Welcome to the personal homepage of Loïc Wacquant. I am a sociologist who tries to wed epistemology, ethnography, social theory, and comparison to capture the carnality of social existence; the structure, dynamics, and experience of urban marginality; the making of the penal state and the rise of neoliberalism; the specificity of ethnoracial domination and the predicament of the precariat. You will find on this site guides to my books, a selection of articles with PDFs roughly organized by theme; a sample of public lectures, debates, interviews and interventions in public discussion; information on the students I have supervised, the courses I teach, and musings on the activities of the Ethnographic Café.


For an overview of the inspiration, trajectory and foci of my work, read “Carnal Concepts in Action” (Thesis Eleven, 2023).

In early 2002, Oxford University Press published the expanded anniversary of Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer (with 140 pages of new text). The extended post-face explores “the making of” the study and explicates how I deployed Bourdieu’s signal concept of habitus as both topic and tool of inquiry on the way to formulating the tenets of “carnal sociology.” It also retraces the trials and tribulations of my gym mates in and out of the ring over the past thirty years and probes what they reveal about the economics of blood, masculinity, and love, and about the craft of sociology itself.

A companion book of historical photo-ethnography was published in September 2022 in France with La Découverte under the title Voyage au pays des boxeurs (Journey in the Land of Pugs). It features a carefully curated selection of 245 black-and-white pictures set into a sociological text of 40,000 words and enlivened by raw quotes from boxers, trainers, and assorted fight people encountered during my three-year sojourn among prizefighters on Chicago’s South Side in 1988-1991. It is an effort to fuse visual art, social history, and literary sociology inspired by James Agee and Walker Evans’s, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men  (1941).

Working on this book of photo-ethnography led me to dive in my boxing archives and to immerse myself again in my notes and interviews of the period. One product of this immersion is the article “Ruination in the Ring: Habitus in the Making of a Professional ‘Opponent’,” published in Ethnography (2022), on desire and domination in the workings of the pugilistic economy.

The Invention of the “Underclass”: A Study in the Politics of Knowledge (2022) is an exercise in epistemic reflexivity in the mold of Bachelard, Canguilhem, and Bourdieu. It charts the rise, metamorphoses, and fall of the racialized folk devil of the “underclass” in the long shadow of the ghetto riots of the 1960s. It draws out the implications of strange career of this academic-journalistic-policy myth for the social epistemology of dispossessed and dishonored categories. It uses this case study to uncover the springs of “lemming effects,” “conceptual speculative bubbles” and “turnkey problematics” in social science. It elaborates a set of criteria for forging robust analytic concepts and applies them to the vexed notion of “race.” This argument is further extended in an article on “Epistemic Bandwagons, Speculative Bubbles, and Turnkeys: Some Some lessons from the tale of the urban ‘underclass'” (Thesis Eleven, 2023).

Virtual Book Talk | The Invention of the ‘Underclass’: A Study in the Politics of Knowledge

On May 4, 2022, NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge hosted a virtual book talk on The Invention of the “Underclass” via zoom featuring historian Thomas Sugrue, political scientist Kimberley Johnson, and sociologist Neil Gross, moderated by Eric Klinenberg. You can see it there on Youtube.

The conclusion of Invention of the “Underclass” serves as launching pad for an article published in April 2022 by the New LeftReview, “Resolving the Trouble with ‘Race’,” that formulates a neo-Bourdieusian framework for the sociology of racial domination. For further developments see the symposium on my article “The Trap of ‘Racial Capitalism'” (forthcoming in Archives européennes de sociologie/European Journal of Sociology, with responses by Gurminder Bhambra, John Holmwood and Sanjay Subrahmanyam).

In 2023, Polity Press published my book Bourdieu in the City: Challenging Urban Theory, which offers a novel interpretation of Pierre Bourdieu through the trialectic of symbolic, social, and physical space. I propose to rethink “the urban” as the domain of the accumulation, diversification, and contestation of capitals, in the plural, and as the grounds for the commingling and collision of variegated habitus, which makes the city a central site and stake of historical struggles.

Working on this book led to writing “Rethinking the City with Bourdieu’s Trialectic” published in the journal City (2023).

Misère de l’ethnographie de la misère (The Poverty of the Ethnography of Poverty, published by Raisons d’agir Éditions, “Cours et travaux,” 2023) is a book of ethnographic epistemology, theory, and advocacy. It recapitulates the three ages of “urban ethnography” over a hundred years to extract its roots in a philosophy of knowledge and action characterized as “moral empiricism” that turns out to be profoundly anti-sociological. The book makes a plea for an enactive, structural and historicized ethnography that is at once more theoretical and more deeply embedded, socially and symbolically, and it warns against he trap of “ethnographism” and its five associated fallacies. It develops the Bourdieusian notion of “thick construction” over and against the two reigning models of ethnographic practice, Clifford Geertz’s “thick description” and “grounded theory” à la Glaser and Strauss, while also marking its difference with the extended-case method and abductive theorizing.

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