Nine Dots Prize


About

The Nine Dots Prize seeks to reward original thinking in response to contemporary societal issues. Each Prize cycle lasts two years, with a new question being announced every other October. The winner of each cycle is supported to develop their response into a full-length book, which is published by Cambridge University Press, and given the opportunity to spend a term at CRASSH.

All those 18 years of age and over are welcome to enter but responses and the resulting book must be in English. We are looking for innovative thinking, whether this comes from new voices or from experienced authors. The Prize’s heartland is in the analysis of contemporary society and societal challenges, and we welcome responses that draw on all disciplines and cross-discipline thinking. Joint entries will be considered, although proposals that put forward a number of authors all contributing single sections (such as an edited collection) will not be accepted.

The Prize will be awarded anonymously. The Board will award the Prize to the entry that in their view best responds to the set question. Responses can critique, agree or disagree with, or reject the premise of the question, but they must engage with it fully and insightfully.

The Board will look for originality of the ideas and arguments put forward, the ways in which the ideas are communicated and the conclusions or recommendations that the author(s) reach. Responses may draw on research and evidence from a wide variety of sources and disciplines not restricted solely to the social sciences.

The Prize is sponsored by the Kadas Prize Foundation with support from CRASSH at the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Press. We have a Board made up of 11 distinguished experts. Day to day, the Prize is run by the Senior Prize Manager, Jane Tinkler. 

Visit the Nine Dots Prize website for more information.

2019/20

The question: Is there still no place like home?


On 29 May 2019, Annie Zaidi, a 40-year-old freelance writer whose work includes reportage, essays, short stories, poetry and plays, was announced as the winner of the US$100,000 Nine Dots Prize 2019/2020.

Hundreds of responses were submitted by entrants all over the world. These were judged anonymously by the Prize’s eleven-strong Board of leading academics, journalists and thinkers, to ensure the Prize was awarded on the strength and originality of the response alone.

Zaidi’s entry, ‘Bread, Cement, Cactus’, combines memoir and reportage to explore concepts of home and belonging rooted in her experience of contemporary life in India, where migration – within the country, especially from villages to cities – is high. The proposed book will answer the central question through examining how a citizen’s sense of ‘home’ might collapse, or be recovered.

Themes it will address include: 

  • The politics and economics of death in India, and how the physical performance of last rites for the dead can lead to a sense of dislocation and the unmooring of living citizens  
  • How industrial townships are created on the back of a series of dislocations, and what this means for citizens’ relationships to the land  
  • The crossing of caste and religious lines in marriage, and the abuse of political power to violently disrupt or prevent the mixing of bloodlines 
  • The Partition of India as a great cultural and emotional sundering, ultimately triggering an aggressive nationalism that seeks a negative self-definition rather than a positive one
  • The struggle to belong to a city when it changes in all recognisable forms, even down to its name, and when it is stripped of all the original springs of cultural affinity

 

Zaidi began her career as a reporter with stints at leading newspapers and magazines including Mid-Day and Frontline. She has published both fiction and non-fiction: Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales is a collection of essays shortlisted for the Crossword Book Award in 2010, and Love Stories # 1 to 14 is a collection of short fiction published in 2012. In 2015, she published an anthology called Unbound: 2,000 Years of Indian Women's WritingElle magazine named Zaidi as one of the emerging South Asian writers 'whose writing… will enrich South Asian literature'.

2017/18

The question: Are digital technologies making politics impossible? 

31 May 2018 marked the publication of Stand Out of Our Light: Freedom and Resistance in the Attention Economy, 'a landmark book' (Observer) by the inaugural winner of the Nine Dots Prize, former-Google employee and Oxford-trained philosopher, James Williams. The book launch took place at CRASSH, Cambridge and included a talk by the author, who was then joined in discussion by John Naughton (Technology Correspondent, The Observer) and Maria Farrell (Writer and Technology Consultant). 

Stand Out of Our Light began as Williams’ response to the first question posed by the Nine Dots Prize board: Are digital technologies making politics impossible? In it, Williams examines how the technology we increasingly trust to guide our thoughts and actions is in fact preventing us from achieving our goals and living the lives we desire. He warns that the infrastructure of intelligent persuasion that now dominates the digital environment is undermining the human will, not only at an individual level but at wider societal and even global level too.

The book garnered praise from leading experts and intellectuals, including internet activist Wael Ghonim ('If you care about the future of society, pay attention to this book.') and Nine Dots Prize board member and Professor of Politics at the University of Cambridge David Runciman ('Passionate, provocative, personal and funny – this is not your typical academic book about digital technology!')

James Williams was born in Florida and raised in Texas. He received his PhD from the University of Oxford, where his research addressed the philosophy and ethics of attention and persuasion as they relate to technology design. Previously, James worked for over ten years at Google, where he received the Founders’ Award – the company’s highest honour – for his work on advertising products and tools. James is also a member of the Digital Ethics Lab at the Oxford Internet Institute and co-founder of the Time Well Spent campaign. 

Stand Out of Our Light is published in paperback by Cambridge University Press and available from all good book shops. It is also available to read for free online via Open Access on the Cambridge University Press website