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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Part 2Chapter Summaries & Analyses

Part 2: “Punishment”

Part 2, Chapter 1 Summary: “Generalized punishment”

In this chapter, Foucault outlines the disparate reasons for the shift from torture and public spectacle to the carceral system. The continuance of this form of punishment gave ruling leaders a reputation of tyranny and brutality. Furthermore, the importance of spectators and their interest in the accused created a platform for rebellion against the king. Protests against public torture increased in the 1700s. Foucault suggests that—although the rhetoric of these protests centered on humanitarian ideologies—the reason for the shift in judicial punishment was a reframing of power.

In the 18th century, crimes were overall less violent. This decrease in aggressive offenses reflected a shift in the economy. People were becoming wealthier, and, therefore, placed greater value on their possessions. As the quality of life improved for the population, most crimes were related to theft and scamming rather than violent behavior. The law was becoming more detailed and addressed more minor offenses than it ever had before. Investigators became better at uncovering perpetrators and proving their guilt through scientific methods, while law enforcement developed greater surveillance. All these changes, however, were results of a shifting system of power.

Public torture and punishment revealed an imbalance of power in the judicial system.