International Theory Book Award

The ISA Theory Section Book Award recognizes the best book published in the two calendar years prior to the meeting at which the award will be given that contributes to the theorization of world politics. The award is open to all forms and styles of theorization. Criteria include such considerations as innovativeness, quality of argumentation, and significance for the broad discipline of international studies.

The winner will receive a plaque at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association. If not present, the plaque will be mailed to the recipient.

Nominations should be emailed to the committee chair accompanied by a brief letter explaining why the work deserves consideration for the award. Authors may nominate themselves. A copy of each book must be sent to each member of the committee, with the line “Theory Section Book Award, c/o” at the top of each address.

Nominations  are due by July 1st, 2017 and books must be received by July 15, 2017. Date of publication is normally determined by copyright date for the first edition of a work. Books with a copyright date of 2016 and 2017 are eligible for the 2017 ISA Theory Book Award to be given out at the 2018 annual meeting. Current officers of the Theory section and members of the committee are ineligible for the award.

The 2017 committee:

Florida International University
Department of Politics and International Relations
Florida International University
Miami, Fl. 33199

Patricia Owens
University of Sussex
Brighton, BN1 9RH
United Kingdom

Ben Meiches
Division of Politics, Philosophy and Public Affairs
Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences
University of Washington, Tacoma
1900 Commerce St.
Tacoma WA 98402

Katie Brennan
University of Hawaii, Manoa
3855 Meadow Lane
Marietta, GA 30062

2016 Award

1. Patricia Owens for Economy of Force: Counterinsurgency and the Rise of the Social, Cambridge University Press, 2015.

2. Honorable Mention: Alexander Anievas’s and Kerem Nisancioglu’s How the West Came to Rule: The Geopolitical Origins of Capitalism, Pluto, 2015.

3. Honorable Mention:  Janina Dill’s Legitimate Targets?: Social Construction, International Law and US BombingCambridge, 2014.

4. Honorable Mention: Vincent Pouliot’s International Pecking Orders: The Politics and Practice of Multilateral DiplomacyCambridge, 2016.

5. Honorable Mention: Robert Vitalis’ White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International RelationsCornell, 2015.

Economy of Force explores a new social domain, and social theory as a modern form of oikonomia (a form of rulership of a household). Owens takes the techniques and domestic ideologies of household administration and, through a careful reading of Hannah Arendt and Michel Foucault, displaces IR’s foundational “domestic analogy” by demonstrating its constitutive role in international (and imperial) relations.

The book is learned, literate and wide ranging. It explodes a series of key concepts that have long defined IR theorizing — in particular, the inside/outside and anarchy/hierarchy dichotomies — obliging the reader to thoroughly rethink how IR theory should be done: not through airy claims of vocation, appeals to philosophy of science, or an ill-defined ‘modernity’, but rather by re-historicizing the key conceptual divisions on which our discipline is done and reproduced.

Contrary to most political and international theory, Owens argues that the meanings of social and society can be understood in a specific historical context, developed after the founding of Herzian ‘territorial states.’ Those developments can be glimpsed through the transformation and expansion of household forms of rule into the realm of politics.  The modern social realm, on this account, is a modified form of household governance that emerged within the commercial and capitalist empires, where household governance was reconstituted from other, earlier forms of rule.  The nation-state is thus a “distinctively modern and bureaucratic social form of household, governing populations both at ‘home’ and overseas though distinctly — but historically specific — social means.”  From there, Owens examines the role that war has played in disseminating social governance, by studying overseas counterinsurgency wars — or what she calls ‘armed social work’ — conducted by liberal states and empires: late-colonial British campaigns in Malaya and Kenya, and US counterinsurgencies in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq.  Where theory can easily fall into mystification, and historical analysis into reductionism, neither are present in Owens’ careful constructions.

Impressive as this work was, it was not alone. Four additional books stood out for their combination of originality, intellectual boldness, and rigorous argumentation.  We are thus pleased to recognize this year’s ‘short list’ of finalists.  

