Class, Race, and Hyperincarceration in Revanchist America (Republication)

  • Loïc WacquantEmail author


The single greatest political transformation of the post-Civil Rights era in America is the joint rolling back of the stingy social state and rolling out of the gargantuan penal state that have remade the country’s stratification, cities, and civic culture, and are recasting the very character of “blackness” itself. Together, these two concurrent and convergent thrusts have effectively redrawn the perimeter, mission, and modalities of action of public authority when it turns to managing the deprived and stigmatized populations stuck at the bottom of the class, ethnic, and urban hierarchies. The concomitant downsizing of the welfare wing and upsizing of the justice wing of the American state have not been driven by trends in poverty and crime but fueled by a politics of resentment toward categories deemed undeserving and unruly, chief among them the public aid recipients and street criminals framed as the two demonic figureheads of the black “underclass” that came to dominate the journalistic, scholarly, and policy debate on the plight of America’s urban poor in the revanchist decades that digested the civil disorders of the 1960s and the stagflation of the 1970s and witnessed the biggest carceral boom in world history. In this article, I show that the stupendous expansion and intensification of the activities of the American police, criminal courts, and prisons over the past 30 years have been finely targeted, first by class, second by race, and third by place, leading not to mass incarceration but to the hyperincarceration of (sub)proletarian black men from the imploding ghetto. This triple selectivity reveals that the building of the hyperactive and hypertrophic penal state that has made the US world champion in incarceration is at once a delayed reaction to the Civil Rights movement and the ghetto riots of the mid-1960s and a disciplinary instrument unfurled to foster the neoliberal revolution by helping to impose insecure labor as the normal horizon of work for the unskilled fractions of the postindustrial laboring class. The double coupling of the prison with the dilapidated hyperghetto, on the one side, and with supervisory workfare, on the other, is not a moral dilemma but a political quandary calling for an expanded analysis of the nexus of class inequality, ethnic stigma, and the state in the age of social insecurity. To reverse the racialized penalization of poverty in the crumbling inner city requires a different policy response than mass incarceration would and calls for an analysis of the political obstacles to this response, which must go beyond “trickle-down” penal reform to encompass the multifaceted role of the state in producing and entrenching marginality.


