Emma Stone Mackinnon

University Lecturer in the History of Modern Political Thought
Fellow, Emmanuel College
Dr E MacKinnon

My teaching and research is in contemporary political theory and the history of political thought, with broader research interests in histories of human rights and humanitarianism, anticolonialism, international political thought, and the relationship between history and politics. 

My current book project concerns the history of human rights in the twentieth century through a focus on political contests over the meaning of human rights as a foundational promise of political community. The book traces legacies of the eighteenth-century French and American rights declarations in mid-twentieth century politics of race and empire, in order to question a narrative in which those foundational declarations are viewed as universal in their aspirations but often contradicted in practice. In the standard story, rights promises may have been unfulfilled – or, worse, a mask for imperial ambitions – but nonetheless enabled later rights claims. In contrast, I argue against viewing ideals as separate from practice, and trace how, historically, narratives about gradual universalization helped justify forms of imperial and racial domination in the twentieth century. Drawing on the work of political actors who opposed such domination, both in the context of the Algerian Revolution and in contemporaneous struggles for racial justice in the US, I bring forward alternative critiques of hypocrisy and an anti-imperial politics of human rights promise-making.

Some of my other recent or ongoing work addresses topics in the history of humanitarianism, international law, anti-colonialism, and the politics of resistance and rebellion.

My work has been published or is forthcoming in journals and edited volumes including Political Theory, Humanity, The Blackwell Companion to Arthur Danto (Blackwell), and Situating Contingency in the Course of International Law (OUP). I hold a BA in Social Studies from Harvard, and came to Cambridge from the University of Chicago, where I completed a doctorate in Political Science. I arrived in 2017 as a Junior Research Fellow at Emmanuel; as of January 2020, I took up a university lectureship in the History Faculty and became an official fellow of Emmanuel.

In the faculty, I convene and lecture in Political Philosophy and the History of Political Thought Since c. 1890 (History Part II Paper 5 / POL 11). 

I supervise for that paper as well as The History of Political Thought from c.1700 to c.1890 (History Part I Paper 20 and Part II Paper 4/ POL8 and POL10); The Modern State and its Alternatives (POL 1); and The History of the United States from 1865 (History Part I Paper 24). 

At the postgraduate level, I teach and supervise PhD students in History and MPhil students in the MPhil programs in Political Thought and Intellectual History and in Modern European History. I am open to supervision requests on other MPhil programs at Cambridge as well.

At Emmanuel, I serve as Director of Studies for students in the History and Politics joint tripos.

I am happy to supervise students working in all areas of twentieth century political thought.

Key publications

Mackinnon, Emma Stone. "Declaration as Disavowal: The Politics of Race and Empire in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Political Theory 47, no. 1. February 2019. https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591718780697

Mackinnon, Emma Stone. "Promise-Making and the History of Human Rights: Reading Arendt with Danto," Humanity 19, no. 2 (Summer 2018). https://muse.jhu.edu/article/703634

Mackinnon, Emma Stone. "Contingencies of Context: Legacies of the Algerian Revolution in the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions," in Situating Contingency in the Course of International Law, ed. Kevin Jon Heller and Ingo Venzke, Oxford University Press, forthcoming.

Mackinnon, Emma Stone. "Arthur Danto as Human Rights Activist," invited submission to Blackwell Companion to Arthur C. Danto, ed. Lydia Goehr and Jonathan Gilmore, Blackwell, forthcoming.

Other Publications

Review of Alex Zamalin’s Black Utopia, Political Theory, forthcoming

“American Dreamwork,” Review in Roundtable on Wendy Brown’s In the Ruins of Neoliberalism (Columbia University Press 2019), Tocqueville 21, March 2020

Review in Roundtable on Adom Getachew’s World-Making After Empire, H-Diplo, November 2019

“On The Language of Just War: A Reply to Whyte,” in Symposium on Jessica Whyte’s article “The ‘Dangerous Concept of the Just War’: Decolonization, Wars of National Liberation, and the Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions,” Humanity (online only), August 2019

“Algeria 1960: Decolonization and the Uses of Human Rights,” entry in Online Atlas on the History of Humanitarianism and Human Rights, eds. Fabian Klose, Marc Palen, Johannes Paulmann, and Andrew Thompson, April 2019