Bernard Harcourt

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Bernard E. Harcourt (born in 1963[1]) is a critical theorist with a specialization in the area of punishment and political economy. He is the Julius Kreeger Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and an author. He also founded and edits a critical journal called The Carceral Notebooks.


Harcourt was raised in New York City and attended the Lycée Français de New York. He earned his bachelor's degree in political theory at Princeton University studying under Sheldon S. Wolin. He then attended Harvard Law School where he earned his J.D. in 1989. He later returned to Harvard University to pursue Ph.D. studies in political science, receiving his Ph.D. in June 2000. At Harvard, the chair of Harcourt's dissertation committee was Seyla Benhabib, and he also studied extensively with Richard Tuck and Bonnie Honig.


Harcourt clerked for the Honorable Charles S. Haight, Jr., of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. From 1990 to 1994, Harcourt lived in Montgomery, Alabama and represented death row inmates on direct appeal, in state post-conviction, in federal habeas corpus, and at retrial. He practiced at the Equal Justice Initiative (formerly known as the Alabama Capital Representation Resource Center) and continues to represent Alabama death row inmates pro bono.

Harcourt was appointed Senior Fellow in the Graduate Program at Harvard Law School from 1995 to 1997. During that time, he also served on human rights missions to South Africa and Guatemala. He then pursued Ph.D. studies in political theory in the Government Department at Harvard University.

Harcourt was on the law faculty of the University of Arizona College 1998 to 2002, with a courtesy appointment in the Philosophy Department. He was a visiting professor at Harvard Law School during the 2001-2002 academic year, and at New York University School of Law in the Fall of 2002. He was a visiting professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris in 2007-2008, at the University of Paris X—Nanterre in January through March 2008, and at the Paul Cézanne University Aix-Marseille III in December 2008. He was appointed Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Criminology at the University of Chicago Law School in 2007, where he has taught since 2003. He was appointed Professor of Political Science in 2009. He also serves as Director of the Center for Studies in Criminal Justice. Prof. Bernard Harcourt has been elected in June 2013 to a chair at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and will become a permanent visitor at the research institution.[2]


His writings focus on issues of punishment and political economy from a critical empirical and social theoretic perspective. Most recently he wrote The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (Harvard University Press, 2011). He is the co-editor with Fabienne Brion of Michel Foucault's 1981 Louvain lectures, Mal faire, dire vrai. Fonction de l'aveu en justice (forthcoming in French with Presses Universitaires de Louvain and in English with Chicago University Press).

He has also written on the actuarial turn in policing and punishment in Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age (U of Chicago P, 2007) and on youth gun-carrying in Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy (U of Chicago P, 2005).

In Language of the Gun, Harcourt develops a post-structuralist theory of social science. He argues that social scientists need to embrace the ethical choices that they make when they interpret data. He argues for a more transparent and open discussion of those ethical choices, which, he argues, are embedded in the methodological and interpretive decisions that researchers necessarily make in the course of their research.

Harcourt's most recent book is The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (Harvard UP, 2011) that explores the paradoxical relationship between laissez faire and mass incarceration. Harcourt is now conducting research on the relationship between prison and asylum populations in two new papers on the topic. He has also been guest blogging about the topic on The Volokh Conspiracy.

External links[edit]

Personal website:

Homepage at the University of Chicago Law School:

University of Chicago Experts:

Social Science Research Network:

Books and edited volumes[edit]

2011 - The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order, Harvard University Press

2007 - Against Prediction: Punishing and Policing in an Actuarial Age. University of Chicago Press

2006 - L'illusion de l'ordre: Incivilités et violences urbaines: tolérance zéro?, Éditions Descartes

2005 - Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy, University of Chicago Press

2005/6 – Carceral Notebooks (editor), Vol. 1-2

2003 - Guns, Crime and Punishment in America (editor), New York University Press

2001 - Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing, Harvard University


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