No one wants to be treated like an object, regarded as an item of property, or put up for sale. Yet many people frame personal autonomy in terms of self-ownership, representing themselves as property owners with the right to do as they wish with their bodies. Others do not use the language of property, but are similarly insistent on the rights of free individuals to decide for themselves whether to engage in commercial transactions for sex, reproduction, or organ sales. Drawing on analyses of rape, surrogacy, and markets in human organs, Our Bodies, Whose Property? challenges notions of freedom based on ownership of our bodies and argues against the normalization of markets in bodily services and parts. Anne Phillips explores the risks associated with metaphors of property and reasons why the commodification of the body remains problematic.

What, she asks, is wrong with thinking of oneself as the owner of one’s body? What is wrong with making our bodies available for rent or sale? What, if anything, is the difference between markets in sex, reproduction, or human body parts, and the other markets we commonly applaud?

Phillips contends that body markets occupy the outer edges of a continuum that is, in some way, a feature of all labor markets. But she also stresses the fact that we all have bodies, and considers the implications of this otherwise banal fact for equality. Bodies remind us of shared vulnerability, alerting us to the common experience of living as embodied beings in the same world.

Examining the complex issue of body exceptionalism, Our Bodies, Whose Property? demonstrates that treating the body as property makes human equality harder to comprehend.

Gender and Culture
(Polity Press, Cambridge, 2010)

The idea that respect for cultural diversity conflicts with gender equality is now a staple of both public and academic debate. Yet discussion of these tensions is marred by exaggerated talk of cultural difference, leading to ethnic reductionism, cultural stereotyping, and a hierarchy of traditional and modern. In this volume, Anne Phillips firmly rejects the notion that 'culture' might justify the oppression of women, but also queries the stereotypical binaries that have represented people from ethnocultural minorities as peculiarly resistant to gender equality.

The questions addressed include the relationship between universalism and cultural relativism, how to distinguish valid generalisation from either gender or cultural essentialism, and how to recognise women as agents rather than captives of culture. The discussions are illuminated by reference to legal cases and policy interventions, with a particular focus on forced marriage and cultural defence.

Selected publications

  • 'What does "equality" mean?', article in Prospect (2022)
  • 'Interview - Anne Phillips', interview with E-International Relations (2022)
  • ‘Global Justice: Just Another Modernisation Theory? In Duncan Bell (ed) Empire, Race and Global Justice (Cambridge University Press, 2019): 145-162
  • ‘Why Don’t Gender Theorists Talk More About Equality? Debate Feminista 57, 2019: 17-30
  • ‘Recognising Difference: Reasons and Risks’ Japanese Journal of Political Thought 19, 2019
  • ‘Gender and Modernity’ Political Theory 46 (6) 2018: 837–860.
  • ‘Democratising Against the Grain’ in Will Kymlicka and Ruth Rubio Marin (eds) Gender Parity and Multicultural Feminism (Oxford University Press, 2018): 46-65
  • ‘Gender Equality: Core Principle of Modern Society?’ Journal of the British Academy, vol.6, 2018
  • ‘Asserting One’s Humanity’ in Colloquium on Anne Phillips The Politics of the Human Contemporary Political Theory 17(2) 2018: 207-240
  • ‘What Makes Culture Special?’ Political Theory, 46 (1), 2018: 92-98
  • 'Exploitation, Commodification, Inequality’ in M Deveaux and V Panich (eds) Exploitation: From Practice to Theory. (Rowman and Littlefield, London and New York, 2018): 99-118