Bernard E. Harcourt

Isidor and Seville Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Director, Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, Columbia University
directeur d’études, Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales

Bernard E. Harcourt is a distinguished contemporary critical theorist, justice advocate, and prolific writer and editor. In his books, articles, and teaching, his scholarship focuses on social and critical theory with a particular interest in punishment and surveillance. 

Harcourt is the founding director of the Columbia Center for Contemporary Critical Thought, which brings contemporary theory to bear on current social problems and seeks to address them through practical engagement including litigation and public policy interventions. He is also the executive director of Columbia University’s Eric H. Holder Initiative for Civil and Political Rights, which sponsors courses, public events, student internships, and fellowships dedicated to strengthening the pillars of all communities—truth, justice, and law. 

Harcourt is the author or editor of more than a dozen books. The forthcoming Critique & Praxis (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.

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 four volumes of the lectures of philosopher Michel Foucault, as well as Discipline and Punish for the official Pléiade edition of the complete works at Gallimard. 

Harcourt served as a law clerk for Judge Charles S. Haight Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. He began his legal career representing death row inmates, working with Bryan Stevenson at what is now the Equal Justice Initiative, in Montgomery, Alabama. He continues to represent pro bono inmates sentenced to death and life imprisonment without parole. In 2019, Harcourt was awarded the New York City Bar Association Norman J. Redlich Capital Defense Distinguished Service 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 Julius Kreeger Professor of Law and Political Science and the chairman of the Political Science Department, and at the University of Arizona. He is a directeur d’études at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has been a visiting professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton and at Harvard University.