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Dr Dan Taylor

Profile summary

Professional biography

I am a political thinker and historian of early modern Europe. In my work, I develop new approaches that re-examine our fundamental assumptions about freedom, nature and power. I'm fascinated by the ways in which the past matters for understanding today's global challenges, like the climate crisis and the legacies of empire and enslavement. At the Open University, I'm very fortunate to be in a position to bring my research and experience to shape our newest teaching materials. 

I joined The Open University in July 2020. Before that, I taught for four years at Goldsmiths, University of London, Lawrence University, the Mary Ward Centre, and the University of Roehampton. I have a PhD in Philosophy from Roehampton (2017) and an MA in Cultural Studies from Goldsmiths. Before I became an academic I worked for several years in front-line community and disability charities across London, my home city. My work remains informed by that commitment to explore how ways of seeing and doing might be transformed for the better. 

Research interests

I work in political theory, and my research spans contemporary political theory and the history of political thought. I love the 17th century philosopher Spinoza, the subject of my PhD, and this interest extends to early modern political thought more broadly. My most recent book is Spinoza and the Politics of Freedom (Edinburgh University Press, 2021), which had a nice review here. I co-organised a three-day conference on Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus last year (watch the talks and find out more on this page). I'm working on a number of papers that further explore aspects of Spinoza's political thought, including around collective imaginings, sympathy and forms of domination and resistance.

I have also written widely on British politics, contemporary political theory and cultural studies. Before my Spinoza book, I wrote Island Story: Journeys Through Unfamiliar Britain (Repeater, 2016). Gently subverting the title of David Cameron's reportedly favourite book, it was a political travelogue and bicycle odyssey that was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2017. My first book was Negative Capitalism: Cynicism in the Neoliberal Era (Zero, 2013), which took a temperature check of the student protest movements of the early 2010s, of which I was a part, within a wider context of unrest, dislocation and declining living standards for young people after the 2008 Crash.

Current projects

  1. Spinoza and the slave. Last year, as protestors in Bristol pulled down the statue of Edward Colston, one placard demanded “Equality”. Our concepts of freedom and equality are heavily influenced by early modern Europe, as freethinkers rejected feudal and ecclesiastical authority with new calls for freedom. Yet philosophers said little about the unprecedented expansion of transatlantic slavery and colonialism. How do we address that silence? With colleagues in the US, Australia, Canada and Germany, I'm establishing a research network that explores freedom via slavery in Enlightenment thought.
  2. Reapproaching attitudes to nature and animals in early modern Europe. The King James Bible, whose cadences shape centuries of English letters, dictates that “Man” should “subdue” the Earth, while the philosopher Francis Bacon said Nature should be “tortured” to reveal its secrets. Written in times of scarcity and superstition, each conceives Nature as passive, hostile, necessitating mastery. In a recent journal article for Crisis and Critique, I uncover how this disposition toward domination, originating in fear, legitimised the over-extraction and expropriation of lands (and peoples) regarded as “Natural” and inhuman.
  3. The politics of the affects. For a number of years now I've been working on the political dimensions and consequences of certain affects, like anger and indignation. In my Spinoza book I explore the affective dimensions of desire and power. Recently I have extended this to explore the role of anxiety in increasining or diminishing one's capacity to act in response to an existential risk - in this case, climate change. I've published one short essay for the public on this topic and have another, much more substantial essay, forthcoming in an edited collection I hope to link to soon.   

PhD supervision

I enjoy postgraduate supervision and welcome inquiries from students working on contemporary political theory, the history of political thought, or projects related to Spinoza. I currently co-supervise one brilliant PhD student working on the philosophy of history and collective memory.

Teaching interests

I teach across a few politics and social science modules, including:

  • Media, Politics and Society, a new short course in conjunction with the BFI, where I wrote a week on fake news and misinformation. More here.
  • Understanding Politics: Ideas and Institutions in the Modern World (DD211). As well as being on the general module team, I've recently produced a range of new audios, videos and content on political ideas and environmentalism that will become available to new students from October 2022. More here.
  • Modern Political Ideas (DD316). More here.
  • Global Challenges: Social Science in Action (D113) - a new module that will open to students in October 2023. I'm currently working on four films and a range of content for the early weeks that introduce the module's three global challenges by way of the humble smartphone.

I also write regularly for OpenLearn, the Open University's free learning platform. Click here to read some of my articles on free speech, superstition, environmentalism and more.

In the past I taught a wide range of courses and modules in philosophy, politics and history. Take a look at the Teaching section of my blog to find out more, which include links to recorded video lectures and materials.

