APSA 2021

Our picks for APSA 2021

Books on politics, policy, and the planet for the American Political Science Association annual conference

We so wish we could attend the American Political Science Association meeting kicking off this week in Seattle, but we’re hopeful to be back in the booth next year. For now, we wanted to highlight just a handful of new books we were especially looking forward to showing off.

Among them, the latest from prolific legal scholar Cass Sunstein, on the red tape permeating our daily lives; a new MIT Press Essential Knowledge series volume on hate speech; and a damning account of the federal government’s leading role in bringing about today’s climate crisis — a book that has garnered praise from likes of Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, and Elizabeth Kolbert.

Sludge: What Stops Us from Getting Things Done and What to Do about It by Cass R. Sunstein


We’ve all had to fight our way through administrative sludge—filling out complicated online forms, mailing in paperwork, standing in line at the motor vehicle registry. This kind of red tape is a nuisance, but, as Cass Sunstein shows in Sludge, it can also impair health, reduce growth, entrench poverty, and exacerbate inequality. Confronted by sludge, people just give up—and lose a promised outcome: a visa, a job, a permit, an educational opportunity, necessary medical help. In this lively and entertaining look at the terribleness of sludge, Sunstein explains what we can do to reduce it. Sunstein takes readers on a tour of the not-so-wonderful world of sludge, describes justifications for certain kinds of sludge, and proposes “Sludge Audits” as a way to measure the effects of sludge. On balance, Sunstein argues, sludge infringes on human dignity, making people feel that their time and even their lives don’t matter. We must do better.

“Sludge prevents people from accessing things—money, resources—that they are entitled to, but it hurts vulnerable populations even more. Sunstein provides an excellent treatise on how to combat the evil cousin of ‘nudge’!” —Dilip Soma, Canada Research Chair in Behavioral Sciences and Economics, University of Toronto

Borders as Infrastructure: The Technopolitics of Border Control by Huub Dijstelbloem

"Borders as Infrastructure"

In Borders as Infrastructure, Huub Dijstelbloem brings science and technology studies, as well as the philosophy of technology, to the study of borders and international human mobility. Taking Europe’s borders as a point of departure, he shows how borders can transform and multiply and how they can mark conflicts over international orders. Borders themselves are moving entities, he claims, and with them travel our notions of territory, authority, sovereignty, and jurisdiction. The philosophies of Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk provide a framework for Dijstelbloem’s discussion of the material and morphological nature of borders and border politics.

“Infrastructure connects and so does this excellent book. Bridging the philosophical, the technical, and the political, this original work will be indispensable reading for anyone concerned about the power of bordering today.” —William Walters, Professor of Political Sociology, Carleton University, Canada; author of State Secrecy and Security

Learning in Governance: Climate Policy Integration in the European Union by Katharina Rietig

"Learning in Governance"

Although learning is often considered an important factor in effective environmental governance, it is not clear to what extent learning affects decision making and policy outcomes. In this book, Katharina Rietig examines the role of learning—understood as additional knowledge or experience that is taken into account by policymakers—in earth system governance and policy change. She does this by examining learning in European Union climate policy integration, looking in detail at the examples of the Renewable Energy Directive, its controversial biofuels component, and the greening measures in the Common Agricultural Policy. Rietig’s theoretical framework, empirical studies, and nuanced analysis offer a new perspective on the relevance of learning in earth system governance.

