Before Claudia Hogg-Blake was writing a dissertation on loving dogs, she was an underdog in a European Parliament election.

You stood for a European Parliament election in 2014 when you were still an undergraduate at Oxford. How did that come about?

I was a member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain. It’s a tiny party—like hundreds rather than thousands of members. They’re an old socialist party, influenced by nineteenth-century socialists like William Morris as well as, of course, Marx. They’ve always been critical of the way that Marx was used to justify Communist dictatorships, and they are committed to democracy—the party has no leader and is organized along egalitarian and democratic lines. Being so small, they didn’t expect any wins, and were running for Parliament basically for publicity.

They needed somebody’s name in Oxford, and they knew I was there. I am not at all into being in the political world, I was extremely shy at the time, and I was doing my finals, but I was like, you can have my name. I did a really embarrassing radio interview and that was about it. I think I got 200 votes, which was cool!

Marx is a philosophical interest of yours. Did your political experience play a role there?

I came to an interest in Marx just by being a member of the working class. My dad was a gardener, my mum was a teacher. I had worked since I was 14 in really crappy waitressing jobs. So in that way, some of the basic elements of Marx’s thought—that workers are exploited and alienated—sounded about right. I wouldn’t call myself a Marxist, strictly. I think that where Marxist theory is useful and interesting, I will draw on it, and where it’s not, I won’t.

I started reading Marx in what would be the equivalent of high school in the US. I joined the Socialist Party when I was 16, I think. It was those interests that led me to apply to Oxford to do politics, philosophy, and economics. I was always interested in philosophy, but that was really my thing at the time. I wrote my undergrad thesis on the early Marx. Then I switched to ethics and writing about love and animals, but there are similarities. A lot of the early Marx is about relationships. There are Marxists who would hate that I’m saying this, but there is a way of reading the early Marx that is quite continuous with the kind of ethics I’m interested in now.

How have you engaged with issues of labor and economics while at UChicago?

Ben Laurence [associate instructional professor in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and the Division of Social Sciences] has a really great course called Justice at Work. I was a research assistant for him, helping him make the syllabus. Then I was a course assistant for the course twice. It’s a great course that looks at labor politics and justice. We looked at things like the gig economy and arguments for basic income, so it was good to keep up with those issues.

Photo Creds: 
Photography by Thijs ter Haar