Impact and engagement

Social and political philosophy doesn't usually save lives, nor will it help us all find a quicker way to get from A to B. But there are few subjects people like to talk about less (or at least, when I'm around). Perhaps I'm going to the wrong parties. But I think it's a key for understanding the frames in which we think and see together, and in which we think and see apart or at odds with one another.

I like going on the radio to talk about ideas. In recent years I've been a guest on BBC Radio 4's Open CountryMoral Maze and Making History

I like writing for the public too. I've recently written short essays on ideas for Philosophy Now, The Philosopher and The Conversation. In the past I've also written for the New Statesman and OpenDemocracy.

Over the last decade I've presented my research nationally and internationally at conferences around thirty times. My blog keeps a record of those. In the last couple of years, this has included papers for the annual conferences of the British Society for the History of Philosophy, the IIPPE, the PSA, the BSA and at 'The Ends of Autonomy' at the University of Warwick. I was also invited to address policymakers on geographies of discontent at the OECD Forum in 2017.

External collaborations

Peer review for MIT Press, Edinburgh University Press, Political Theory, History of Political Thought, History of European Ideas, the British Journal for the History of Philosophy, Constellations, Marx and Philosophy Review of Books, and the Journal of Modern Jewish Studies.

And - internally! - I am one of the co-organisers of the Keywords series for the new Language, Literature and Politics research group, with David Johnson and Philip Seargeant. I'm a member of the Open Ecologies Network, and have worked with Maria Nita in the past for the Open University's contribution to the "Letters to the Earth" project (2021), and the Eco-Creativity conferences.

Publications

[Book Review] Mogens Lærke,Spinoza and the Freedom of Philosophizing (2021)
Taylor, Dan
Danish Yearbook of Philosophy (pp. 1-2)


[Book review] Politics, Ontology and Knowledge in Spinoza, by Alexandre Matheron, edited by Filippo Del Lucchese, David Maruzzella and Gil Morejón, translated by David Maruzzella and Gil Morejón, Edinburgh University Press (2021)
Taylor, Dan
British Journal for the History of Philosophy ((Early access))


On Damaged and Regenerating Life: Spinoza and Mentalities of Climate Catastrophe (2021)
Taylor, Dan
Crisis and Critique, 8(1) (pp. 476-501)


Death, a surreptitious friendship: mortality and the impossibility of dying in Bataille and Blanchot (2020)
Taylor, Dan
Angelaki, 25(6) (pp. 3-18)


Affects of Resistance: Indignation, Emulation, Fellowship (2019-04-18)
Taylor, Dan
Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy, 30 (pp. 23-48)


Review of Michael Löwy's "Franz Kafka, Subversive Dreamer" (2019)
Taylor, Dan
Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 18(2) (pp. 255-256)


The Reasonable Republic? Statecraft, Affects, and the Highest Good in Spinoza's Late Tractatus Politicus (2019)
Taylor, Dan
History of European Ideas, 45(5) (pp. 645-660)


The Working Class Revolts (2017-02-07)
Taylor, Dan
New Statesman


The Party's Over? The Angry Brigade, the Counterculture, and the British New Left, 1967-1972 (2015-09)
Taylor, Dan
The Historical Journal, 58(3) (pp. 877-900)


Anxiety Machines: Continuous Connectivity and the New Hysteria (2012)
Taylor, J. D.
Nyx, a Noctournal, 7


Spinoza and the Politics of Freedom (2021-01)
Taylor, Dan
ISBN : 9781474478397 | Publisher : Edinburgh University Press | Published : Edinburgh


Island Story: Journeys Through Unfamiliar Britain (2016)
Taylor, Dan
ISBN : 9781910924204 | Publisher : Repeater Books | Published : London


Negative Capitalism: Cynicism in the Neoliberal Era (2013)
Taylor, J. D.
ISBN : 978-1-78099-260-0 | Publisher : Zero Books | Published : Winchester


Not that Serious? The Investigation and Trial of the Angry Brigade, 1967-1972 (2017)
Taylor, Dan
In: Smith, Evan and Worley, Matthew eds. Waiting for the Revolution: The British Far Left from 1956 (pp. 30-47)
ISBN : 9781526113658 | Publisher : Manchester University Press | Published : Manchester


The Paper Bag Compromise: Hiding the Problem of Drug Dependency in Hamsterdam (2015)
Taylor, J. D.
In: Keeble, Arin and Stacy, Ivan eds. The Wire and America's Dark Corners: Critical Essays (pp. 95-113)
ISBN : 9780786479184 | Publisher : McFarland | Published : Jefferson, NC


'We Hate Humans': Some Problems in Reading the 2011 English Riots Within a Recent History of Working Class Violence (2015)
Taylor, Dan
In: Fuggle, Sophie and Henri, Tom eds. Return to the Street
ISBN : 978-0957147058 | Publisher : Pavement Books | Published : London