  • Alexander Anievas’s and Kerem Nisancioglu’s How the West Came to Rule (Pluto) marry Trotskyan notions of combined and uneven development with fresh work in postcolonial theory, historical sociology, and world-systems analysis.  The result is an interdisciplinary narrative that is staggering in scope and breathtaking in ambition.  The book challenges both prevailing economic accounts and historical ones to produce a coherent narrative of the rise of western economic and political pre-eminence, and a sober reckoning of its costs: a worthy inheritor of a tradition that has languished since Wallerstein, Arrighi, Amin, and Gunder Frank.
  • Janina Dill’s Legitimate Targets (Cambridge) and Vincent Pouliot’s International Pecking Orders (Cambridge) each make signal advances in constructivist theory, from different angles, and in different contexts.  Dill explores how international humanitarian law has evolved in an era characterized by growing reliance on targeted strikes, and interrogates the different logics that belligerents deploy to legitimate such strikes.  While those logics, on her account, are insufficient as given, it is also clear that international law has become deeply woven into fabric of warmaking, putting paid commonsense notions that inter armes, silent leges.  For his part, Pouliot explores the ways in which multilateral diplomacy produces hierarchical ‘pecking orders.’  On Pouliot’s account, these orders emerge notwithstanding formal traditions of equality among sovereign states; they both endure, and at times significantly affect outcomes.  At the same time, they cannot be reduced to simple realist claims about the distribution of power within a system, or liberal claims about economic interest.  Both authors are to be praised for combining trenchant theoretical argument and broad intellectual engagement with ‘hands on’ case studies that include both structured interviews and historical analysis.
  • FinallyRobert Vitalis’ White World Order, Black Power Politics (Cornell) is a disruptive text of the first order. It has become a commonplace for both liberal and critical scholars to organize the history of IR around a ‘post-ideological’ notion of vocation with its roots of the early and mid-20th century.  Through painstaking archival work, Vitalis challenges this commonplace.  If a shared vocation unites our discipline, he argues, it lies in a largely uncontested commitment to the the perpetuation and globalization of racial subjugation in its most peculiarly American form: what WEB du Bois called the ‘color line.’  But that is not all.  Drawing on the long-ignored work of what he dubs the “Howard School,” Vitalis argues that we need not imagine what an alternative IR might have looked like.  We need only read texts that have long been with us, and that our discipline has (studiously) ignored.

Our sincere thanks to all of these authors for their splendid work, and to all our nominees for their contributions to the study of world politics.

2015 Award

1. Lauren Wilcox for Bodies of Violence: Theorizing Embodied Subjects in International Relations. Oxford University Press, 2015.

2. Honorable Mention: Ayten Gündoğdu for Rightlessness in an Age of Rights: Hannah Arendt and the Contemporary Struggles of Migrants. Oxford University Press, 2015.

The winner of the 2015 International Studies Association Theory Section Book Award is Lauren Wilcox. The award recognizes the best book or edited volume published in the prior two years that contributes to the theorization of world politics. Bodies of Violence: Theorizing Embodied Subjects in International Relations

 is a “next generation” of work on embodiment and power by engaging with gender, sexuality, race, and affect seamlessly and without apology or explanation. In short, it has the confidence of its convictions, and is generous with its critics and shortcomings: the book is striking and assured. Wilcox adds a gendered and material understanding of the body that makes a substantial contribution to how we think about violence in IR and offers a paradigm of International Relations which significantly thickens the kind of constructivism that often has difficulty theorizing the effects of violence beyond normative prohibition against it. Furthermore Wilcox makes the argument as accessible as it is compelling.  Wilcox does something quite rare. Rather than just apply Butler to problem of violence and the political, Wilcox made a significant contribution to the way we read Judith Butler. In that sense the contribution of the book exceeds our narrow field. The committee found Gündoğdu’s topic and approach particularly timely.  Its members were impressed by her ability to enlighten, inform, and activate a new way of thinking and doing about a particular political crisis.

[Committee: Kathleen PJ Brennan (Chair), Helen Kinsella, Mark Salter, and Jairus Grove]

2014 Award

1. Stefano Guzzini for Power, Realism, and Constructivism. Routledge, 2013.

The winner of the 2014 International Studies Association Theory Section Book Award is Stefano Guzzini. The award recognizes the best book or edited volume published in the prior two years that contributes to the theorization of world politics. Power, Realism, and Constructivism collects already published essays with previously unpublished material; the significance and continued relevance of these essays is such that they constitute a profound intervention in ongoing debates. Guzzini’s book opens up “thinking space” for a self-reflective, cogent, and fertile vision for how to study the intersection between power and processes of social construction. It suggests an approach to research and theorization of tremendous importance to a field that continues to wrestle with that intersection.

[Committee: Daniel H. Nexon (Chair), Rebecca Adler-Nissen, Andreas Behnke, Charlotte Epstein, and Patrick Thaddeus Jackson]

2013 Award

1. Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and its Implications for the Study of World Politics. Routledge, 2011.

2. Honorable Mention: Daniel Levine for Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique, Oxford, 2012.

The selection committee for the Theory Section Best Book Award received twenty-three books. The list included many outstanding titles; the committee faced some very difficult decisions. After careful consideration and discussion, it decided to award both a commendation for “Best Book” and an “Honorable Mention.”

The winner of the 2013 Best Book Award is Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, for The Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations: Philosophy of Science and its Implications for the Study of World Politics, Routledge, 2011. The committee was impressed both with the sophistication of the book and its accessible style. In addition to providing a novel way of organizing approaches to social scientific inquiry in the field, The Conduct of Inquiry of International Relations makes insightful and provocative claims about important issues in the philosophy of science. At its heart, Jackson’s book is a powerful call for pluralism built on a diverse and inclusive understanding of what it means to do social science.

Our honorable mention is extended to Daniel Levine for Recovering International Relations: The Promise of Sustainable Critique, Oxford, 2012. The committee found Levine’s case for sustainable critique both compelling and intellectually rich. Its members were particularly impressed by his careful excavation of the work of major figures in modern international-relations theory, in which he successfully traces an ongoing critical concern with the antinomies of modernity.

[Committee: Daniel H. Nexon (Chair), Mark Laffey, and Nukhet A. Sandal]