2020 David and Elaine Spitz Prize Winner

CSPT is pleased to announce two winners for the 2020 Prize:

Jill Frank, Professor of Government at Cornell University, for her book Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato's "Republic" (The University of Chicago Press, 2018),

and

Onur Ulas Ince, Associate Professor of Political Science and Lee Kong Chian Fellow at Singapore Management University, for his book Colonial Capitalism and the Dilemmas of Liberalism (Oxford University Press, 2018).

The following are the Prize Committee’s commendations for the books:

Jill Frank’s Poetic Justice: Rereading Plato’s “Republic” proposes a novel approach to Plato’s dialogues and, most centrally, the Republic that radically challenges the anti-democratic commitments typically attributed to them. Through exquisitely close intertextual readings and sustained attention to the practice of reading itself, Frank’s innovative study offers daring answers to ongoing questions about the authority of elites, citizens, and political texts in determining what justice entails.

Beginning with the observation that the Republic is a written dialogue intended to be read, Frank emphasizes how Plato analogizes coming to know with learning how to read and argues for the mode of learning endorsed by Socrates, in which new readers learn by the trial and error of their own experience rather than through instruction from an authoritative teacher. Central among Frank’s interpretive innovations is a reframing of the Republic as a work of mimetic poetry, a performative representation whose contradictions and inconsistencies discourage identification between appearance and truth and instead elicit reflective engagement: substantive tensions within and between the claims made by the dialogue’s characters encourage readers to “dis-identify” with them and thereby to take on the authority to think through what justice is both as an ethical and political orientation. This reading practice itself models democratic citizenship in a political world mediated by texts. In reconceiving the relationship between logos and poeisis through her own, meticulously careful readings, Frank makes the case that the polyvocal form and polysemic substance of the Republic invites a literate demos to scrutinize all authoritative claims, whether political, cultural, or philosophical, and to exercise individual and collective self-governance with an authority that cannot but remain fallible. 

In providing a rigorously argued and exhilaratingly provocative rereading of the Republic, Frank provides a trenchant account of the difficult work of democratic citizenship and self-governance, and of the ways we avoid that work by deferring to authority. The contributions Poetic Justice makes to Platonic studies, to democratic theory, and to political theoretical pedagogy are significant.

 *****

 

Onur Ulas Ince’s Colonial Capitalism and the Dilemmas of Liberalism is an original, theoretically acute, and ambitious intervention into debates concerning the historical imbrication of liberalism and empire. By recentering capitalism within these debates, Ince offers a bracing challenge to reconsider the relationship between political theoretical text and socioeconomic context, and the vexed interplay between normative principle and ideological justification.

Ince’s critical analytical move is to argue for the importance of “colonial capitalism,” the global system of capitalist relations that emerged in the context of, and helped to constitute, the British empire. Ince explores how a variety of thinkers sought to reconcile the pervasive violence of empire – based on slavery, dispossession, and domination – with claims about its purportedly liberal democratic values. In doing so, he shifts attention away from the “culturalist” study of imaginaries and normative aspirations that has animated much existing scholarship on the topic and towards the centrality of political economy. He develops his argument through three historical cases, examining with subtlety and skill the work of two canonical political thinkers, John Locke and Edmund Burke, and one figure, E. G. Wakefield, who, although largely forgotten today, was one of the pivotal colonial proponents of the nineteenth century. He offers powerful readings of how Locke’s arguments about the absence of monetisation by Indigenous peoples in North America justified appropriation, how Burke defended enlightened imperial commerce against the atavistic behavior of the East India Company, and how Wakefield’s ideas about land usage in his proposals for the "systematic colonization" of Australia and New Zealand are inextricable from the “labor question” playing out in Britain.

Through his sophisticated articulation of a materialist account of colonial ideology and his subtle historical investigation into the complexities of influential imperial thinkers, Ince adds significantly to our understanding of liberal thought and empire, and challenges our practices of reading political texts within and across historical contexts.

2020 Prize Committee: 

Elizabeth Wingrove (Chair)

Shalini Satkunanandan

Duncan Bell

See past Spitz Prize winners here

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