UChicago Press awards top honor to Lisa Wedeen for ‘Authoritarian Apprehensions’

Political scientist wins 2022 Laing Award for book on Syrian uprising and conflict

The University of Chicago Press has awarded the 2022 Gordon J. Laing Award to political scientist Lisa Wedeen for Authoritarian Apprehensions: Ideology, Judgment, and Mourning in Syria, which examines the country’s 2011 uprising and ensuing conflict.

Given annually as the Press’ top honor, the Laing Award is presented to a UChicago faculty author, editor or translator of a book published in the previous three years that has brought the greatest distinction to the Press.

In Authoritarian Apprehensions, Wedeen draws on decades of scholarship and research on Syria to offer an erudite and compassionate analysis of the uprising of 2011—the revolutionary exhilaration of the initial days of unrest, and then the devastating violence that shattered hopes of any quick undoing of dictatorship.

“It is deeply gratifying—thrilling, really—to receive the 2022 Laing Award, because I love the Press and so value the views of my peers,” said Wedeen, the Mary R. Morton Professor of Political Science. “Academic writing can be a lonely venture but it is also collaborative, and I am appreciative in particular of my Syrian friends, colleagues and interlocutors, without whom this book would not exist.”

In its review, the Times Literary Supplement praised Authoritarian Apprehensions as “a lucid and thought-provoking study” that “forces us to ponder the possibilities for political judgement in a world where facts no longer hold sway.” The reviewer noted how Wedeen helped to answer perplexing questions, including why so many ordinary Syrians have accepted the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Wedeen is also the author of Ambiguities of Domination and Peripheral Visions, both published by the UChicago Press. In addition, she is co-director of the Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory at UChicago, and an associate faculty member in the Department of Anthropology.

The Gordon J. Laing Award is named in honor of the scholar who, serving as general editor from 1909 until 1940, firmly established the character and reputation of the University of Chicago Press as the premier academic publisher in the United States. The prize is conferred by vote of the Board of University Publications, a committee of faculty members who oversee the Press’ imprint.

President Paul Alivisatos presented the award to Wedeen during a May 17 gala reception at the University of Chicago’s David Rubenstein Forum.

“The University of Chicago Press has been an important channel of engagement for our scholars since it first was conceived by William Rainey Harper at the time of our founding,” Alivisato said. “The Gordon J. Laing Award is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the work of our faculty and the special relationship they have shared with UChicago Press for more than 130 years. I am pleased to offer Lisa Wedeen my sincere congratulations for this well-deserved award.”

Added Garrett Kiely, director of the Press: “We are very proud to have published Lisa Wedeen’s work, which offers an insightful, research-driven engagement with authoritarianism and some of the most troubling concerns of our political present and future. Lisa is a great friend of the Press and we are excited to see her receive this honor.”

Prof. Christine Mehring, chair of the Board of University Publications, lauded Wedeen’s cross-disciplinary scholarship, expanding beyond political science to fields such as ethnography, media and film studies, social theory and artistic practice.

“Beyond providing an urgently needed contemporary account of an urgent contemporary crisis, Lisa mobilized her longstanding expertise on the Middle East and Syria to help us understand the ideological make up and media operations that have sustained a civil war and authoritarian regime, and challenged the very possibility for political change,” Mehring said.

Wedeen joins a distinguished list of previous recipients that includes Eve L. Ewing, Michael Rossi, Adrian Johns, Deborah Nelson, Alison Winter, Robert Richards, Martha Feldman, Bernard E. Harcourt, Philip Gossett and W. J. T. Mitchell.

—Adapted from a press release from the University of Chicago Press.