Bernard E. Harcourt

Bernard E. Harcourt

  • IIsidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law

Ph.D., Harvard University, 2000
J.D., Harvard Law School, 1989
A.B., Princeton University, 1984

Areas of Specialty

Contemporary Critical Thought
Political and Social Theory
Penal Law and Procedure
Capital Punishment and Sentencing
Surveillance and Security

Bernard E. Harcourt is a distinguished critical theorist, legal advocate, and prolific writer and editor. In his books, articles, and teaching, his scholarship focuses on punishment practices and political economy, critical theory and praxis, and political protest. 

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 is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. His most recent book, Critique & Praxis: A Critical Philosophy of Illusions, Values, and Action (2020), charts a vision for political action and social transformation. In The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens (2018), Harcourt examines how techniques of counterinsurgency warfare spread to U.S. domestic policy and policing.

His previous books include Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age (2015), The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order (2011), Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing, and Punishing in an Actuarial Age (2007), Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing (2001), and Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience (2013), with W. J. T. Mitchell and Michael Taussig. In addition, Harcourt has edited or co-edited and annotated many volumes of the lectures of philosopher Michel Foucault in French and English, as well as the French edition of Discipline and Punish for the official Pléiade edition of the complete works at Gallimard. 

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 those 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.

Harcourt 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, in Princeton, New Jersey.

Harcourt is a directeur d’études at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

He served as a law clerk for Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.


  • The Counterrevolution: How Our Government Went to War Against Its Own Citizens, 2018
  • Exposed: Desire and Disobedience in the Digital Age, Harvard University Press, 2015
  • Editor of Michel Foucault, Surveiller et punir, Pléiade edition, Gallimard 2015
  • Editor of Michel Foucault, La Société punitive, Gallimard/LeSeuil, 2014
  • Occupy: Three Inquiries in Disobedience, (with W.J.T. Mitchell and Michael Taussig), University of Chicago Press, 2013
  • “On the American Paradox of Laissez Faire and Mass Incarceration,” 125 Harvard Law Review Forum 54, 2012
  • The Illusion of Free Markets: Punishment and the Myth of Natural Order, Harvard University Press, 2011
  • “An Institutionalization Effect: The Impact of Mental Hospitalization and Imprisonment on Homicide in the United States, 1934 – 2001,” Journal of Legal Studies 40, 2011
  • “Randomization and the Fourth Amendment,” (with Tracey Meares), 78 University of Chicago Law Review 809, 2011
  • Against Prediction: Profiling, Policing and Punishing in an Actuarial Age, University of Chicago Press, 2007
  • View an extended list of Bernard E. Harcourt’s publications.

Honors and Awards

Norman J. Redlich Capital Defense Distinguished Service Award


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