Hyperincarceration Hyperghetto Class Race Penal state 


  1. Austin, J., & Todd, R. C. (2007). Reducing mass incarceration: Implications of the iron law of prison populations. Harvard Law & Policy Review, 3, 307–324.Google Scholar
  2. Barker, V. (2009). The politics of imprisonment: How the democratic process shapes the way America punishes offenders. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Christianson, S. (1998). With liberty for some: Five hundred years of imprisonment in America. Boston: Northeastern University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Clear, T. R. (2007). Imprisoning communities: How mass incarceration makes disadvantaged neighborhood worse. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Comfort, M. (2007). Punishment beyond the legal offender. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 3, 271–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Comfort, M. (2008). Doing time together: Love and family in the shadow of the prison. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Dünkel, F., & Snacken, S. (2005). Les prisons en Europe. Paris: L’Harmattan.Google Scholar
  8. Flamm, M. W. (2005). Law and order: Street crime, civil unrest, and the crisis of liberalism in the 1960s. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Frampton, M. L., Haney-López, I., & Simon, J. (Eds.). (2008). After the War on crime: Race, democracy, and a new reconstruction. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
  10. Garland, D. (Ed.). (2001). Mass imprisonment: Social causes and consequences. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  11. Gilens, M. (1999). Why Americans hate welfare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gottschalk, M. (2005). Dismantling the carceral state: The future of penal policy reform. Texas Law Review, 84, 1693–1750.Google Scholar
  13. Gottschalk, M. (2006). The prison and the gallows: The politics of mass incarceration in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Greenberg, D. F., & West, V. (2001). State prison populations and their growth, 1971–1991. Criminology, 39(1), 615–654.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Harcourt, B. (2006). From the asylum to the prison: Rethinking the incarceration revolution. Texas Law Review, 84, 1751–1786.Google Scholar
  16. Hasenfeld, Y. (1972). People processing organizations: An exchange approach. American Sociological Review, 37(3), 256–263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hirschfield, P. J. (2008). Preparing for prison? The criminalization of school discipline in the USA. Theoretical Criminology, 12(1), 79–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Irwin, J. (1980). Prisons in turmoil. Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  19. Irwin, J. (1985). The jail: Managing the underclass. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  20. Irwin, J. (2009). Lifers: Seeking redemption in prison. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  21. Jacobs, D., & Carmichael, J. T. (2001). Politics of punishment across time and space: A pooled time-series analysis of imprisonment rates. Social Forces, 80(1), 61–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Jacobson, M. (2005). Downsizing prisons: How to reduce crime and end mass incarceration. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Jean, J. (1995). Mettre fin à l’incarcération de masse des toxicomanes. Esprit, 10, 130–131.Google Scholar
  24. Katz, M. B. (Ed.). (1995). The “Underclass” debate: Views from history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Lipsey, M. W., & Cullen, F. T. (2007). The effectiveness of correctional rehabilitation: A review of systematic reviews. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 3, 297–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Lis, C., & Soly, H. (1979). Poverty and capitalism in pre-industrial Europe. Atlantic Highlands: Humanities Press.Google Scholar
  27. Loury, G. C. (2008). Race, incarceration and American values. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Marion, N. E., & Oliver, W. M. (2009). Congress, crime, and budgetary responsiveness: A study in symbolic politics. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 20(2), 115–135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Maruna, S. (2001). Making good: How ex-convicts reform and rebuild their lives. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mauer, M., & the Sentencing Project. (2006). Race to incarcerate. New York: Free Press, revised and updated edition.Google Scholar
  31. Miller, L. L. (2008). The perils of federalism: Race, poverty, and the politics of crime control. New York: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Neier, A. (1995). Confining dissent: The political prison. In N. Morris & D. Rothman (Eds.), The Oxford history of prison: The practice of punishment in western society (pp. 350–380). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. O’Connor, A. (2002). Poverty knowledge: Social science, social policy, and the poor in twentieth-century U.S. history. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Olivares, K. M., Burton, V. S., & Cullen, F. T. (1996). Collateral consequences of a felony conviction: A national study of state legal codes ten year later. Federal Probation, 60(3), 10–17.Google Scholar
  35. Pager, D. (2007). Marked: Race, crime, and finding work in an era of mass incarceration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Pattillo, M. (2008). Investing in poor black neighborhoods “As Is.”. In M. Turner, S. Popkin, & L. Rawlings (Eds.), Legacy of racial discrimination and segregation in public housing (pp. 31–46). Washington, DC: Urban Institute.Google Scholar
  37. Pattillo-McCoy, M. (1999). Black picket fences: Privilege and peril among the black middle class. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  38. Petersilia, J. (2003). When prisoners come home: Parole and prisoner reentry. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Piven, F. F., & Cloward, R. A. (1971). Regulating the poor: The functions of public welfare. New York: Vintage. expanded edition 1993.Google Scholar
  40. Roberts, D. (2004). The social and moral cost of mass incarceration in African American Communities. Stanford Law Review, 56(5), 1271–1305.Google Scholar
  41. Roberts, D. E. (2000). Criminal justice and black families: The collateral damage of over-enforcement. U.C. Davis Law Review, 34, 1005–1028.Google Scholar
  42. Rothman, D. (1971). The discovery of the asylum: Social order and disorder in the New Republic. New York: Aldine.Google Scholar
  43. Rusche, G., & Kirscheimer, O. ([1939] 2003). Punishment and social structure. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Press.Google Scholar
  44. Schram, S. F., Soss, J., & Fording, R. C. (Eds.). (2005). Race and the politics of welfare reform. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  45. Smith, K. B. (2004). The politics of punishment: Evaluating political explanations of incarceration rates. The Journal of Politics, 66(3), 925–938.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Smith, N. (1996). The new urban frontier: Gentrification and the revanchist city. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  47. Spierenburg, P. (1991). The prison experience: Disciplinary institutions and their inmates in early modern Europe. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Sykes, G. (1958). The society of captives: A study in a maximum security prison. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Tewksbury, R., & Lees, M. B. (2006). Sex offenders on campus: University-based sex offender registries and the collateral consequences of registration. Federal Probation, 70(3), 50–57.Google Scholar
  50. Thacher, D. (2008). The rise of criminal background screening in rental housing. Law & Social Inquiry, 31(1), 5–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Tonry, M. (1995). Malign neglect: Race, class, and punishment in America. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  52. Tonry, M. (2000). Fragmentation of sentencing and corrections in America. Alternatives to Incarceration, 6(2), 9–13.Google Scholar
  53. Tonry, M. (Ed.). (2001). Penal reform in overcrowded times. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Tonry, M., & Melewski, M. (2008). The malign effects of drug and crime control policies on black Americans. Crime & Justice, 37, 1–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Wacquant, L. (2001). Deadly symbiosis: When Ghetto and prison meet and mesh. Punishment & Society, 3(1), 95–133.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Wacquant, L. (2005). Race as civic felony. International Social Science Journal, 181, 127–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Wacquant, L. (2008). Urban outcasts: A comparative sociology of advanced marginality. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  58. Wacquant, L. ([2004] 2009). Punishing the poor: The new government of social insecurity. Durham: Duke University Press (“Politics, Culture, and History” series).Google Scholar
  59. Wacquant, L. (2010a). Deadly symbiosis: Race and the rise of the penal state. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  60. Wacquant, L. (2010b). Crafting the neoliberal state: Workfare, prisonfare and social insecurity. Sociological Forum, 25(2), 197–220.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Western, B. (2006). Punishment and inequality in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  62. Wilson, W. J. (1996). When work disappears: The world of the new urban poor. New York: Knopf.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Wright, P., & Herivel, T. (Eds.). (2003). Prison Nation: The warehousing of America’s poor. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  64. Zimring, F. E., & Hawkins, G. (1991). The scale of imprisonment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  65. Zimring, F. E., & Johnson, D. T. (2006). Public opinion and the governance of punishment in democratic political systems. The Annal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 605, 265–280.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA

Personalised recommendations