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. The Board is made up of distinguished experts. Day to day, the Prize is run by the Senior Prize Manager, Jane Tinkler.
The question: Why has the rule of law become so fragile?
Cambridge-based researcher and scholar-activist Joanna Kusiak has been announced as the winner of the 2022/23 Nine Dots Prize for her ‘exciting’ and ‘provocative’ response to the Nine Dots Prize question: ‘Why has the rule of law become so fragile?’ She receives US$100,000 and a book deal with Cambridge University Press for her winning entry.
Close to 600 potential books were submitted in response to the 2022/23 question, from over 50 different countries around the world. They were judged anonymously by the Prize’s board of leading academics, journalists and thinkers.
Kusiak’s winning essay argued that the rule of law has always been fragile, a result of its paradoxical foundations which bind together law and politics. Taking the case of the 2021 Berlin referendum, in which voters decided to expropriate more than 240,000 properties from corporate landlords into public ownership, Kusiak demonstrates the potential of radically legal politics as a path to deepen our democracies and renew the rule of law through the following topics:
- The story of the Berlin movement and its daring attempt to take housing back from corporations, leveraging the German constitution.
- The relationship between law and justice, and the misuse of the law by powerful forces including financial capitalism.
- How Jungian psychoanalysis can reveal the rule of law’s ‘midlife crisis’, presenting politics as the ‘shadow’ of the law.
- The tension between private law and Germany’s constitution, which protects fundamental rights over the needs of any economic system.
- How radically legal tactics can redirect the conservative nature of the law towards a progressive future, achieving progressive change within and beyond the law.
- Kusiak’s personal experience as a scholar-activist working in Berlin and Warsaw to contribute to the development of progressive social movements.
- What Berlin could look like through deprivatising housing – an inclusive vision of a liveable city that unlocks creativity and freedom.
Joanna Kusiak is a scholar-activist who lives in Berlin and works at the University of Cambridge. Born in Poland, she has been equally shaped by the emancipatory tradition of the Solidarność movement and by the brutality of the neoliberal transformation. Her work focuses on urban land, housing crises, and the progressive potential of law. In 2021 she was one of the spokespeople of Deutsche Wohnen & Co enteignen, Berlin’s successful referendum campaign to expropriate stock-listed landlords. She also writes and performs poetry.
The question: What does it mean to be young in an ageing world?
Berlin-based journalist Trish Lorenz has been announced as the winner of the 2021/2022 Nine Dots Prize, receiving US$100,000 and a book deal with Cambridge University Press for her ‘compelling and well-evidenced’ response to the question ‘What does it mean to be young in an ageing world?’
Nearly 700 potential books were submitted in response to the 2021/2022 question, from 92 different countries around the world. They were judged anonymously by the Prize’s twelve-strong Board of leading academics, journalists and thinkers.
Lorenz’s winning essay argued that no question of what it means to be young in the 21st century should overlook the significant youth populations of sub-Saharan African countries including Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, and Ethiopia. Focusing on Nigeria – one of the youngest countries in the world, where more than 42% of the population is under 14 years old – as a case study, she proposes to conduct in-depth interviews and discussions with the youth population to explore the following topics:
- The role urbanisation is playing in defining this generation, and how this generation is in turn redefining the notion of an African city
- The emergence of a distinct generational identity across music, fashion, design, art, and culture
- How this generation is employing technological solutions to become self-sufficient and solve pan-African and global issues
- The discrepancy between the average age of the population and the age of its leaders, who are amongst the oldest in the world
- The activists challenging traditional societal norms and carving out a new vision of what it means to be African
Lorenz has been a journalist for more than 15 years. She is a regular contributor to titles including The Guardian, The Financial Times and The Telegraph, among others, and her reporting has included covering stories in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso. Formerly a design columnist at The Independent and the Lisbon correspondent for Monocle magazine, she covers subjects ranging from design, art and culture to travel, politics and human interest. She moved to Berlin in early 2020. Prior to that she lived in Lisbon for eight years, working as a correspondent in Portugal and the Portuguese speaking world, a role that involved travel and reporting on African Portuguese speaking countries such as Cape Verde.
The question: Is there still no place like home?
On 29 May 2019, Annie Zaidi, a 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 Writing. Elle magazine named Zaidi as one of the emerging South Asian writers ‘whose writing… will enrich South Asian literature’.
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.