K. Sabeel Rahman — 2018 Robert A. Dahl Award Recipient

The American Political Science Association (APSA) will present the Robert A. Dahl Award to Dr. K. Sabeel Rahman at the 2018 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, the world’s largest gathering of political scientists and source for emerging scholarship in the discipline. The $750 award recognizes an untenured academic who has produced scholarship of the highest quality on democracy.

K. Sabeel Rahman is an Associate Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School, and a Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. He has previously been a visiting Professor of Law at Harvard Law School (2017) and a Fellow at New America.

Rahman’s research focuses on the themes of democracy, economic inequality, exclusion, and power. His first book, Democracy Against Domination (Oxford University Press, 2017) examines how democratic ideals fueled reform movements in the Progressive Era, and what their implications might be in today’s post-financial crisis debates about economic inequality. His second book, Civic Power (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming, with Hollie Russon Gilman) explores new approaches to organizing, power, and institutional reform in the face of the current crisis of American democracy. His current research project focuses on the problems of structural inequality and exclusion, private power, and inequality, exploring historical, social movement, and public policy approaches to tackling these issues. In addition to his academic writings in law, political theory, and political science, he has written for a variety of venues including The Atlantic, The New Republic, Boston Review, Dissent, The Nation, and others.

Rahman has worked extensively with policymakers, funders, and advocacy groups in developing strategies and novel approaches to questions of democracy and economic inequality. In 2014-15 he served as a Special Advisor on strategies for inclusive economic development in New York City, and from 2015-16 as a Public Member of the New York City Rent Guidelines Board. From 2013-2016, Rahman was the Design Director for the Gettysburg Project, an interdisciplinary initiative working with organizers, academics, and funders to develop new strategies for civic engagement and building civic capacity. In addition, Rahman is on the Board of The New Press, a non-profit publisher focusing on publishing books in the public interest, and United to Protect Democracy, a legal advocacy group battling current threats to American democratic institutions.

Rahman earned his AB at Harvard College summa cum laude in Social Studies and returned to Harvard for his JD at Harvard Law School and his PhD in the Harvard Government Department. He also has degrees in Economics and Sociolegal Studies from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Given the widespread concerns about the fate of democracy across the globe, the Award Committee believes that a dual award is warranted.  Two of the submissions make contributions to the subject of democracy that are not only exceptional, but uniquely exceptional, in very different ways.  The first is Populism and Patronage: Why Populists Win Elections in India, Asia, and Beyond by Paul D. Kenny.  The second is Democracy Against Domination by K. Sabeel Rahman.

Rahman’s book offers powerful insights into the challenges that economic governance and the modern regulatory state present to American democracy.  Weaving together arguments from democratic theory, legal analysis, and research on American political development, Rahman probes why American institutions have proven unable to respond to growing inequality and declining trust in government. The book develops innovative normative arguments about the forms of bottom up economic governance and institutional design needed to revitalize the American democracy.

The two books offer superbly-researched analyses of the different challenges that confront contemporary democracies.  Kenny’s work provides a new analytic approach to understanding populism — and the dangers it poses to democracy – in patronage democracies.  Rahman offers a deeply-grounded blend of institutional, normative, and prescriptive analysis that directs our attention to how American democracy can be revitalized.