Learning in Governance is both at the frontier of social scientific knowledge and extremely valuable for its implications for ecological transition.” —Claudio M. Radaelli, School of Transnational Governance, European University Institute

They Knew: The US Federal Government’s Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis by James Gustave Speth

"They Knew"

In 2015, a group of twenty-one young people sued the federal government in Juliana v. United States for violating their constitutional rights by promoting climate catastrophe and thereby depriving them of life, liberty, and property without due process and equal protection of law. They Knew offers evidence supporting the children’s claims, presenting a devastating and compelling account of the federal government’s role in bringing about today’s climate crisis. James Gustave Speth, tapped by the plaintiffs as one of twenty-one preeminent experts in their climate case, analyzes how administrations from Carter to Trump—despite having information about the impending climate crisis and the connection to fossil fuels—continued aggressive support of a fossil fuel based energy system. What did the federal government know and when did it know it? Speth asks, echoing another famous cover-up. What did the federal government actively do and what did it fail to do? They Knew (an updated version of the Expert Report Speth prepared for the lawsuit) presents the most definitive indictment yet of the US government’s role in the climate crisis.

“A rousing condemnation of a system bent on short-term gain against long-term health.” —Kirkus Reviews

The Politics of Rights of Nature: Strategies for Building a More Sustainable Future by Craig M. Kauffman and Pamela L. Martin

"The Politics of Rights of Nature"

With the window of opportunity to take meaningful action on climate change and mass extinction closing, a growing number of communities, organizations, and governments around the world are calling for Rights of Nature (RoN) to be legally recognized. RoN advocates are creating new laws that recognize natural ecosystems as subjects with inherent rights, and appealing to courts to protect those rights. Going beyond theory and philosophy, in this book Craig Kauffman and Pamela Martin analyze the politics behind the creation and implementation of these laws, as well as the effects of the laws on the politics of sustainable development. As they analyze efforts to use RoN as a tool for constructing more ecocentric sustainable development, capable of achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development goal of living “in harmony with Nature,” Kauffman and Martin show how RoN jurisprudence evolves through experimentation and reshapes the debates surrounding sustainable development.

“A thoughtful, incisive analysis of one of the most extraordinary legal revolutions of our era, the extension of rights to nature. In light of the global environmental crisis, timely and essential.” —Dr. David Boyd, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment; author of The Rights of Nature

Red Lines: Political Cartoons and the Struggle against Censorship by Cherian George and Sonny Liew

"Red Lines"

Why do the powerful feel so threatened by political cartoons? Cartoons don’t tell secrets or move markets. Yet, as Cherian George and Sonny Liew show us in Red Lines, cartoonists have been harassed, trolled, sued, fired, jailed, attacked, and assassinated for their insolence. The robustness of political cartooning—one of the most elemental forms of political speech—says something about the health of democracy. In a lively graphic narrative—illustrated by Liew, himself a prize-winning cartoonist—Red Lines crisscrosses the globe to feel the pulse of a vocation under attack.

“This brilliant tribute to political cartoons is not only a visual feast, but also an in-depth treatise on contemporary threats to freedom of expression posed by governments, corporations, and grassroots forces ranging from religious extremists to well-meaning champions of social justice.” —Nadine Strossen, John Marshall Harlan II Professor of Law Emerita, New York Law School; President, American Civil Liberties Union (1991–2008)

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader.

Hate Speech by Caitlin Ring Carlson

"Hate Speech"

Hate speech can happen anywhere—in Charlottesville, Virginia, where young men in khakis shouted, “Jews will not replace us”; in Myanmar, where the military used Facebook to target the Muslim Rohingya; in Capetown, South Africa, where a pastor called on ISIS to rid South Africa of the “homosexual curse.” In person or online, people wield language to attack others for their race, national origin, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability, or other aspects of identity. This volume in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series examines hate speech: what it is, and is not; its history; and efforts to address it.

“Carlson presents a compelling view of a problem that seems to have no good answer and yet she provides suggestions for methods that might help to end the easy spread of hate speech in media and online.” —Shelf Awareness

Read an interview with the author on the MIT Press Reader.

