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2018 David and Elaine Spitz Prize Winner

CSPT is pleased to announce that the winner of the 2018 Prize is Tommie Shelby, Caldwell Titcomb Professor of African and African American Studies and of Philosophy at Harvard University, for his book Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform (Harvard University Press, 2017).

The following is the Prize Committee’s commendation for the book:

In both its political and philosophical forms, liberalism is often criticized for being unable to address enduring structural inequalities that determine the life chances of many of the most disadvantaged citizens. In its political form, liberalism often recommends a set of policy proposals that leave the basic components of society in place, even when these institutional structures are responsible for persistent inequities in the first place. In its philosophical form, liberal theorizing routinely stands at a distance from the problems it seeks to address, thereby failing to address injustices at hand.


Tommie Shelby’s Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform defends with analytic skill, systematic argument, and keen insights a radical form of liberalism “from below.” Appropriating liberalism’s emphasis on the basic structure of society as central to securing justice, Dark Ghettos confronts the ways in which society’s institutions and practices are complicit in creating and sustaining persistent racism. Exploring the ongoing responsibilities of citizenship among black people living in poverty and struggling in the face of persistent racism, Dark Ghettos argues that insofar as society fails to uphold its underlying principle of reciprocity, some of those duties and opportunities are rightly to be refused.


Informed by empirical research in the social sciences and histories of racial inequality, and committed to advancing a normative case for how best to address persistent disadvantage, Dark Ghettos makes a series of politically provocative and philosophically fascinating arguments that breathe new life into liberalism. Going forward, anyone seeking to address structural inequities in a liberal democratic society will have to address this book.


For its contributions and achievements, Dark Ghettos: Injustice, Dissent, and Reform wins the 2018 David and Elaine Spitz Prize for the best book in liberal and/or democratic theory.

2018 Prize Committee: 

Jill Frank (Chair)

Melvin Rogers

Kinch Hoekstra

See past Spitz Prize winners here

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