The Nicolas Berggruen Prize for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Law & Politics at the University of Oxford 2022

The Law Faculty is delighted to announce the winner of the Nicolas Berggruen Prize for Best Doctoral Dissertation in Philosophy, Law & Politics at the University of Oxford in 2022.

2022 marks the inaugural year of this prestigious prize, generously funded by Nicolas Berggruen of the Berggruen Institute in Los Angeles. Each year the prize will be awarded to the best dissertation across the three disciplines of philosophy, law and politics that is both excellent and transformative for either the theory or practice in any field of human inquiry. Each of the three faculties (Philosophy, Law and the Department of Politics and International Relations) nominate their most outstanding dissertation each year and then a winner is selected among the three outstanding dissertations by a committee constituted by the terms of the Prize.

The 2022 prize is awarded to Dr Jay Ruckelshaus, for his dissertation “Partisanship, Polarization, and Political Identity”. Ruckelshaus' dissertation explores how partisan polarization distorts the relationship between citizens and politics and the relationships across the citizenry. In response, Ruckelshaus offers a novel account of what citizens of diverse, divided democracies must share.

In five carefully argued and original chapters, Ruckelshaus proposes an original diagnosis of the harms of polarization. But he goes on to consider a question that has received significantly less attention, noting that we rarely pause to reflect on what the opposite of polarization might be – what citizens who will never agree must nonetheless aspire to in terms of social cohesion. His new account of political identity and cohesion as shared action is thus sensitive to the real-world workings of polarization, but does not abandon the hope of a better democratic politics.

In addition to untangling the relationships among polarization, partisanship, and identity politics in contemporary democracies, Ruckelshaus intervenes in long-standing debates on the moral foundations of liberalism and the appropriateness of public emotions and identities among modern, diverse citizenries.

The result is a piece of work that is, in the words of the examiners, "an emphatic contribution…provocative, original, and interesting", and that has already resulted in several publications, including one in the single most prestigious journal within Political Science, the American Political Science Review.

Dr Ruckelshaus is a Rhodes Scholar, nonprofit leader who helps people with disabilities gain entry into higher education, and an emerging public intellectual with bylines in The New York Times, Governing, and elsewhere (see Dr Ruckelshaus’s 2018 BBC profile).

On hearing he had won the prize, Jay said: “I’m incredibly humbled and honored to have been awarded the Nicolas Berggruen prize! The central focus of my work has been the power of ideas in democratic societies, so I feel particularly lucky to be acknowledged by a benefactor and an Institute driving transformative intellectual change. I hope to do my part in developing and – crucially – enacting ideas that help make the world more humane.”