Meet the project team

Professor Rowan Cruft: University of Stirling, Principal Investigator and Professor of Philosophy

My research examines the nature and justification of rights and duties, and their role in shaping a democratic public sphere.  I am especially interested in the comparative importance of different forms of right including human rights, natural rights, contractual rights, property rights, legal rights. I am co-editor of Philosophical Foundations of Human Rights (OUP, 2015)

A guiding aim of my research is to demonstrate how philosophical positions bear on the justification of public policies and law.  I have participated in policy development for NGOs and government, and in public inquiries including in 2012 as an invited witness at the Leveson Inquiry and as co-author of a submission to the Commission on a Bill of Rights for the UK. I joined Philosophy at Stirling in 2002 after completing my PhD – on the justification of property rights – at Cambridge. Before postgraduate research, I worked for a year on tax policy as a civil servant in HM Treasury.

Professor Fabienne Peter, University of Warwick, Co-Investigator and Professor of Philosophy

I am a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Warwick, specializing in political philosophy, moral philosophy, and social epistemology. I am currently the Head of Department.


Before coming to Warwick in 2004, I taught at the University of Basel. Prior to that, I was a postdoc at the Harvard School of Public Health, where I worked with Sudhir Anand and Amartya Sen on a project on justice in health. In 2010/11, I held a Leverhulme Research Fellowship.

I am a past editor of Economics and Philosophy  and a past associate editor of the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

Doctor Jonathan Heawood, University of Stirling, Project Senior Research Fellow and Chief Executive Officer

Jonathan  began his career as a journalist at the Observer and went on to spend seven years as Director of English PEN, where he campaigned successfully for free speech and media freedom. He co-founded the Libel Reform Campaign, which was shortlisted for a Liberty Human Rights Award, and sat on the Ministry of Justice Working Group on Libel Reform. Jonathan has written for newspapers and magazines including the Telegraph, Independent, Guardian, London Review of BooksProspect and New Statesman, and journals including Critical QuarterlyEthical Space, Journal of Media Law, Communications Law, Information Polity and the British Journalism Review. He has also given evidence to several Parliamentary select committees and is regularly invited to speak at conferences in the UK and internationally. He is an Honorary Visiting Fellow at Stirling University, a Leadership Fellow at St George’s House, Windsor, and a Trustee of the Stephen Spender Trust.

What do we mean by the new public sphere?

According to our model inherited from Ancient Greece, the public sphere is a social space in which people discuss political problems, ideas, and policy proposals, and get an opportunity to influence political action.

This project brings together academic philosophers with those working in media studies and media activists and professionals, in order to investigate the opportunities and challenges that new social media pose for the ‘public sphere’.  The project team will criticise and consider the norms that could underpin a media policy framework for the internet age. 

In the large democracies of the 20th century, the public sphere was no longer associated with a physical space (an agora); instead, it was primarily constituted by debates in print media, the radio, and television. Today, as news and opinions are increasingly shared on social media and the old media wither or adapt, a new public sphere is being forged in which ‘gatekeepers’ – social media platforms and their algorithms alongside old-media editors – have altered traditional patterns of inclusion and exclusion.

People who would not have sent a letter to The Times can make their voices heard in concert with peers (as in the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo campaigns). At the same time ‘fake news’ (e.g. climate change sceptics, the anti-Obama ‘birther’ conspiracy theory) gains a wider following, and personalised online content polarises social groups.