Professor Steven Wheatley


Research Overview

Steven Wheatley was appointed Professor of International Law at the University of Lancaster in 2012. Before that he was Professor of International Law at the University of Leeds. He is the Law School’s REF Lead.

Professor Wheatley has two principal areas of research interest: human rights theory and democracy.

In relation to human rights theory, Steven has developed a highly original reading of the notion and nature of ‘human rights’ - drawing on the insights from complexity theory and social ontology. His 2019 book on The Idea of International Human Rights Law (OUP) explains the emergence, evolution, and power of human rights through the lens of complexity theory. He has recently applied these insights to the work of the ECHR (HRLR). Presently, he is thinking about the possibility of “Human rights for robots.”

Steven’s research is informed by his interest in emergence, complexity and social ontology. First working with Tom Webb, he explored the utility of complexity theory for the study of law. The resulting publication – Complexity Theory & Law (2018) set the agenda for future research in this area. Steven has relied on the insights from complexity to examine foundational issues of international law, including the emergence of new States (CJIL) and the challenges posed by the doctrine of inter-temporal law (OJLS).

Steven retains his interest in the relationship between democracy and international law. His publications on the subject have appeared in the ICLQ and EJIL and in monographs with CUP and Bloomsbury. He has relied on the deliberative concept of democracy to outline a procedural understanding of minority rights (EJIL) and the regulatory role of the Security Council (EJIL). Recently, he has focused on the problem of hostile state cyber-attacks on democratic elections, examining the issue through the lens of the non-intervention principle (Duke JCIL, 2020) and rule of sovereignty (Leiden JIL, 2023). He is presently involved in discussions on how best to protect the UK and other general elections from AI-enabled, hostile foreign State disinformation campaigns. You can read his Written Evidence to the UK Parliament's Inquiry into Defending Democracy.

Selected Publications

The Democratic Legitimacy of International Law
Wheatley, S. 2010 Oxford : Hart Publishing. 425 p. ISBN: 1841138177.

Lying in the Philosophy of Law
19/02/2020 → …

Protecting Democracy from Outside Interference
19/02/2020 → …

Human rights and boundaries
01/03/2013 → …

The Moral Power of Human Rights
Invited talk

“Systems Theory and Human Rights”
Participation in workshop, seminar, course

CILHR Centre for International Law and Human Rights

CILHR Centre for International Law and Human Rights

  • CILHR Centre for International Law and Human Rights
  • Lancaster Intelligent, Robotic and Autonomous Systems Centre
  • LIRA - Society and Human Behaviour