Thursday, December 17, 2009

Foucault: the birth of the prison

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault, 1975

(the book) traces out the shifts in culture that led to the prison's dominance, focusing on the body and questions of power. Prison is a form used by the "disciplines", a new technological power, which can also be found, according to Foucault, in schools, hospitals, military barracks, etc.....Four parts: torture, punishment, discipline and prison.

TORTURE: the public spectacle of torture was a theatrical forum that served several intended and unintended purposes for society. Intended: - Reflecting the violence of the original crime onto the convict's body for all to see. - Enacting the revenge upon the convict's body. Unintended: - Providing a forum for the convict's body to become a focus of sympathy and admiration. - Creating a site of conflict between the masses and the sovereign at the convict's body. Foucault notes that public executions often led to riots in support of the prisoner.

The theatre of public torture gave way to public chain gangs...the first step away from the excessive force of the sovereign, and towards more generalized and controlled means of punishment. But, he suggests that the shift towards prison that followed was the result of a new "technology" and ontology for the body being developed in the 18th century, the "technology" of discipline, and the ontology of "man as machine".

DISCIPLINE: The emergence of prison as the form of punishment for every crime grew out of the development of discipline in the 18th and 19th centuries…discipline concerned with the smallest and most precise aspects of a person's body. Discipline, he suggests, developed a new economy and politics for bodies.

"Historically, the process by which the bourgeoisie became in the course of the eighteenth century the politically dominant class was masked by the establishment of an explicit, coded and formally egalitarian juridical framework, made possible by the organization of a parliamentary, representative regime."

Foucault's argument is that discipline creates "docile bodies", ideal for the new economics, politics and warfare of the modern industrial age—bodies that function in factories, ordered military regiments, and school classrooms.


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