David Laitin has received the 2021 Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science for his influential research on how culture, especially language and religion, guides political behavior.
David Laitin, the James T. Watkins IV and Elise V. Watkins Professor of Political Science in the School of Humanities and Sciences and co-director of the Immigration Policy Lab at Stanford, has received the 2021 Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science for his “original and objective exploration of how culture shapes political strategies in heterogenous societies.”
The prize is considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize for political scientists and is awarded by the Skytte Foundation at Uppsala University in Sweden for remarkable achievements within the field of political science.
The prize recognizes Laitin’s influential research on how culture, especially language and religion, guides political behavior. The Skytte Foundation press release states:
“Laitin has made ‘culture,’ often the junk drawer of political science studies, studiable and concrete by identifying various cultural components of a nation’s inner life: language, religion, art and literature or family life. Central to his thinking is that these cultural components do not have to easily reinforce each other or pull in the same direction. These ‘spheres’ can co-exist without coinciding.”
Through field research in Somalia, Yorubaland (Nigeria, Togo, and Benin), Catalonia (Northeast Spain), Estonia, and France, Laitin shaped new research methodologies that have altered the field.
When seeking to understand why newly independent African countries continued to rely on European languages for education and administration, Laitin moved to Somalia where he learned to speak Somali and conduct randomized field experiments at a time when “the political science world had not yet invented the term ‘field experiment,’” Laitin said.
Later, in Catalonia, Laitin’s efforts to understand why Catalans “were exerting so much effort promoting the Catalan language which would increase their communicative range by zero” led to his learning game theory, which was then a “newly introduced methodological tool” in the subfield of comparative politics.
Laitin is the third Stanford scholar in the last decade to receive the Skytte Prize. Margaret Levi, the Sara Miller McCune director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences and professor of political science at Stanford, received the prize in 2019. Francis Fukuyama, the Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law and senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, was the recipient in 2015.
“To be in the company of recent winners like Margaret Levi, Peter Katzenstein, Robert Axelrod, Bob Putnam, Francis Fukuyama, and Jon Elster is totally humbling,” Laitin said.
A virtual prize award ceremony will take place on October 1.