Fiona Shen-Bayh Receives the 2023 APSA – IPSA Theodore J. Lowi First Book Award –

The APSA-IPSA Theodore J. Lowi First Book Award is presented annually to honor a book in any field of political science that exemplifies qualities of broad ambition, high originality, and intellectual daring, showing promise of having a substantive impact on the overall discipline, regardless of method, specific focus of inquiry, or approach to the subject.   

Fiona Shen-Bayh is an incoming Assistant Professor of Government & Politics with a joint appointment at the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland.  She was previously an Assistant Professor of Government at William & Mary.

She studies the legal and judicial instruments of power in authoritarian regimes.  Her book, Undue Process, examines how and why autocrats weaponize the judiciary to stay in control.  In other works, she examines the challenges of promoting access to equitable justice and the legacies of autocratic rule.  As co-founder and co-director of the Digital Inclusion and Governance Lab, she draws on a variety of digital tools and data to analyze the political economy of development in the Global South.

Her research has been published in the American Political Science Review, World Politics, Cambridge University Press, and Oxford University Press.  She has also received research support from the National Science Foundation, the Institute of International Studies, and the Global Research Institute.  She earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in political science from the University of California, Berkeley, and her B.A. in economics from Vassar College.  She was also a Weiser Center for Emerging Democracies postdoctoral fellow at the University of Michigan and a research affiliate of the Centre on Law and Social Transformations at the University of Bergen.

Citation from the Award Committee: 

The committee unanimously selected Professor Shen-Bayh’s book, entitled Undue Process: Persecution and Punishment in Autocratic Courts.  This important work on autocratic courts in sub-Saharan Africa during the post-independence era looks at how and why autocrats choose to punish opponents through the judicial process, and the circumstances under which they resort to extrajudicial means.  Shen-Bayh presents a theory of judicial repression centered around the political trial.  She argues that autocrats use courts to consolidate power, stifle dissent, repress political opponents, institutionalize punishment, and undermine the rule of law.  Autocrats pack the court with regime loyalists to ensure their cooperation.

The book’s key insight, as it relates to autocratic systems, is that putting opponents on trial serves to demonstrate the regime’s power and the fruitlessness of opposition.  Opponents, when put on trial, will always lose their case, and sometimes their lives.  Shen-Bayh brings a wealth of original qualitative and quantitative data from archival sources to bear on her question and provides illuminating case studies.  Her cases are well-researched, and her theory is general enough to be applied to different world regions and periods.  Her work constitutes a major contribution to our understanding of the role of courts in African politics, authoritarian regimes, and political control.

APSA thanks the International Political Science Association (IPSA) for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Dr. Hasret Dikici Bilgin (chair) of Istanbul Bilgi University, Dr. Irasema Coronado of Arizona State University, Dr. Florian Foos of the London School of Economics and Political Science, Dr. Henk Erich Goemans of the University of Rochester, and Professor Yue Zhang of the University of Illinois – Chicago.

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