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Dr Maria Dimova-Cookson

Professor in Political Theory

Professor in Political Theory in the School of Government and International Affairs+44 (0) 191 33 47182


Maria Dimova-Cookson completed her DPhil in Politics on the political philosophy of the British idealists at the University of York. She has previously studied philosophy as an undergraduate at Sofia University and MA in political philosophy at the University of York. Her academic appointments have been at UCL, as a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow and University of Sheffield as a lecturer in political theory. Since 2005 she has worked at SGIA, Durham University.

Professor Dimova-Cookson's research centers around the concept of liberty, as conceptualized by key figures such as Isaiah Berlin during the Cold War era, T.H. Green in late Victorian Britain, and Benjamin Constant in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Her primary focus is on the intricate nature of liberty, particularly the duality of positive and negative liberty. Through her research, she unveils how the interplay between these two forms of freedom elucidates many of the ethical quandaries inherent in political contexts. Her 2020 monograph Rethinking Positive and Negative Liberty argues that the distinction between positive and negative freedom remains highly pertinent today, despite having fallen out of fashion in the late twentieth century. It proposes a new reading of this distinction for the twenty-first century, building on the work of Constant, Green and Berlin who led the historical development of these ideas.

Currently, Professor Dimova-Cookson's research revolves around the concept of meritocracy. This subject has gained substantial attention due to its association with the emergence of populism in the 21st century. Her research offers a qualified defence of meritocracy, aiming to tackle two interconnected challenges: (1) escalating inequalities and (2) the attack on the value of education and the values of liberal democracy resulting from the new merit-based social cleavages.

Her research methodology draws on the ideas of negative, positive, and romantic freedoms as formulated by Berlin. By employing these conceptual frameworks, Professor Dimova-Cookson seeks to shed light on the role that meritocracy plays in both realizing individual freedom and shaping societal values.

In addition to her current research on meritocracy, Professor Dimova-Cookson is also engaged in a project titled 'Issue Partisan Polarisation and Meritocratic Polarisation Trends in UK and Bulgaria after the Cold War.' The primary objective of this project is to investigate the evolution of the political left and right in the post-Cold War era in both the UK and Bulgaria. The project further seeks to understand how the concept of meritocracy intersects with these evolving political divisions in each of these countries.

Reviews of Rethinking Positive and Negative Liberty:

by Gary Browning in Utilitas

by Andrew Vincent in Global Intellectual History:

by George Crowder in European Legacy:

by Ruzha Smilova in Political Studies Review:

Research interests

  • The concept of liberty; the positive/negative freedom distinction; contemporary theories of liberty
  • The political philosophy of the British idealists and British political thought in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century
  • The political philosophy of Benjamin Constant and Isaiah Berlin
  • Human rights, multiculturalism and global justice
  • Moral issues in contemporary political theory; moral development; value pluralism; ethical particularism versus ethical universalism; ethics of giving


Authored book

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Supervision students