Bernard E. Harcourt is a contemporary critical theorist, legal advocate, and the author most recently of Cooperation: A Political, Economic, and Social Theory (Columbia 2023) and Critique & Praxis: A Critical Philosophy of Illusions, Values, and Action (Columbia, 2020), which won the Lionel Trilling Prize in 2021. He is the Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and a directeur d’études (chaired professor) at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris.
Harcourt is the founding director of the Initiative for a Just Society at the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, which brings contemporary critical theory and practice to bear on current social problems and seeks to address them through practical engagements, including litigation and public policy transformation.
Harcourt began his legal career representing individuals on Alabama’s death row, working with Bryan Stevenson at what is now the Equal Justice Initiative, in Montgomery, Alabama. He continues to represent pro bono persons sentenced to death and life imprisonment without parole, as well as detained at Guantanamo Bay. In 2019, Harcourt was awarded the New York City Bar Association Norman J. Redlich Capital Defense Distinguished Service Award, a lifetime achievement award for his work on behalf of individuals on death row.
Intersecting contemporary critical, social, and political theory, Harcourt’s writings examine different modes of governing in our punitive and surveillance society, especially in the post 9/11 period and the digital age. He traces what he calls the birth of an “expository society” and our recent turn in the United States to the paradigm of counterinsurgency warfare as a mode of governing. He is also the author of The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens (Basic Books 2018), Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age (Harvard 2015), The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (Harvard 2011), and Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience with Michael Taussig and W.J.T. Mitchell (Chicago 2013). Earlier books include Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing and Punishing in an Actuarial Age (Chicago 2007), Language of the Gun: Youth, Crime, and Public Policy (Chicago 2005), and Illusion of Order: The False Promise Of Broken Windows Policing (Harvard 2001).
Harcourt is also an editor of works of Michel Foucault. He recently edited the French edition of Michel Foucault’s 1972-73 lectures at the Collège de France, La Société punitive (Gallimard 2013) and the 1971-1972 lectures, Theories et institutions pénales (Gallimard 2015). He is also the editor of the new Pléiade edition of Surveiller et punir in the collected works of Foucault at Gallimard (2016). He is co-editor of the lectures Foucault delivered at Louvain in 1981, in French and English, Wrong-Doing, Truth-Telling: The Function of Avowal in Justice (Chicago 2014). He is currently working on Foucault’s lectures on Nietzsche for the next series of lecture publications by Gallimard/Le Seuil.
Harcourt has also served on human rights missions to South Africa and Guatemala, and has actively challenged the Trump administration’s Muslim Ban, representing pro bono a Syrian medical resident excluded under the executive order, as well as Moseb Zeiton, a Columbia SIPA student.
Before joining Columbia Law, in 2014, Harcourt taught at the University of Chicago, where he was the chairman of the Political Science Department and the Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Political Science. He has been a visiting professor at Harvard University, New York University, and the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.