Discipline & Punish Book Summary By Michel Foucault

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In Discipline & Punish, renowned French philosopher and sociologist Michel Foucault undertakes an exploration of the history of power, punishment, discipline and surveillance.

From the French Ancien Régime to modern times, Foucault looks at how these forms of social control have evolved and developed over time as a reflection of changing societies.

He carefully unpacks each form of control in order to understand its purpose and reach, offering a comprehensive and insightful look into one of the cornerstones of human society.

Discipline & Punish Book

Book Name: Discipline & Punish (The Birth of the Prison)

Author(s): Michel Foucault

Rating: 4.3/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Philosophy

Author Bio

Michel Foucault was one of the most influential intellectuals of the twentieth century.

Born in Poitiers, France, he went on to become a professor at numerous universities and institutions, such as Hamburg's Institute Français and Clermont-Ferrand's Faculté des Lettres.

He wrote a handful of ground-breaking books and essays, including The History of Sexuality and Discipline & Punish, which made him a superstar academic.

He also held lectures at the prestigious Collège de France.

Unlocking The Power Of Prisons: Understanding Foucault’S Theory On Industrial Age Society And Its Legacy

Power Of Prisons

If you want to gain a better understanding of our society today, then look no further than Michel Foucault’s book – Discipline & Punish.

This work explores the emergence of the prison and its impact on the industrial age, allowing readers to gain insight into how judicial systems function in our modern day.

Through Foucault’s exploration, readers discover the hidden ways in which punishment functions in our world today and unearth new insights into our modern day societies.

He uses examples such as a strange connection between an outbreak of plague and the ordering of industrial societies as well as explaining why exams can also be seen as punishment by another name.

Ultimately, this book encourages readers to treat disciplinary and judicial systems as a microcosm for understanding society that we all are part of.

From Gasps To Gains: From Public Spectacle To Bureaucratic Punishment In Europe

The execution of Robert-François Damiens in 1757, which saw him quartered by horses before the baying mob, marked a turning point in attitudes to punishment.

By the turn of the eighteenth century in Europe, public spectacles such as this had gone out of fashion and the new approach to punishment favoured closed doors, timetables and bureaucratic penalties.

In the nineteenth century, this shift was reflected in texts such as Léon Faucher’s rules “for the House of young prisoners in Paris”, which provided details such as when prisoners were to be woken up, how long they would do their work and when they were to be locked up at night.

This regime suggested that instead of publicly punishing their bodies with physical pain, criminals would now face private punishment – one that targeted hearts and minds.

In other words, rather than break their bodies, governments were aiming to control their souls.

The Enlightenment Revolutionized Punishment By Rejecting Judicial Torture And Demonstrating Sovereign Authority Through Public Executions

Torture was seen as a science in the eighteenth century, and it went beyond simple punishment to being an integral part of criminal investigation.

It was believed that if an official needed to pry into someone’s business, torture would be necessary.

Furthermore, confession alone (even if coerced) was deemed proof without any need for other evidence.

Public punishment in those days had both judicial and political significance, showing off the power of the sovereign through its enforcement of justice – crimes were regarded as personal attacks on the ruler’s authority.

Public executions even became spectacles that demonstrated to all present that justice belonged to the sovereign, thus making spectators witnesses and guarantors of his rule.

In short, torture was central to both punishment and investigation while public punishment acted as a symbol of a ruling entity’s undisputed authority during the eighteenth century.

The Change Of Power: How The Introduction Of “Humane” Punishment Shifted Focus To Society As A Whole

Change Of Power

By the end of the eighteenth century, there was a better understanding of crime and punishment than ever before.

Punishment was now viewed as an expression of public power rather than that of the sovereign.

As such, criminality was increasingly seen as an illness committed against society, rather than simply against an individual or governing body.

In addition to this shift in perspective, criminal investigations became more scientifically-focused.

Emphasis was placed on understanding why a crime had been committed – was it a perverse action, delusional episode or perhaps even a psychotic reaction? To determine this, experts such as psychiatrists and psychologists were called upon to diagnose the accused, who would then be sentenced accordingly – either to prison or to a mental hospital.

It is clear that with the dawning of new ideas about crime and punishment at the end of the eighteenth century came great change in society’s attitude towards these matters.