Alternatives to Multilateralism: New Forms of Social and Environmental Governance by Lena Partzsch

"Alternatives to Multilateralism"

The effects of globalization on governance are complex and uncertain. As markets integrate, governments have become increasingly hesitant to enforce regulations inside their own jurisdictions. At the same time, multilateralism has proven unsuccessful in coordinating states’ responses to global challenges. In this book, Lena Partzsch describes alternatives to multilateralism, offering analyses and case studies of emerging—alternative—forms of private, public, and hybrid social and environmental regulation. In doing so, she offers a unique overview of cutting-edge approaches to global governance.

“Ambitious in scope, uncompromising in depth, Partzsch offers a sophisticated, timely investigation of the power struggles and ethical debates shaping transformations in contemporary supply chain governance.” —Kate Macdonald, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Melbourne

The Monopoly of Man by Anna Kuliscioff

"The Monopoly of Man"

Anna Kuliscioff (c. 1854–1925) was a prominent figure in the revolutionary politics of her era, advocating for socialism and feminism. One of the founding members of the Italian Socialist Party, she actively contributed to the late-nineteenth-century flourishing of the Socialist International and the emergence of Italian socialism. For the last decades of her life, Kuliscioff’s public militancy revolved around the “woman question.” She viewed feminism through the lens of class struggle, addressing the double exploitation of women—in the workplace and at home. Kuliscioff fought a twofold battle: as a socialist, she unmasked the sexism of her colleagues; as a feminist, she criticized liberal-bourgeois feminism. In this key text, she makes her case for a socialist feminism.

“’Woman is neither superior nor inferior; she is what she is.’ A crucial text for understanding the roots of Italian feminism both in its relation with the socialist tradition and in its transcendence of it.” —Ida Dominijanni, former columnist at Il Manifesto newspaper and member of the Diotima community of women philosophers in Verona

Read an excerpt from the book on the MIT Press Reader.

The Divide: How Fanatical Certitude Is Destroying Democracy by Taylor Dotson

"The Divide"

In The Divide, Taylor Dotson argues provocatively that what drives political polarization is not our disregard for facts in a post-truth era, but rather our obsession with truth. The idea that some undeniable truth will make politics unnecessary, Dotson says, is damaging democracy. We think that appealing to facts, or common sense, or nature, or the market will resolve political disputes. We view our opponents as ignorant, corrupt, or brainwashed. Dotson argues that we don’t need to agree with everyone, or force everyone to agree with us; we just need to be civil enough to practice effective politics.

“A sharp portrait of our deeply fractured political system…An important demonstration that to thrive—indeed, to survive—our fissured democracy must be far more democratic…his arguments are cogent, his optimism profound.” —Kirkus Reviews

Dubcon: Fanfiction, Power, and Sexual Consent by Milena Popova


Sexual consent is—at best—a contested topic in Western societies and cultures. The #MeToo movement has brought public attention to issues of sexual consent, revealing the endemic nature of sexual violence. Feminist academic approaches to sexual violence and consent are diverse and multidisciplinary—and yet consent itself is significantly undertheorized. In Dubcon, Milena Popova points to a community that has been considering issues of sex, power, and consent for many years: writers and readers of fanfiction. Their nuanced engagement with sexual consent, Popova argues, can shed light on these issues in ways not available to either academia or journalism.

Dubcon is a cracking read and an important contribution to current considerations of consent.” —Meg-John Barker, author of Sexuality: A Graphic Guide, Mediated Intimacy, and Enjoy Sex (How, When and IF You Want To)

Featured Journal: International Security

"International Security"

International Security, the #1 journal in International Relations based on 2019 impact factor, publishes lucid, well-documented essays on the full range of contemporary security issues. Its articles address traditional topics of war and peace, as well as more recent dimensions of security, including environmental, demographic, and humanitarian issues, transnational networks, and emerging technologies. The journal has defined the debate on US national security policy and set the agenda for scholarship on international security affairs for more than forty years. International Security values scholarship that challenges the conventional wisdom, examines policy, engages theory, illuminates history, and discovers new trends. International Security is published by the MIT Press, and sponsored and edited by the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University.

Explore more of the MIT Press’s books on social sciences