A Summary of Discipline And Punish – Michel Foucault

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The following set of notes are taken from ‘Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison ‘ by Michel Foucault (1977). It is further informed by the excellent summary on SparkNotes (2015).

  1. Torture

1.1 The Body of the Condemned

  • Foucault notes a shift between 1757 and 1837, from the public execution to prison rules.
  • New modes of law and order are created
    • Torture disappears. The body of the criminal is removed as a spectacle. It is not some public affair.
    • It is now the promise of punishment. The certainty. This is what acts as a deterrent. The publicity of it is moved to the sentence.
  • Punishments are no longer inflicted on the body. It is about shame. Intended to go beyond the body. To the soul. Executions were made painless by drugs.
  • Punishment must be situated within systems of production and the political economy of the body.
  • The body is subjected to a body of knowledge: the political technology of the body.
  • The ‘body politic’ should be conceptualised as a series of routes by which power is enacted and operated.

1.2 The Spectacle of the Scaffold

  • Execution and torture were common in the late 1600s.
  • Torture played a large part in penalties.
  • An ‘economy of power’
  • Torture is used to reveal the truth of a crime
  • The trial is hidden
  • A confession removed the need for investigation
  • Two elements to torture: A judicial investigation and a ritual by the accused. The body links the two. You must understand the whole classical system of punishment to critique torture.
  • If the suspect resisted torture, they could be freed.
  • Investigation and punishment were mixed in classical torture.
  • Torture punished partial proof of guilt.
  • The body showed the truth of the crime as:
    • (1) It was the sign of condemnation
    • (1) It was the scene of confession
    • (3) Public torture was attached to the crime itself
    • (4) Slowness and suffering became ultimate proof
  • The body (re)produces the truth of the crime.
  • Also a political act. The will of the sovereign. A breach of law is an offense against the sovereign. The punishment was a restoration of sovereignty.
  • Like a joust – conflict and triumph. Executioner vs the body.
  • Torture shows the workings of power through the body of the condemned.
  • The Enlightenment – condemned the atrocity of public execution. Atrocity is the part of torture which inverts on itself to show the truth of the crime. It mixed the sovereign and the crime.
  • Role of the people in executions is ambiguous. Criminals had to be protected from the crowd. They often tried to free them.
  • Crowd intervention is a political problem.
  • The condemned was free to say anything before they were killed as the law could hurt them no more.

2. Punishment

2.1 Generalized Punishment

2.2 The Gentle Way in Punishment

3. Discipline

3.1 Docile Bodies

3.2 The Means of Correct Training

3.3 Panopticism

4. Prison

4.1 Complete and Austere Institutions

4.2 Illegalities and Delinquency

4.3 The Carcereal

Foucault M (1977). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of a Prison. London: Penguin Books.

SparkNotes (2015). SparkNote on Discipline and Punish [online]. Available from: http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/disciplinepunish/ [Accessed 26th October 2015].