Get access

Race as civic felony


  • *This article is the abridged version of a talk by the same title presented to the Colloquium on Inequality and Culture of Department of Sociology, Princeton University, on 1st March 2004, prepared with the editorial counsel of Daniel Sabbagh. It draws on chapter 4 of my book Deadly Symbiosis: Race and the Rise of Neoliberal Penality (Cambridge, Polity Press, in press). I am grateful to Bruce Western for his invitation and to the colloquium participants for their patient attention and vigorous questioning.

  • Loïc Wacquant is Distinguished University Professor of Sociology and Anthropology at the New School for Social Research, Professor of Sociology at the University of California, and a Researcher at the Center for European Sociology in Paris. His interests comprise comparative urban marginality, the penal state, bodily crafts, social theory, and the politics of reason. His recent books include Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer (2004) and Deadly Symbiosis: Race and the Rise of Neoliberal Penality (2005).


The highly particular US conception of “race” is a direct outcome of the unique status of the United States as a slaveholding republic. While slavery itself has long been abolished, its dynamics were replicated in Jim Crow segregation and later in the urban ghetto. Henceforth, another ‘peculiar institution’, born of the adjoining of the hyperghetto with the carceral system, is remoulding the social meaning and significance of ‘race’ in accordance with the dictates of the deregulated economy and the post-Keynesian state. For the first time in US history, the carceral system has become the main ‘race making’ machine. Its material stranglehold and classificatory activity have assumed a salience and reach that are wholly unprecedented in American history as well as unparalleled in any other society.