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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The Relationship Between Knowledge and Power

Knowledge is the key to power. This is the heart of Foucault’s argument in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Foucault traces the origin of power and follows it through the evolution of the Western penal system. At each point, he shows how knowledge is used to enact strategies of power. He opens with the public spectacle. This system placed the power in the hands of the justices and prosecution while stripping autonomy away from the accused. The convicted individual was left in the dark about the investigation and unable to counter any of the allegations. This control of knowledge puts power in the hands of the prosecutors rather than the accused. There was no way the convicted person could fight back or establish power of their own. The problem with public torture that eventually led to its end was that it placed too much power in the hands of the spectators; by watching, they had access to knowledge and challenged the authority of the sovereign.

In modern prison systems, the same tactic is used. Prisoners are tucked away and hidden from public view, so the public has no power over the prison.