Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity

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Duke University Press, May 22, 2009 - Social Science - 408 pages
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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 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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User Review  - wonderperson - LibraryThing

A disturbing meticulously argued piece charting the rise of Neo Liberal Government of Insecurity for the politically disenfranchised working classes who are effectively politically abandoned and made subject to rigorous surveillance and regulation under the operations of hyperfluid Capital. Read full review

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This writing brings truth. It is a truth that brings a shadowed revelation, a revelation nonetheless. It provides words that proves the hour for redemption remains misguided. It adds emphasis to that which should be considered. It influences thought toward what remains uncorrected, what is long overdue, and that which awaits relegation. Its depth of expression provides enough emphasis for one to come to knowing even deeper thought is needed to find correction enough to fix many of society's injurious matters. It inspires one to automatically correlate and parallel the unchanged things in society that continually move society along the scale of minimum advancement, causing one to eternally consider fixes.  


Tables and Figures
America as Living Laboratory of the Neoliberal Future
1 Social Insecurity and the Punitive Upsurge
Poverty of the Social State
Grandeur of the Penal State
Privileged Targets
European Declinations
A Sketch of the Neoliberal State

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About the author (2009)

Loïc Wacquant is Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Researcher at the Centre de sociologie européenne, 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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