Contemporary Political Theory Annual Prize 2022 (Volume 20)

We are delighted to announce that the Contemporary Political Theory Annual Prize for 2022 has been awarded to:

Sharon Stanley for her article “The Persistence of Myth: Brazil's undead ‘racial democracy’”, in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 20, Number 4 (2021), pp. 749-770.

Sharon Stanley is a political theorist and a full professor of political science at the University of Memphis. She specializes in political theory and public law, and her broad research interests include modern and contemporary political thought and the politics of racial justice in the United States and throughout the Americas. Her first book, The French Enlightenment and the Emergence of Modern Cynicism (Cambridge University Press, 2012), traces the relationship between cynicism and enlightenment in eighteenth-century French thought. Her second book, An Impossible Dream? Racial Integration in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2017) engages critically with conceptions of racial integration in contemporary political, philosophical, and legal discourse.

The judges’ citation was as follows:

Sharon Stanley’s “The Persistence of Myth: Brazil's undead ‘racial democracy,’” is a beautifully written article, showing with great clarity how the myth of “racial democracy” in Brazil refuses to die, despite repeatedly being declared as already dead for years. The piece is a great work of political theory in being simultaneously committed to the work of concepts or theoretical apparatuses and to the political present—a present Stanley makes accessible and alive – to the many readers who may be unfamiliar with it.

Indeed, part of what makes Stanley’s article so compelling is her detailed, informative, and fascinating critical engagement with the intellectual debates in Brazil so as to unearth the origins of the myth of racial democracy and to explore what enables this myth to continue to survive its many burials in the present. She does this through an innovative, and in certain respects counter intuitive, re-deployment of Roland Barthes’ theory of myth.

The essay offers a nuanced and sophisticated account of how and why the myth of racial democracy emerged in the 1930s, through engagement with the works of thinkers such as Gilberto Freyre. This myth, Stanley shows deftly, faltered in the 1950s and was powerfully dismantled later by activists and scholars such as Florestan Fernandes, Abdias do Nascimento, Elisa Larkin Nascimento, Kabengele Munanga, and Afro-Brazilian feminists, such as Léila Gonzalez. These writers criticized mestiçagem as a farcically anti-racist mask worn by an older and more obviously racist discourse that erases the violence of Brazil’s colonial past and degrades, objectifies, and commodifies black and mixed women.

Thus Stanley’s initial presentation introduces the reader to the complex and contentious debates on racial democracy in Brazil and their histories without giving up the theoretical depth of her analysis. To explore the surprising sustainability of this myth, Stanley turns to Barthes to rethink mestiçagem as a mythological signifier that is emptied of its historical content and thereby rendered innocent. As a second order sign, mestiçagem operates on the unconscious, affective level as an omnipresent cultural symbol which can survive its own unmasking.

Further the committee found noteworthy the focus on Brazil (and Brazil only), in a time when the “comparative” is often validated only as far as it explicitly engages with problems or structures relevant to the global north. It shows Stanley’s, as well as Contemporary Political Theory's, commitment to a global approach to theory that decentralizes the United States. We found it refreshing to see that race and racial democracy can be discussed and theorized without having the need to link it to US debates to make it "relevant" for our peers.

Members of the judging panel were Professor Çiğdem Çidam, Department of Political Science, Union College, USA; Professor Luis Cabrera, School of Government and International Relations, Griffith University, Australia; with Professor Hagar Kotef, Department of Politics and International Studies, SOAS University of London, UK, as chair.

Previous Prize Winning Papers

2021 Prize Winner (Volume 19)
Awarded to Lorna Bracewell for her article “Sex wars, SlutWalks, and carceral feminism,” in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 19, Number 1 (2020), pp. 61-82.

2020 Prize Winner (Volume 18)
Awarded to Lida Maxwell for her article “The politics and gender of truth-telling in Foucault’s lectures on parrhesia,” in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 18, Number 1 (2019), pp. 22-42.

2019 Prize Winner (Volume 17)
Awarded to Mauro J. Caraccioli for his article “A Problem from Hell: Natural History, Empire, and the Devil in the New World,” in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 17, Number 4 (2018), pp. 437-458.

2018 Prize Winner (Volume 16)
Awarded to Mario Feit, Associate Professor of Political Theory at Georgia State University, for their article, ‘Democratic Impatience: Martin Luther King, Jr on Democratic Temporality,’ in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 16, Number 3 (2017), pp. 363-386.

2017 Prize Winner (Volume 15)
Awarded to David Schlosberg, Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, and Romand Coles, Research Professor at the Institute for Social Justice, Australian Catholic University, for their article “The new environmentalism of everyday life: Sustainability, material flows, and movements,” in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 15, Number 2 (2016), pp. 160–181. This paper is published Open Access.

2016 Prize Winner (Volume 14)
Awarded to Giunia Gatta, Adjunct Professor of Social and Political Sciences at Bocconi University, for her article 'Suffering and the making of politics: Perspectives from Jaspers and Camus'
Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 14, Number 4 (2015), pp. 335–354. This paper is free to access.

2015 Prize Winner (Volume 13)
Awarded to Lori Marso, Professor of Political Science at Union College, for her article 'Solidarity sans identity: Richard Wright and Simone de Beauvoir theorize political subjectivity', in Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 13, Number 3 (2014), pp. 242-262.

2014 Prize Winner (Volume 12)
Awarded to Marina Prentoulis, Senior Lecturer in Media and Politics at the University of East Anglia, and Lasse Thomassen, Reader of Politics and International Relations at Queen Mary, University of London, for their article ‘Political theory in the square: Protest, representation and subjectification’, Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 12, Number 3 (2013), pp. 166–84.

2013 Prize Winner (Volume 11)
Awarded to Diana Coole, Professor of Political and Social Theory at Birkbeck, University of London, UK, for her article ‘Reconstructing the elderly: A critical analysis of pensions and population policies in an era of demographic ageing’, Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 11, Number 1 (February 2012), pp. 41-67.

2012 Prize Winner (Volume 10)
Awarded to Andrew J. Douglas, Assistant Professor at Morehouse College, for his article ‘In a milieu of scarcity: Sartre and the limits of political imagination’, Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 10, Number 3 (August 2011), pp. 354–371.

2011 Prize Winner (Volume 9)
Awarded to Sara Rushing, Associate Professor of Political Science At Montana State University, for her article 'Preparing for politics: Judith Butler's ethical dispositions', Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 9, Number 3 (August 2010) pp 284-303.

2010 Prize Winner (Volume 8)
Awarded to Jason Ferrell, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Concordia University, for his article 'Isaiah Berlin: Liberalism and pluralism in theory and practice', Contemporary Political Theory, Volume 8, Issue 3 (August 2009) pp 295-316.