The Theory Section Paper Awards recognize superlative work in International Theory. All papers with a strong theoretical focus are eligible. Two awards are made: one for a paper presented (or, in the case of ISA2020, which would have been presented) by a graduate student or other non-PhD holder, and another for a paper by a post-PhD scholar. Nominations may be made by anyone in the profession. We encourage discussants and chairs on Theory panels to let us know about outstanding papers you encountered. Self-nominations are also welcome (particularly in the case of ISA2020).

Nominations should include contact information of the nominee and, in the case of self-nominations, also a copy of the relevant paper. They should be submitted electronically to Patrick Thaddeus Jackson.

The winner(s) in each category (Pre-PhD and Post-PhD) will receive a certificate at the Business Meeting during the ISA Annual Convention. The winner(s) of the Best Paper (non-PhD) will also receive a $500 prize at the same meeting. If not present, the certificates and prize will be mailed to the recipients.

Past Winners


(PhD): Zoltán Búzás, “Lost in Legal Translation: How Legalization Allows Human Rights Violations”

The committee was deeply impressed by the paper ‘Lost in Legal Translation: How Legalization Allows Human Rights Violations’ written by Zoltán Búzás from Drexel University. Developing a theory of evasion practices, Búzás explains why legalization of norms can counter-intuitively hinder the prevention of human rights violations. Based on substantial original research into France’s expulsion of Roma immigrants (2008-2016) and the Czech Republic’s placement of Roma children in schools for those with mild mental disability (1993-2016), the theoretical arguments are nicely interwoven with rich and detailed empirical material. Well grounded in the existing scholarship on norms research and legalization, the piece represents a major contribution to the norms literature, as well as the literature on human rights. The paper especially impressed us by the engagement with and utilization of legal theory and the novel theoretical proposal. In addition to its substantive contribution, which made the paper prize-worthy already, it is extremely well-written and developed, methodologically sound, and with insights that will be of wide interest to both scholars and practitioners.

(non-PhD): Anette Stimmer, “Norm life cycle or norm square? Norm contestation of sovereignty and territorial integrity in the post-Cold War era”

This paper, ‘Norm life cycle or norm square? Norm contestation of sovereignty and territorial integrity in the post-Cold War Era’, by Anette Stimmer, makes a significant contribution to norms debates in IR. Stimmer connects the widely-known and popular concepts of the norm life cycle to more recent critical constructivist insights concerning the nature of norm contestation. Stimmer constructs a four-fold typology of norm and frame contestation that provides analytical purchase on the vast potential variety of contestation processes. Its detailed, rich, and wide-ranging empirical engagement is nicely interwoven with the innovative theoretical strands of the argument. An especially useful aspect of the paper is the detailed empirical illustrations of the four types of norm and frame contestation. This careful research makes a compelling case for the utility of the theoretical argument. The paper thus makes a novel contribution to the literature on norms research that should command wide attention.

and Scott Hamilton, “Securing Ourselves from Ourselves? The Paradox of “Entanglement” in the Anthropocene”

This paper develops a creative perspective on the security implications of thinking with the concept of the Anthropocene through a discussion of ontological security, an approach which powerfully helps us grasp the stakes of these debates. The paper makes a complex ethical case based on humanity’s disentanglement from ‘nature’, developed through a critique of recent (posthuman) arguments about humanity’s enmeshment with the world and the ethical/agential implications that flow from this. In addition to its contributions to the IR theory literature and advancing theorizations about the Anthropocene, this paper also connects with and provides interventions of interests to a wide range of scholars working in international studies more broadly, including environmental studies, political theory and ethics.


Best Paper (PhD): Louise Wise (Queen Mary University of London), with the paper “Three Colonialisms, the ‘Developmental’ State, and the Global Constitution of Genocide.”

Louise Wise’s paper offers a guiding example of how to apply theoretical analysis to international history. The theoretical and empirical discussions are woven together with expert precision and offer a prime example of how to combine theoretical and empirical analysis. The analysis of genocide and colonialism provides a welcome expansion of this literature, and a thought-provoking analysis into the politics of Sudan. The complexity of how the “colonial” is implicated in genocide, and the way by which the three forms of colonialism function as an ecology offer a nuanced analysis of Sudan’s history and provides an important contribution to improving our understanding of the genocide in Darfur as well as how to develop and apply theory. The paper furthers the mission of the THEORY section of the ISA to support research linking theory with history, as well as the importance of theory for research in IR scholarship.

Best Paper (non-PhD): Gitte du Plessis (University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa), with the paper “Enemies of the state? The discrepancy between threat and use in the weaponization of infectious agents.”

Gitte du Plessis’ paper presents an innovative and compelling look at the discursive and material constructions of biosecurity in contemporary geopolitics, and the limits of discourses on deterrence and diplomatic disarmament to explain the discrepancy between accounts of the ‘effectiveness’ and lethality of bioweapons in security literatures, and their empirical lack of use.  Using Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the ‘war machine’ to consider the efficacy of microbial actants alongside the leveraging of bioweapons as a threat to global security, du Plessis argues that pathogenic microbes resist weaponization and thus frequently exceed states’ attempts to manipulate, surveil, and control them. The paper is highly interdisciplinary, bringing into conversation literature in political theory, critical security studies, international relations, with work on global health and environmental studies.  We feel that this is an impressive paper with considerable potential that will further work on geopolitics and global health and biosecurity. It also furthers the mission of the THEORY section of the ISA in that it develops theory with empirical relevancy, it fosters communication and collaboration between disciplines, and it develops dialogue between political theory and IR.


Best Paper (PhD): Michael Crawford Urban (University of Toronto), with the paper “How to study trust in international relations.”

Best Paper (non-PhD): Nicole Sunday Grove (University of Hawai’i, Manoa), with the paper “The Cartographic Ambiguities of HarassMap: Crowdmapping Secuirty and Sexual Violence in Egypt.”  Alena Drieschova (University of Toronto) is the winner of an honorable mention in this category, with the paper “Peirce’s Semeiotics: A Methodology for Bridging the Material-Ideational Divide in IR Scholarship.”


Best Paper (PhD): Shannon Brincat (Griffith University) and L.H.M. Ling (New School), with the paper “Dialectics of IR: Hegel and the Dao

Best Paper (non-PhD): Henrique Furtado of the University of Manchester, with the paper “Remembrance in the Forgotten Continent: Collective Memory and the Politics of Representation in Brazil.” Charlotta Friedner Parrat of University of Uppsala is the winner of an honorable mention for the 2014 ISA Theory Section Pre-PhD Paper Award for her piece, “Changing before Our Eyes and Slipping between our Fingers: International Organisations and Primary Institutions.”


Best Paper (PhD):  Andrew Davenport, Aberystwyth University’s Department of International Politics, with the paper “Theory and Practice: Kantian Questions” (co-winner) and  Simon Glezos, University of Victoria’s Political Science Department, with the paper “Of Fortuna and Facebook: Social Media and Social Networks in Global Politics” (co-winner).

Best Paper (non-PhD): Eric Van Rythoven, PhD Candidate at Carleton University’s Department of Political Science, with the paper “Realism, Securitization, and Statecraft”