Press release

A.SK Social Science Award 2021 goes to James C. Scott

WZB honors the political scientist and anthropologist for his life-long research on self-organization and the resistance of local communities.

The American political scientist James C. Scott will receive the 2021 A.SK Social Science Award. With the award, the WZB Berlin Social Science Center honors Scott’s work, which transcends disciplinary boundaries and explores the limits of government intervention and economic policy based on his field research on rural communities in Southeast Asia. Scott, a Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale University and a co-founder of its Agricultural Studies Program, will accept the award on November 2 in Berlin. Endowed with $200,000, the A.SK Social Science Award is one of the world’s largest awards in the social sciences. 

At the core of James C. Scott’s attention lies the organization and self-organization of humans within a society. His account of processes of domestication runs counter to conventional narratives which render settlement and arable farming as civilizational advances. In his book Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (2017), Scott describes the emergence of states to be chiefly a cause of epidemics and slavery. His overall concern is with subjects’ resistance to dominion and with anarchy.

The international A.SK jury, chaired by Dorothea Kübler, a Director at WZB, calls James C. Scott "one of the most important analysts of non-governance", who emphasizes the ability of people to self-organize in their local communities. Scott has pointed out the limits of state action and planning, for instance, in relation to urban development and the economy. His book Seeing Like a State (1998), which depicts the narrowness of the planning state’s gaze through numerous case studies, is one of the most influential social science works of the past 50 years.

James C. Scott was born in New Jersey in 1936. He studied political economy in Massachusetts, Burma, and Paris and earned a Ph.D. in political science from Yale University, serving as a Sterling Professor of Political Science at Yale since 1976 and co-founding its Agricultural Studies Program. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has been a Fellow of both the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and the Guggenheim Foundation. He received the Benjamin E. Lippincott Award from the American Political Science Association in 2015 and the Prize for High Achievement in Political Science for his lifetime accomplishment in 2018.

The A.SK Social Science Award is donated by Chinese entrepreneurs Angela and Shu Kai Chan. It has been awarded by the WZB every two years since 2007. The prize is bestowed upon researchers from the social sciences who have made an important contribution to political and economic reform. Previous laureates include Sir Anthony Atkinson, Martha Nussbaum, Transparency International, Paul Collier, Esther Duflo, John Ruggie, and Raj Chetty.