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Keywords:

  • Bourdieu;
  • citizenship;
  • neoliberalism;
  • prison;
  • poverty;
  • state;
  • welfare;
  • workfare

In Punishing the Poor, I show that the ascent of the penal state in the United States and other advanced societies over the past quarter-century is a response to rising social insecurity, not criminal insecurity; that changes in welfare and justice policies are interlinked, as restrictive “workfare” and expansive “prisonfare” are coupled into a single organizational contraption to discipline the precarious fractions of the postindustrial working class; and that a diligent carceral system is not a deviation from, but a constituent component of, the neoliberal Leviathan. In this article, I draw out the theoretical implications of this diagnosis of the emerging government of social insecurity. I deploy Bourdieu’s concept of “bureaucratic field” to revise Piven and Cloward’s classic thesis on the regulation of poverty via public assistance, and contrast the model of penalization as technique for the management of urban marginality to Michel Foucault’s vision of the “disciplinary society,” David Garland’s account of the “culture of control,” and David Harvey’s characterization of neoliberal politics. Against the thin economic conception of neoliberalism as market rule, I propose a thick sociological specification entailing supervisory workfare, a proactive penal state, and the cultural trope of “individual responsibility.” This suggests that we must theorize the prison not as a technical implement for law enforcement, but as a core political capacity whose selective and aggressive deployment in the lower regions of social space violates the ideals of democratic citizenship.