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Josh Patel

Research Overview

I am a first year PhD researcher at the University of Warwick. My research is supervised by Claudia Stein and Mathew Tompson, and kindly funded through History Departmental funding.

The thesis is currently proceeding under the working title: ‘‘All those who are qualified by ability and attainment to pursue them and who wish to do so,’: Economics and Equality in Post-war British Higher Education, 1945-1970’.


The thesis will examine the political philosophy of the economic theories underlying higher education expansion from the end of the Second World War until 1970.

The Treasury commissioned Robbins Report (1961-1963), chaired by economist Lionel Robbins, is given special emphasis as the first major survey of higher education in Britain. The report urged the government to support further expansion of higher education, following higher education growth in 1950s and 1960s and its principles of equality and state welfare provision. The report by the Committe on Higher Education chaired by Robbins, drew heavily on Robbins’ economic science and his political philosophy: an outspoken liberal individualist and fierce opponent of much centralised state planning and interventionism. This thesis argues that despite this apparent contradiction, the dominant welfare and social democratic politics of the 1950s and 1960s was not contradictory to Robbins' economic theory and political philosophy; it was often complimentary. The Robbins Report was not just a ‘report complied in the spirit of social justice’, as one historical has praised it. It was emblematic of the share commitments between social democracy and the emergence of a new economics of education: the endorsement for the importance of the experience and subjectivity of the individual and their choice, opportunity and social equality, and a strong relationship between individuals, the state and personal prosperity.

The thesis will proceed to establish how far this political philosophy can be seen to have influenced higher education expansion outside of centralised government policy. The project will focus on three universities: York, where Robbins was Chairman of the Academic Planning Board; Warwick, where interests of Midlands industrialists were prominent and where there was enthusiasm for a new Business School following a government report concurrent to the Robbins Report; and Stirling, the only university established as a direct consequence of the Robbins Report, where Robbins was chancellor. In these case studies, the thesis will analyse the interests of participants such as prominent public figures, local industrialists, university administrators, trade unions, and national bodies such as the UGC, CVCP and AUT. It will pass judgment on how far the type of political philosophy typified by Robbins was influential in higher education expansion.

Previous Research

My previous research has been historiographical and primarily concerned with what has been described as a ‘biological turn’ in history writing since the early 2000s. This research explored the attraction for many historians of the insights of biology, evolutionary psychology, and neurobiology, in addition to, or in place of, traditional written sources, and the consequences of such a move for history writing. I have argued that the ‘biological turn’ unreflexively reciprocates the privileged epistemological position of science in popular and wider culture, contrary to the understanding of science in contemporary history of science. More fundamentally however, the attraction of the sciences, both in the ‘biological turn’ and in contemporary orthodox ‘sociocultural’ history writing, lies in acknowledged and unacknowledged understandings and definitions of ‘truth’ embedded in history writing. These understandings can be traced back to early-twentieth century American pragmatism, which have been deployed in response to what is seen by some sociocultural historians as the threatening ‘relativism’ of the linguistic turn and poststructuralism since the 1990s.

Research interests

My general area of research interest focus on twentieth and twenty-first century British thought, and includes more specifically:

  • History of ideas/intellectual history/‘Historical epistemology’, (particuarly concerning 'human nature' and the 'self').
  • History of liberal governmentality and self-governmentality since 1945
  • Historiography of global history and environmental history.
  • History of science and history of popular science.
  • Pragmatism, Neopragmatism, and its history.
    Academic Background
    • 2017-2021: History PhD, University of Warwick..
      - Awarded full departmental studentship.
    • 2016-2017: MA Global and Comparative History (Distinction), University of Warwick.
      - Awarded 2016-17 Best MA Dissertation Prize.
      - Dissertation title: ‘Telling the ‘Truth’ about the ‘Biological Turn’? Sociocultural history and pragmatism.’ Supervised by Claudia Stein.
      - Awarded full departmental scholarship.
    • 2013-2016: BA History (First), University of Warwick.
      - Dissertation title: ‘The ‘Biological Turn’: politics and agency.’
      Publications and confrences
      • September 2018: 'An unlikely alliance? ‘Human Capital’ and Social Democracy in the Robbins Report (1963)', HEC Summer School, European University Insitute
      • May 2017: 'The ‘biological turn’ in history writing: what is man? And how do these assumptions drive history
        writing?', Department of History Postgraduate Conference, University of Warwick.
      • March 2017: ‘The ‘Biological Turn’ in History Writing’, Exchanges: The Warwick Research Journal, 4:2 (2017) pp. 280-297.
        - Some very early thoughts on the ‘biological turn’. Contains material initially submitted as part of my undergraduate dissertation.
        - In the same issue of Exchanges, credited as 'editorial assistant' in Michael Trevor Bycroft, 'Ideals and Practices of Rationality – An Interview with Lorraine Daston' Exchanges: The Warwick Research Journal, 4:2 (2017), pp. 173-188.
      Janurary 2019

      Josh Patel