CASBS Director Levi Receives 25th Annual Skytte Prize

Margaret Levi
Margaret Levi (Photo courtesy of
Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences)

Margaret Levi, the director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University, today received one of the most prestigious awards in the social sciences, the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science. 

The prize is awarded to a scholar who “has made the most valuable contribution to political science;” the committee behind the award cited Levi for “having laid the foundations of our understanding of why citizens accept state coercion, by combining theoretical acumen and historical knowledge.”

According to the Skytte Foundation:

Levi often re-visits the sources of legitimacy behind state coercion and coercion exercised by other collectives. According to Levi, the state could not exist without what she calls a pseudo-voluntary consent to being governed, paying taxes and obeying laws which we might not necessarily like or have not actively helped to create. As the experience of many dictatorial rulers shows, the price of governing is often high. In the worst scenarios, people have to be divided by walls, placed under surveillance, bribed with “bread and games” – but even these strategies do not necessarily make the rulers safe. A potential revolt is always brewing. Governing becomes much easier when consent is given, which, as Levi shows, is best achieved if national politics is perceived as fair, if decision-making procedures are perceived as inclusive and if there is a belief that everyone contributes without free-riding. 

With the prize comes a gold medal and a check for 500,000 Swedish kronor (currently about US$53,000). These will be awarded at a ceremony on September 28 at Uppsala University.

Johan Skytte woodcut
Johan Skytte

Levi is the 25th recipient of the Skytte Prize, which was first awarded to Robert Dahl in 1995. The foundation behind the prize is almost 400 years old, having been established by Johan Skytte, a Swedish statesman who founded the Department of Government at Uppsala University in 1622, making it the oldest department of political science in the world. As vice-chancellor of Uppsala University, Skytte noted that what Sweden’s martial prowess won on the battlefield it’s poor diplomacy lost at the negotiation table. “Johan Skytte,” explains the award website, “was determined the new chair at Uppsala University could help to change this by offering training in the art of eloquence and politics.”

A six-member board governs the foundation. The board includes Count Nils-Axel Mörner and current Skytte Professor of Political Science Li Bennich-Björkman (the pair who who dreamt up the prize) as well as  vice-chancellor of Uppsala University Eva Åkesson, treasurer Anders Barth, secretary Jonas Mörner and economist Jacob Lagercrantz. Similarly, a six-person committee determines the prize recipient. That committee includes Bennich-Björkman and five other profesors: Lise Rakner at the University of Bergen; Jan Teorell, Lund University; Øyvind Østerud, University of Oslo; Vello Pettai, Johan Skytte Institute, Tartu University; and Donatella Della Porta, Scuola Normale Superiore Florence.

“I am beyond thrilled by this incredible honor,” a release from Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, or CASBS, quoted Levi. “I am also deeply humbled, as I’m in awe of previous Skytte Prize winners. They are nothing short of foundational and transformational figures in the political science profession. The inaugural winner, Robert Dahl, was one of my heroes. Lin Ostrom was a great friend and inspiration. And, I’m additionally delighted to be immediately preceded by the wonderful Jenny Mansbridge.”

Levi, who has headed CASBS since 2014, is a professor of political science at Stanford, and Jere L. Bacharach Professor Emerita of International Studies in the department of political science at the University of Washington. She was a John Simon Guggenheim Fellow and has been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (she was president in 2004-05) , and the American Philosophical Society (2018). In 2014 she received the William H. Riker Prize in Political Science.

A CASBS fellow herself in 1993, Levi noted that 13 of the 24 previous Skytte winners were CASBS alumni. “It’s yet another indicator of the profound quality of scholarship the Center helps nurture and disseminate to the world.” They include Dahl (1955-56, 1966-67), Alexander George (1956-57, 1976-77), Juan Linz (1963-64), Sidney Verba (1963-64), Robert Putnam (1974-75, 1988-89), Robert Axelrod (1976-77, 1981-82), Brian Barry (1976-77), Robert Keohane (1977-78, 1987-88, 2004-05), Carole Pateman (1984-85), Fritz Scharpf (1986-87), Philippe Schmitter (1991-92), David Collier (1994-95), and Mansbridge (1997-98, 2001-02).

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