Punishing the Poor
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Punishing the Poor : The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity

By (author) Loic Wacquant

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The punitive turn of penal policy in the United States after the acme of the Civil Rights movement responds, not to rising criminal insecurity, but to the social insecurity generated by the fragmentation of wage labor and the shakeup of the ethnoracial hierarchy. It partakes of a broader reconstruction of the state wedding restrictive "workfare" and expansive "prisonfare" under a philosophy of moral behaviorism. This paternalist program of penalization of poverty aims to curb the urban disorders wrought by economic deregulation and to impose precarious employment on the postindustrial proletariat. It also erects a garish theater of civic morality on whose stage political elites can orchestrate the public vituperation of deviant figures - the teenage "welfare mother," the ghetto "gang banger," and the roaming "sex predator" - and close the legitimacy deficit they suffer when they discard the established government mission of social and economic protection. By bringing developments in welfare and criminal justice into a single analytic framework attentive to both the instrumental and communicative moments of public policy, Punishing the Poor shows that the prison is not a mere technical implement for law enforcement but a core political institution. And it reveals that the capitalist revolution from above called neoliberalism entails, not the coming of "small government," but the building of an overgrown and intrusive penal state deeply injurious to the ideals of democratic citizenship.

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  • Paperback | 408 pages
  • 154.94 x 233.68 x 27.94mm | 566.99g
  • 01 Jul 2009
  • Duke University Press
  • North Carolina
  • English
  • black & white tables, figures
  • 082234422X
  • 9780822344223
  • 140,711

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Author Information

LoIc Wacquant is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Researcher at the Centre de sociologie europEenne, Paris. He is a MacArthur Foundation Fellow and recipient of the 2008 Lewis Coser Award of the American Sociological Association. His recent books include "Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality," "Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer," and" Pierre Bourdieu and Democratic Politics." He is a co-founder and editor of the interdisciplinary journal "Ethnography."

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Review quote

"This powerful book shows that America's harsh penal policies are of a piece with our harsh social policies and that both can be understood as a symbolic and material apparatus to control the marginal populations created by neoliberal globalization. A tour de force!"--Frances Fox Piven, co-author of Regulating the Poor "Punishing the Poor is an incisive and unflinching indictment of neoliberal state restructuring and poverty (mis)management. It brilliantly exposes structural and symbolic consonances between 'workfare' and 'prisonfare,' and between emergent, transnational policy orthodoxies in social and penal policy. Loic Wacquant delivers a trenchant, radical, and entirely compelling analysis."--Jamie Peck, author of Workfare States "This masterful treatment of contemporary punishment policies relocates the entire field within the political sweep of the twentieth-century ascendance of economic neoliberalism and the evisceration of the welfare state. Loic Wacquant skillfully weds materialist and symbolic approaches in the best tradition of Marx and radical criminology, on the one hand, and Durkheim and Bourdieu, on the other. This provocative book is the counter-manifesto to neoliberal penalty, a must-read for all students of criminal justice and citizenship."--Bernard E. Harcourt, author of Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age "Boldly conceived and carefully constructed the book details the grandeur of a penal state resourced by the plundering of the social one and dissects the attitudes that legitimate it in all its grandeur. Moreover, Wacquant not only chronicles the enthronement of the penal state in the US but also its imitative climb towards ascendancy in Western Europe...The cityscape he surveys is as ruptured and ill-lit as an urban earthquake, but his gaze is clear and steady...Urgent and timely, absorbing and alarming, Punishing the Poor should warn us that Britain's increasing dependence on our penal state and the accelerating erosion of our social state are one and the same thing, and may prove a disaster." TIMES HIGHER EDUCATION BOOK OF THE WEEK, Louise Hardwick, Times Higher Education, 6th August 2009 "Punishing the Poor retains a certain power, reminding us of the hypermodern yet archaic world of prisons still in our midst" bookforum.com, Sept 2009

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Back cover copy

"This masterful treatment of contemporary punishment policies relocates the entire field within the political sweep of the twentieth-century ascendance of economic neoliberalism and the evisceration of the welfare state. Loic Wacquant skillfully weds materialist and symbolic approaches in the best tradition of Marx and radical criminology, on the one hand, and Durkheim and Bourdieu, on the other. This provocative book is the counter-manifesto to neoliberal penality, a must-read for all students of criminal justice and citizenship."--Bernard E. Harcourt, author of "Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age"

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