Announcement: Winner of the Best Dissertation Award 2020

02. 6. 2020

The winner of the Best Dissertation Award 2020 is  Sean Fleming from the University of Cambridge with the dissertation ‘Leviathan on a Leash: A Political Theory of State Responsibility’.


Abstract of the Thesis:

State responsibility is central to modern politics and international relations. States are commonly blamed for wars, called on to apologize, punished with sanctions, admonished to keep their promises, bound by treaties, and held liable for debts and reparations. But why, and under which conditions, does it make sense to assign responsibilities to whole states rather than to individual leaders and officials? The purpose of this thesis is to resurrect and develop a forgotten understanding of state responsibility from the political thought of Thomas Hobbes.


Award Committee Comments:

This dissertation is a highly ambitious and masterfully executed exploration of the idea of state responsibility. Identifying a central question – how can states be held morally responsible – Dr Fleming recovers Thomas Hobbes’ conception on state personality through political representation, which he systematically develops into an original theory. The committee was impressed by the sharp and critical analysis of existing conceptions of state responsibility, the creative and sophisticated development of Hobbes’ thought, and the effective application to core issues in international politics. Remarkably clear in both argumentation and presentation, Dr Fleming’s dissertation makes a significant contribution to the fields of political thought, International Relations theory, and international law.



Honourable Mention

Stéphanie Perazzone from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva: ´Congo: A State Ecosystem´


Abstract of the Thesis:

This thesis studies the ‘postcolonial African state’ still generally seen through the lens of state weakness within IR. Employing a relational approach to studying state-society  elations in urban Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), I argue ‘the state’ continues to be re-produced and relegitimized through a set of diffuse yet pervasive socio-material  ractices, systems of significance and historical traces. These three elements are constitutive of an analytical concept I term the ‘state ecosystem.’ The state ecosystem is a device  through which to explore the emergence and societal solidification of the imaginary of the ‘state.’ It does so by tracing out how objects, times, spaces, and humans are composed together in their quotidian interactions to produce numerous ‘effects’ (in the case of the DRC: state distantiation, state humanization, and state anxieties) that define the fluid contents of what a state constitutes at any particular moment in time. In the case of the DRC, unpacking these ‘effects’ (Mitchelle 1991) provides a different lens on its  contemporary political and social situation. Rather than seeing the DRC as fundamentally ‘failed,’ a state ecosystem perspective allows us to uncover ambivalent yet striking instances of negotiation, accommodation, perseverance, and – ultimately – ‘progression’ in its trajectories. More broadly, a state ecosystem perspective thus provides a conceptual framework through which to reposition the figure of the postcolonial state as part of a global social and political system that is fundamentally intertwined in its evolution. Rather than relying solely on ‘western-centric’ concepts of what the state ‘should be,’ this thesis lays out what the state is, in one particular context, and provides a framework applicable to multiple other contexts.


Award Committee Comment:

This excellent dissertation offers a rich and sophisticated reading of the postcolonial state as an ‘ecosystem’ to challenge conventional conceptions of ‘state failure’. Based primarily on fieldwork in three cities in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Dr Perazzone carefully reconstructs the material and ideational presence of the Congolese state through the everyday experiences and practices of ‘ordinary dwellers’ and ‘street level bureaucrats’. The committee was impressed by the interpretivist skill underpinning a comprehensive, layered and nuanced analysis, and by the interdisciplinary approach combining political science, urban studies, and social anthropology. Dr Perazzone’s dissertation offers both a critical reminder of the limits of a core Western concept and an innovative demonstration of where and how we can see the postcolonial state at work