48 pages 1 hour read

Michel Foucault

Discipline And Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1975

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Important Quotes

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“Justice no longer takes public responsibility for the violence that is bound up with its practice. If it too strikes, if it too kills, it is not as a glorification of its strength, but as an element of itself that is obliged to tolerate, that it finds difficult to account for.”

(Part 1, Chapter 1, Page 9)

This quote represents the distinction between the traditional penal system, which relied upon public spectacle, and the modern penal system, which utilizes the concealment of institutionalized prisons. In the previous model, the masses felt a responsibility for the accused and often stood in opposition to the ruling sovereign. Discipline and privatized punishment replaced this model, removing the public from responsibility for justice. This concept relates to the theme The Relationship Between Knowledge and Power. By taking knowledge of punishment away from the public, it also strips the public of power. Instead, power is allocated to those behind closed doors, administering punishment in the privacy of prison walls.

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“Certainly the ‘crimes’ and ‘offences’ on which judgement is passed are juridical objects defined by the code, but judgement is also passed on the passions, instincts, anomalies, infirmities, maladjustments, effects of environment or heredity.”

(Part 1, Chapter 1, Page 17)

This idea foreshadows Foucault’s later arguments about Norms. He asserts that punishment is always applied to those who break the Norms established by a society; it is not necessarily related to morality or even to crime in a traditional sense. This is the heart of The Function of Punishment. It serves to maintain order and conformity within a society. This represents a shift in social sensibilities and connects to Foucault’s earlier work Madness and Civilization. Conformity, like the soul, is a modern invention.