2020 Leo Strauss Award Presented to Elena Gambino and Tejas Parasher

The Leo Strauss Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best doctoral dissertation in political philosophy.

Elena Gambino is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, New Brunswick.  She works at the intersections of feminist, queer, and critical race theories, focusing in particular on how everyday political actors have developed and deployed these traditions to build coalitions, how they seek to contest and repair the inequalities that underpin modern political communities, and how they imagine radical futures premised on racial and sexual accountability.  At Rutgers, Elena teaches courses in the Women and Politics subfield, where she brings together ideas at the intersection of political theory, feminist theory, and histories of sexuality.  She received her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 2019 and was a Visiting Assistant Professor of Politics at Bates College in 2019-2020.

Citation from the Award Committee:

“’Presence in Our Own Land:’ Second Wave Feminism and the Lesbian Body Politic” is a deftly argued and exciting intervention in and contribution to contemporary political theory and the history of feminist thought.  Persuasively challenging dominant narratives of progress, according to which second wave feminists engaged in exclusionary politics of identity that were corrected by subsequent generations of feminist thinkers, Elena Gambino shows how lesbian feminists, beginning in the late 1970s, theorized and practiced a deeply intersectional politics, one that rested not on essentializing identity categories but on structures, relationships, and institutions capable of promoting coalition-building as a form of publicity.

To recover the diverse views and writers shaping second wave lesbian feminism, “Presence in Our Own Land” turns to the pages of Sinister Wisdom, 1976 to the present, a lesbian feminist magazine of poems, stories, essays, visual art, as well as reflection and self-assessment.  Providing important historical context, this rich archive brings to light ongoing debates about racism, separatism, aesthetics, and political strategy, debates that reveal how contestation, specifically between Black and white lesbian feminists, fundamentally informed the contours and substance of the movement.  Offering illuminating and compelling accounts of the ways in which Audre Lorde, Bernice Johnson Reagon, Adrienne Rich, Barbara Smith, Monique Wittig, among others, altered contemporary understandings of injustice, authority, and political voice, Gambino theorizes a practice of coalition politics premised not on harmony, exemplarity, and inclusion, but on confrontation with persistent issues of inequality and broken trust, accountability, and repair.  “’Presence in Our Own Land:’ Second Wave Feminism and the Lesbian Body Politic” contributes critical conceptual resources to the field of political theory, while offering exceptionally timely strategies for any politics committed to solidarity across difference.

Tejas Parasher is Junior Research Fellow in History and Politics at King’s College, University of Cambridge.  He is a historian of modern political thought, with particular interests in empire and political thought and the intellectual history of anti-colonial movements in Asia and Africa.  His primary research examines the contested relationship between representative government, statehood, and popular sovereignty in British India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  His current book project, which builds on his doctoral work, recovers federalist visions of self-rule within the Indian national movement.

Tejas received his Ph.D. in political theory from the University of Chicago, where he also received the 2015 Joseph Cropsey Prize in Political Philosophy, and his B.A. Hons. (High Distinction) in political theory from the University of Toronto in 2013.

Citation from the Award Committee:

“Self-Rule and the State in Indian Political Thought, 1880-1950” is an insightful and illuminating contribution to comparative political theory and the history of political thought.  Through adroit historical analysis, Tejas Parasher reconstructs the discourse of self-rule in British India between 1880 and 1950, showing how, in a challenge to notions of parliamentary supremacy inherited from the French Revolution and held by Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhai Patel, and other leaders of the Indian National Congress, a diverse group of political thinkers, including Dadabhai Naoroji, M.K. Gandhi, and B.R. Ambedkar, advocated for new forms of political representation and economic control – beyond European conceptions of the unitary nation-state – based on the distribution of law-making powers among central, local, and imperial legislative bodies.

Against longstanding analyses of the demand for self-rule in British India as a demand for centralized state-based sovereignty independent of imperial control, “Self-Rule and the State” valuably brings to light the important content and political and economic stakes of the argument among Indian political thinkers between divided versus unitary forms of popular sovereignty.  Drawing on an impressive archive, including assembly debates between 1946 and 1950 leading up to the drafting of India’s post-colonial constitution, Parasher demonstrates that even though the Indian founding represented a triumph of unified governance, critiques of unitary sovereignty, along with their visions of socialist politics as alternatives to both Western European welfare states as well as the Soviet model of planning, were central to anti-colonial thinking on self-rule.  By recovering federalist and socialist visions of anti-colonialism marked by discontinuities with a European past, “Self-Rule and the State in Indian Political Thought, 1880-1950” provides crucial intellectual resources for studies of decolonization in political and legal theory, global history, and international law, while paving the way for new configurations of post-colonial sovereignty and popular rule.

APSA thanks the committee members for their service: Jill Frank (chair), Cornell University; Dr. Jeffrey Church, University of Houston; and Dr. Claudia Leeb, Washington State University.

Elena Gambino

Tejas Parasher