The power to judge had switched from one person representing the sovereign to many smaller authorities – representing both justice and humanity all at once.

The Classical Age Ushered In An Era Of Disciplinary Practices That Transformed Criminals Into Docile Bodies

The seventeenth and eighteenth centuries saw a fundamental transformation in the way discipline was viewed.

This shift away from individual punishment as an example to the public opened the door for a new system of control – one that focused on making criminals docile bodies, capable of serving industry.

This new approach placed emphasis on distribution, control of activity, organization of geneses and composition of forces.

In terms of distribution, this meant separating individuals into specific types of spaces in order to create collective structures.

By controlling activities through timetables, religious influences came into play; like monasteries before them, such settings offered strict regulation over time and discipline.

With regards to organization of geneses, educational programs became important vehicles for advancing up hierarchies; individuals had to take part in carefully-defined tasks before they could be considered for promotion.

Finally, composition of forces involved viewing individuals’ bodily capabilities as interconnected cogs driving larger machines towards better efficiency – resulting from ideals fostered by the Industrial Revolution about the usefulness of collective strength versus personal prowess.

All these transformations served one purpose: to completely rework traditional ideas about discipline and punishment in favor of greater social progress.

Architecture, Normalizing Judgement And Examination: The Three Pillars Of Disciplinary Power In 17Th Century

The power of disciplinary practices has grown significantly over the last few centuries.

This power is primarily based on three distinct principles: hierarchical observation, normalizing judgment, and examination.

Hierarchical observation requires a complex system of cross-monitoring made possible by structures such as military camps or working-class housing estates.

In fact, architecture played an important role in making this system possible and efficient; for instance, at the École de Paris pupils’ individual dormitories were arranged down a corridor with regular distances between officers’ quarters and windows facing onto the corridor from each student’s room.

Normalizing judgment involves the exercise of power through standards rather than individual whims.

An example of this would be ranking students on their aptitude using grades or rankings that must be met in order to avoid punishment.

Its Not Just A Building: How The Plague Led To The Invention Of Perpetual Surveillance

Perpetual Surveillance

The notion of a disciplined society being enforced not through chains and whips, but instead through a system of surveillance is one that has been explored across history.

Remarkably, it was during the chaos of plague in the 17th century where this approach to societal control began to take shape.

Syndics were appointed in each town to impose discipline – they patrolled streets, inspecting each door and window, making sure people were following the rules on pain of death.

This led to the creation of a refined system of surveillance conceived by political authorities seeking perfect governance over their people.

Centuries later, English philosopher Jeremy Bentham took this concept further when he designed his famous Panopticon structure as an experiment.

It was essentially a giant wheel consisting of various ‘cells’, which prisoners would inhabit with two windows at either end – one looking into an inner tower that created the illusion that inmates were always being watched.

Even though not actually surveilled 24/7, merely having that perception was enough to encourage compliance with prison rules.

The Emergence Of Prisons And Their Role In The Industrial Age: How Stripping People Of Their Liberties Became An Egalitarian Punishment For Crime

When prisons were first established in the nineteenth century, they were seen as a means to strip individuals of their liberties.

It was seen as an egalitarian punishment that would put everyone on equal terms, and it took time for this idea to become the accepted form of punishment.

Prisons are also a place where “correction” and moral improvement can be sought out by incarcerated criminals.

Isolation and solitude is used as a form of chastisement, with the idea that being left alone with one’s punishment and memories of his crime will make them regret their action.

Forced labor is also given in prison too, although its original intention was supposedly for reformation purposes; however, these prisoners do not acquire actual working skills nor does anything of economic benefit develop from this labor.

Instead, what was learned is an understanding of how to become absorbed into the production system and accept their place within the industrialized society.

Hence, prisons not only deprive people of their liberty but also prepare them to fit into the industrialized age through discipline and regimented work ethics.

Wrap Up

The book ‘Discipline & Punish’ gives us an interesting look into the transition of how crime and punishment evolved over time.

In the late eighteenth century, torture as a form of punishment was on the decline and instead attention shifted towards disciplining the soul of the convict.

Criminality was no longer seen as something that pitted individuals against each other but rather it became about creating social order – one in which people were observed and monitored for their conformance with accepted standards.

The end goal was to create an individual who could contribute in an industrial age where discipline and regulation were heavily stressed.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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