update: Foundations of Political Theory

REPOST OF Kennan Ferguson,  University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI

FROM: APSA’s “Section 17: Foundations of Political Theory”

Thanks for your service, Kennan!

Awardees, 2014:

David Easton Award
The David Easton Award is given for a book that broadens the horizons of contemporary political science by engaging issues of philosophical significance in political life through any of a variety of approaches in the social sciences and humanities.

Timothy Luke, Chair, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Simone E Chambers, University of Toronto
Sankar Muthu, University of Chicago

Joseph H. Carens, The Ethics of Immigration

The Ethics of Immigration beautifully exemplifies the spirit of the David Easton Award by broadening the horizons of contemporary political though. The book does this on a normative, methodological, and policy level. Beginning with fundamental democratic principles that he believes we all hold, Carens builds “a general account of how democrats should think about immigration”(p. 10). This general account includes clear, concrete, and pragmatically realistic answers to specific policy questions we face today as well as a defence of the normative ideal of open borders that we might aspire to in the future. Realism and idealism, normative theory and empirical research, meet in a rich mix that exemplifies what is best in political theory. Questions of immigration are growing in importance across the globe and no country or regime can escape the dilemmas posed by this policy challenge. Carens forcefully argues that immigration is first and foremost an ethical issue that touches basic rights and freedom. While regimes are understandably concerned with economic and security questions, they cannot escape the fact that immigration policy has deep and sometimes devastating consequences on millions of people’s lives and that we are all responsible for the moral harm done by unprincipled immigration policy. Well argued and well written, this is a book that will define a broad field for a very long time.

***Honorable Mention, Easton Award (used in my dissertation):

Philip Pettit, On the People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Government

On the People’s Terms: A Republican Theory and Model of Government is an ambitious and intellectually vibrant work that substantially modifies and extends both the intellectual history of freedom as non-domination and the theory of republicanism that Philip Pettit presented initially in Republicanism: A Theory of Freedom and Government. Engaging in a sustained and illuminating manner with many aspects of contemporary democratic theory and institutional analysis, Pettit makes a robust and nuanced case for the fundamentally democratic character of the republican project to promote freedom-and, accordingly, to reduce domination and subjection-in social, economic, and political life.

First Book Award

The First Book Award is given for a first book by a scholar in the early stages of his or her career in the area of political theory or political philosophy.

Sara Monoson (Chair), Northwestern Univesity
Jennifer L. Culbert, Johns Hopkins University
Juliet Hooker, The University of Texas at Austin

The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice in Our Time, Christopher J. Lebron

In The Color of Our Shame: Race and Justice in Our Time (Oxford 2013) Christopher J. Lebron brings normative political theory to bear on the most intractable problem in contemporary politics — the persistence of racial injustice. He boldly starts his study from the observation of the facts of racial injustice in the lived experience of Americans and offers a prescription for perfecting our politics. He summarizes the salient contemporary facts simply, “We know better but fail to do better.” Systemic racial subordination endures to a distressing degree despite the sharp decline in overt racism and widespread rejection of self-conscious efforts to use public institutions to secure white interests. How can this be? Why has repudiation of racism not brought more dramatic improvement of conditions? Lebron smartly turns to social value theory to explain the mechanics of moral disadvantage, arguing that the painful truth is blacks hold a lower place in the scheme of normative value that  shapes American life. Blacks are really just not fully part of society in the deep way demanded by the principles of democracy that we purport to uphold. And so personal and institutional forms of implicit racism are permitted to persist. Lebron calls this a failure of national character and challenges professional political theorists to take on the project of identifying how it can be remedied. He leads the way in a strikingly original manner, maintaining that to understand how democratic ideals ensconced in the American imaginary can be activated and how behavior can change requires serious attention to the emotional register of racial politics. In particular, he proposes that progressive political possibilities can emerge from intense experiences of shame that accompany visceral confrontations with the wide gap between ideals and realities. The book concludes with analysis of such confrontations in life and art.

Lebron’s displays an impressive facility with a wide variety of materials as he draws on scholarship in American history, affect theory, theoretical and empirical social science (on civil rights and the incarceration patterns), popular culture sources (including song lyrics, film and comics), current events (such as the death of Trayvon Martin), as well as critically engaging the work of John Rawls and Charles Mills. This is an exemplary work of normative political theorizing.

The Best Paper Award

Best Paper Award is given for the best paper presented on a Foundations panel at the previous year’s APSA Annual Meeting.

Susan Bickford (Chair), University of North Carolina
Suzanne Dovi, University of Arizona
Amit Ron, Arizona State University at the West

Brandon Terry, “Rawls, Race, and Critique: Engaging with Charles Mills’ the Racial Contract

In Brandon Terry’s excellent paper,he both theorizes and performs an alternative “transformative” mode of criticism. Engaging with Charles Mills’s critique of Rawls, Terry argues that there are limited benefits to focusing our critical interpretive lens on the absence of race in a theorist’s work, or to countering ideal theory with claims about historical reality. The more productive critique that Terry recommends proceeds by looking at particular narrations of history and at invocations of exemplars. Using both Rawls’ published work and his private papers, Terry shows that the civil rights movement served as a crucial exemplar for Rawls’ own project. But Terry’s paper also shows that the narrative lens through which Rawls interprets the history of the civil rights movement is a romantic and heroic one, and that this lens affects his theories of justice in particular ways. Recognizing the presence of that historical narrative vision in Rawls allows us to counterpose competing narratives of civil rights history and “rework the claims of justice from a different interpretation of exemplarity.”

Okin-Young Award in Feminist Political Theory

The Okin-Young Award in Feminist Political Theory, co-sponsored by Women and Politics, Foundations of Political Theory, and the Women’s Caucus for Political Science, commemorates the scholarly, mentoring, and professional contributions of Susan Moller Okin and Iris Marion Young to the development of the field of feminist political theory. This annual award recognizes the best paper on feminist political theory published in an English language academic journal during the previous calendar year.


Bonnie Honig (Chair), Brown University (Women and Politics)
Julie Mostov, Drexel University (Foundations)
Sara Rushing, University of Montana (Women’s Caucus)

Eileen Hunt Botting,”Making an American Feminist Icon: Mary Wollstonecraft’s Reception in U.S. Newspapers, 1800-1869,” History of Political Thought, 2013

This wonderfully documented and well-crafted article impressed the committee with its archival research on the overlife of Mary Wollstonecraft who, after her death, became an icon that informed debates about women’s rights and equal citizenship in the US – inspiring some, driving others to distraction. As Hunt Botting notes, Wollstonecraft had hoped to one day live in the U.S., an aspiration that was never realized in her lifetime. After her death, though, she became very much a part of the political life of this country,

This article breathes life into Mary Wollstonecraft as an icon for American feminism and anti-feminism. Documenting her representation and reception among American readers, Hunt Botting shows that some took her and her work very seriously while others merely trafficked in her name and reputation. As one committee member notes: “I particularly enjoyed the account of the ‘new kind of femininity’ Wollstonecraft was taken to represent – that she would dress as she pleased, was pock-marked but charming, unkempt but literary.” As Hunt Botting points out, these descriptions were not entirely accurate, but they functioned against critics’ intention to suggest that it was viable to resist conventional standards of beauty in favor of being serious, sardonic and smart.

The committee concluded that, although the prize is for any work of any sort that contributes to feminist scholarship, this essay was an especially apt winner of the Okin-Young prize since it adds to our knowledge of women in western political thought (Okin) and is interested in the cultural politics of mobilization on behalf of equality (Young).



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