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The 23rd Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science Awarded to Amartya Sen

2017-10-02 by Michal Smrek

This weekend saw the awarding of the 23rd Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science, a prize that is deemed a Political Science equivalent of the Nobel Prizes. The prize is inspired by the legacy of Johan Skytte, Swedish nobleman and educator, who in 1622 founded what is now the oldest professorship in Political Science. This year’s Prize was awarded to Professor Amartya Sen for his lifelong achievement that “combines insights into human vulnerability with knowledge about the potential of democratic political power to redress and relieve this deprivation.” The prize was awarded in a traditional Prize Award Ceremony held in Uppsala on September 30, 2017. Professor Sen has decided to donate the awarded 500.000 Swedish crowns to the Pratichi Trust in India and Bangladesh that he established to promote education and health care for girls.

The Prize Award day began with Prof. Sen’s visit to Rosendal’s high school in Uppsala where he met over 200 pupils and their teachers. This gymnasium offers a programme specialising in international development and the pupils were excited about the opportunity to meet one of their academic heroes. The questions raised by the pupils ranged from the purpose of foreign aid, role of health care in countries’ development to the perils of democratisation.
The Prize award ceremony began with a ceremonial wreath laying at the tomb of Johan Skytte in whose name the Prize is awarded. It then continued with the Prize Winner’s Lecture at Uppsala University’s Main Building. Here, Prof. Sen delivered a talk on the new dangers that democracy faces all over the world.
The ceremony was concluded with a traditional dinner party where more than 160 highly distinguished guests from academic, political as well as cultural fields gathered to celebrate Prof. Sen’s lifelong contribution to social sciences.
During her address to the Prize Winner, Professor Li Bennich-Björkman, the current holder of the Johan Skytte Professorship in Political Science and Eloquence, remarked:

Human beings who feel the sweetness of freedom stand up for themselves. Socially, culturally – and politicaly. The freedom to choose, not be chosen for and controlled, and to thereby express the uniqueness and individuality of human existence, is the essence of being human. No social scientist has emphasized that more compellingly and compassionately than Amartya Sen. When he defines development as freedom it is an argument with wide political implications. After Sen, it is still possible, but no longer easy, to treat political freedom as instrumental; something which could be disposed of if it does not lead to the “right” implications.


On behalf of the Skytte Foundation, we would like to once again congratulate Prof. Sen on this achievement and wish that he continues to inspire academics as well as practitioners all over the world.