Punishing the Poor

The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity

Loïc Wacquant author

Format: Paperback

Publisher: Duke University Press

Published: 22nd May '09



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A sociologist explains how over the past two decades neoliberal societies have sought to control the poor through a combination of penal sanction and welfare supervision

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 spawned 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 “street thug,” 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 advent 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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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. Loïc 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. Loïc 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
“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: The Functions of Public Welfare
Punishing the Poor makes a novel and important contribution to welfare state scholarship, along with a host of disciplines and professions concerned with the plight of the urban poor. It should be read carefully and intentionally in graduate courses, in advanced undergraduate seminars, and among scholarly and professional circles alike.” -- Rueben Miller * Journal of Poverty *
“An intellectual tour de force of how the American state’s interaction with citizens of colour is non-random and, for many African Americans, harmful.” -- Desmond King * British Journal of Criminology *
“The book is often a good read. Wacquant is eclectic and smart. His writing is always lively. His argument is a very interesting one. . . . [Waquant] is brilliant and fascinating. His leaps of metaphor and his daring allusions are a continuous and often delightful spectacle. His passion ad commitment are laudable.” -- Andrew Abbott * American Journal of Sociology *
“[T]he story Wacquant tells is deeply disturbing. . . . Punishing the Poor retains a certain power, reminding us of the hypermodern yet archaic world of prisons still in our midst.” -- Kim Phillips-Fein * Bookforum *
“Amid a burgeoning field of both scholarly analysis and policy prescription, few writers can match the eloquence and passion with which Loïc Wacquant has identified, characterized and criticized the rise and rise of punishment. Combining a capacious and imaginative intellectual range with an unusual rhetorical gift, he has made a tremendous contribution to our awareness of these developments and of their implications, particularly for the poor and for other socially marginal groups. . . . [Punishing the Poor is] one of the most eloquent, and disturbing, assessments of the phenomenon of penal excess in the USA, and one which his communicative skills have made accessible to a wide audience. This in itself counts as a substantial contribution to an intellectually intriguing, politically pressing, and ethically troubling field.” -- Nicola Lacey * British Journal of Sociology *
“I wish I could write like Loïc Wacquant. Not only in terms of the volume of published material, but also in terms of the quality of that rich output: how many articles and books in a relatively short period of time and on a variety of topics? Wacquant has made a massive contribution to social science, and has extremely rare qualities indeed. Passion and the power of persuasion drive his text repeatedly – sentence after sentence, paragraph after paragraph of layered arguments on the materialist anatomies of post-Fordist society, its urban forms, and contradictions.” -- Martin Jones * Criminology and Criminal Justice *
“Loïc Wacquant is probably the most theoretically provocative commentator writing on urban marginality today. Punishing the Poor further solidifies that reputation. . . . Punishing the Poor is an important book. It should be read—and debated.”
-- Sanford F. Schram * Social Service Review *
“Loïc Wacquant’s book – part of a trilogy exploring changing social and political formations in the United States and beyond – presents a powerful and cogent analysis of how social insecurity is produced and governed. Its core argument addresses the changing state formations through which the poor are being managed, highlighting the double movement towards ‘prisonfare’ and ‘workfare.’ He traces the rise of the penal state in the United States, but argues that this needs to be seen as interwoven with the transformation of welfare into workfare. For me, this is a powerful and important claim, not least because penality and welfare are typically studied by different groups of people. Grasping how the state’s different apparatuses are being reformed typically falls outside conventional disciplinary perspectives. I am grateful for Wacquant’s intellectual insistence on, and rich empirical demonstration of, the importance of this way of thinking.” -- John Clarke * Social Forces *
“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.” -- Louise Hardwick * Times Higher Education *
“Wacquant weaves together the narratives of American peculiarity and the global trends of neo-liberalism, and the amount of empirical detail demands that his arguments be taken seriously. His claim that ‘poor relief ’ has taken on a new meaning, relief not to the poor, but from the poor, ‘disappearing’ them from shrinking welfare rolls to expanding carceral dungeons, sums up the thesis of this timely and compelling book.”
-- Barbara Hudson * British Journal of Criminology *
“Wacquant’s comprehensive analysis proves, once again, not only that punishment is about more than crime, but also that criminology is too important to be left to criminologists. . . . Any attempt to build a strategy towards a political consensus for reducing needless punishment would be immensely strengthened by a careful reading of Wacquant’s work.” -- David Nelken * Criminology and Criminal Justice *

ISBN: 9780822344223

Dimensions: unknown

Weight: 544g

408 pages