Loïc Wacquant

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Loïc Wacquant
Loïc Wacquant in Berlin, June 2009.png
Born (1960-08-26) August 26, 1960 (age 61)
Other namesLoïc J. D. Wacquant
Academic background
Alma materUniversity of Chicago (Ph.D., 1994)
ThesisUrban outcasts: Color, class, and place in two advanced societies[1] (1994)
Doctoral advisorWilliam Julius Wilson, George Steinmetz, Moishe Postone[2]
InfluencesPierre Bourdieu
Academic work
Sub-disciplineUrban sociology
InstitutionsUniversity of California, Berkeley
Main interestsRace, Incarceration, Ghettos[3]

Loïc J. D. Wacquant (French: [lo'ik va'kɑ̃];[4] born 1960) is a sociologist and social anthropologist, specializing in urban sociology, urban poverty, racial inequality, the body, social theory and ethnography.

Wacquant is currently a Professor of Sociology and Research Associate at the Earl Warren Legal Institute, University of California, Berkeley, where he is also affiliated with the Program in Medical Anthropology and the Center for Urban Ethnography, and Researcher at the 'Centre de sociologie européenne' in Paris. He has been a member of the Harvard Society of Fellows, a MacArthur Prize Fellow, and has won numerous grants including the Fletcher Foundation Fellowship and the Lewis Coser Award of the American Sociological Association.

Career and education[edit]

Wacquant was born and grew up in Montpellier in southern France, and he received his training in economics and sociology in France and the United States. He was a student and close collaborator of Pierre Bourdieu. He also worked closely with William Julius Wilson at the University of Chicago, where he received his PhD in sociology in 1994. Wacquant has published more than a hundred articles in journals of sociology, anthropology, urban studies, social theory and philosophy. He is also co-founder and editor of the interdisciplinary journal Ethnography as well as a collaborator of Le Monde Diplomatique. His primary research has been conducted in the ghettos of South Chicago, in the banlieues of Paris, and in jails of the United States and Brazil.


Wacquant's work explores and links together diverse areas of research on the human body, urban inequality, ghettoization, and the development of punishment as an institution aimed at poor and stigmatized populations. His interest in these topics stems from his experience in the black ghetto as a graduate student at the University of Chicago in the mid-1980s. Commenting on this experience in The New York Times in 2003, he said "I had never seen such scenes of desolation. I remember thinking: It's like Beirut. Or Dresden after the war. It was really a shock."[5] His intellectual trajectory and interests are dissected in the article "The Body, the Ghetto, and the Penal State" (2008)[6]

In his work, "Deadly symbiosis: when ghetto and prison meet and mesh" in Punishment and Society 3(1) (pp 95–134), he offers a "middle-range" theory, relevant mainly to American racism against blacks in contemporary society. According to Wacquant, African-Americans now live "in the first prison society of history" (p. 121). The 'hyperghetto' constitutes the fourth stage in the development of 'peculiar institutions', following (sequentially) slavery, Jim Crow, and the early ghettos. According to him, the ghetto and the prison are for all practical purposes indistinguishable, reinforcing each other to ensure the exclusion of African-Americans from general society, with governmental encouragement. As Wacquant vividly characterizes it, the prison should be viewed as a "judicial ghetto" and the ghetto as an "extrajudicial prison". Taken together, these constitute part of a "carceral continuum". To understand this concept, Wacquant argues for a single analytical frame unifying expansive "prisonfare" and attenuating workfare, resulting in a deepening marginalisation and social and political subordination of stigmatized and defamed "surplus" populations. Inspired by Bourdieu, Wacquant analyzes the structural constraints and consequences, and, like Bourdieu, endeavours to provide a more nuanced analysis than, for example, a reductionist Marxian economic analysis (cf. Rusche and Kirchheimer's Punishment and Social Structure, referenced by Wacquant in his Punishing the Poor (2009)).

The increasing penalization of poverty is a response to social insecurity; a result of public policy that weds the "invisible hand" of the market to the "iron fist" of the penal state.

—Loïc Wacquant[7]

The ghetto and the prison are now locked in a whirlpool, when it is no longer clear which is the egg and which is the chicken: the two look the same and have the same function (p. 115). The life in the ghetto almost necessarily leads to more criminal behavior, yet Wacquant presents statistics that show that the distribution of crime between black and white has not changed. Instead he shows that a black, young, man is now "equated with 'probable cause' justifying the arrest" (p. 117). And in the prisons, a black culture is being reinforced by "professional" inmates, a culture which later affects the street.

In his book Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer, Wacquant denounces popular mainstream conceptions of the underclass and argues that the boxing gym is one of the many institutions that is contained within, and opposed to, the ghetto. He also explores, through an account of his own experiences as an apprentice boxer in a black ghetto of Chicago, the elaborate process by which the "body capital" of these athletes is formed and managed, and in doing so, building upon the work of his mentor Pierre Bourdieu, he argues for the development of a 'carnal sociology'.


  • Bourdieu, Pierre and Wacquant, Loïc (1992) An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Wacquant, Loïc (1999) Penal 'common sense' comes to Europe - US exports zero tolerance April 1999 Le Monde Diplomatique. (original french version, ita version)
  • Wacquant, Loïc (November 1999) Les Prisons de la misere. Paris: Editions Raisons d'agir. ISBN 9782912107077
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2001) 'Deadly symbiosis: When ghetto and prison meet and mesh'. Punishment & Society, 3(1): 95-133.
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2004) Body and Soul: Ethnographic Notebooks of An Apprentice-Boxer. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195168356
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2005) Pierre Bourdieu and Democratic Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 9780745634876
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2008) Urban Outcasts: A Comparative Sociology of Advanced Marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 9780745631240
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2009) Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity. Durham: Duke University Press. ISBN 9780822344049
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2009) Prisons of Poverty (expanded edition). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 9780816639007
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2009) Deadly Symbiosis: Race and the Rise of Neoliberal Penality. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 0745631223
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2014). "Marginality, ethnicity and penality in the neo-liberal city: an analytic cartography" (PDF). Ethnic and Racial Studies. 37 (10): 1687–1711. CiteSeerX doi:10.1080/01419870.2014.931991. S2CID 144879355. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-10.
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2022) Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Expanded anniversary edition. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190465698
  • Wacquant, Loïc (2022) The Invention of the "Underclass": A Study in the Politics of Knowledge. Cambridge: Polity Press. ISBN 978-1509552177


  1. ^ Wacquant, Loïc J.D. (1994). Urban outcasts: Color, class, and place in two advanced societies (Ph.D.). University of Chicago. OCLC 30529594.
  2. ^ Wacquant 1994, p. xxii.
  3. ^ Goett, Jennifer (2016). "Research Interests". Loïc Wacquant. Archived from the original on March 18, 2017. Retrieved January 5, 2017.
  4. ^ "How to pronounce Loïc Wacquant". Forvo.com. June 21, 2014. Retrieved January 18, 2017.
  5. ^ Emily Eakin (November 8, 2003). A Professor Who Refuses To Pull His Punches. The New York Times. Retrieved January 16, 2015.
  6. ^ Wacquant, Loïc (June 2007), "The Body, the Ghetto and the Penal State", Qualitative Sociology, 32: 101–129, doi:10.1007/s11133-008-9112-2, S2CID 53955994
  7. ^ Loïc Wacquant (August 1, 2011). The punitive regulation of poverty in the neoliberal age. openDemocracy.net. Retrieved January 6, 2015.

External links[edit]