Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 32, Issue 1, pp 101–129 | Cite as

The Body, the Ghetto and the Penal State

  • Loïc WacquantEmail author


This article dissects the author’s approach to ethnography, social theory, and the politics of knowledge through a dialogue retracing his intellectual trajectory and the analytic linkages between his inquiries into embodiment, comparative urban marginality and the penal state. It draws out the practical connections and epistemological rationale behind his main research projects, explicates the distinctive ways in which he deploys observational fieldwork in each of them, and examines the roles of intellectuals in advanced society in the era of hegemonic neoliberalism. Rejecting both Humean empiricism and neo-Kantian cognitivism, the author argues for the use of ethnography as an instrument of rupture and construction, the potency of carnal knowledge, the imperative of epistemic reflexivity, and the need to expand textual genres and styles so as to better capture the taste and ache of social action. In the public sphere, he proposes that social science can act as a solvent of doxa and a beacon casting light on latent properties and unnoticed trends in social transformations so as to disrupt and broaden civic debate.


ethnography theory epistemology reflexivity ghetto marginality penal state intellectuals politics of knowledge neoliberalism 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

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