Theory Section Award Winners for 2021!

The ISA Theory section is pleased to announce the results of its annual award process. The awards will be presented — virtually — at the 2021 ISA meeting, during the section’s annual business meeting. We would like to extend a warm congratulations to winners, entrants and the awards committees for their work.

For the best book of the year award, the awards committee has chosen to honor two co-winners, noting that they represent two distinct styles of international theory, and that between them they illustrate the breadth of the section’s research interests. The best book of the year award for 2020 is shared by Hendrik Spruyt (Northwestern University) for The World Imagined: Collective Beliefs and Political Order in the Sinocentric, Islamic and Southeast Asian International Societies (Cambridge University Press, 2020) and Brent J. Steele (University of Utah) for Restraint in International Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2019).
Steele’s book, which draws on the work of Carl Jung and Norbert Elias to identify two ideal-typical complexes of restraint and actionism in social and political life, and then applies them to a variety of policy areas. Along the way, he notes the overlap and engagement of these complex arrangements with the succession of political generations, ideas of democracy, and discourses connecting morality to biology. The argument exemplifies an approach to theory that emphasizes local and contingent configurations.
Spruyt’s book, by contrast, exemplifies an approach to theory that emphasizes patterns on a much larger scale, and tackles questions of order at the level of whole political systems. Spruyt investigates the ways that collective beliefs about international order shaped politics outside of the European world, and refutes the claim that “international society” was a European imposition or invention. Instead, we are presented with a world of multiple interacting international societies, none of which can be reduced to simplistic cultural formulas.

The award for the best edited collection of the year goes to Culture and Order in World Politics, edited by Andrew Phillips and Christian Reus-Smit (Cambridge University Press, 2020). This collection takes on the notion that “culture” is a singular force in world politics, and concentrates instead on how different international orders manage the challenges of cultural diversity. Drawing on a multi-disciplinary set of sources, the authors in the volume explore historical and contemporary cases in pursuit not of a general theory of culture but a theoretically-informed account of the interactions of culture and politics across time and space.


The section congratulates the authors of all 36 nominated books and collections, and thanks the seven members of the awards committee: Jessica Auchter, Ilan Ziv Baron, Ted Hopf, Adom Getachew (co-chair), Patrick Thaddeus Jackson (co-chair), Jessica De Alba Ulloa, and Antje Wiener.

About the award winners:


Andrew Phillips is Associate Professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland. He received his Ph.D. from Cornell University. His research interests focus broadly on the evolution of the global state system from 1500 to the present, and concentrate specifically on the challenges that ‘new’ security threats such as religiously motivated terrorism, the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction, and state failure pose to the contemporary global state system.


Chris Reus-Smit is Professor of International Relations at the University of Queensland and a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia. Before joining UQ, Professor Reus-Smit held Chairs at the European University Institute and the Australian National University (where he was the Head of the Department of International Relations from 2001 to 2010 and Deputy Director of the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies from 2006 to 2008). He is co-editor of the Cambridge Studies in International Relations book series, former editor of the journal International Theory, and editor of a new multi-volume series of Oxford Handbooks of International Relations. In 2013-2014 Professor Reus-Smit served as a Vice-President of the International Studies Association.


Hendrik Spruyt is Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations at Northwestern University and previously taught at Columbia and Arizona State University. He received a Doctorandus from the Faculty of Law, at the University of Leiden, and his Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego. He has also been a visiting fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study; Sciences Po; Cambridge University and the London School of Economics.


Brent J. Steele is the Francis D. Wormuth Presidential Chair, Professor, and Department Chair of Political Science at the University of Utah, and previously taught at the University of Kansas. He received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Iowa. His research and teaching interest include topics ontological security, IR theory, international ethics, generational analysis, critical security studies, US foreign policy, and global health. 

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