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Discipline and Punish

Michel Foucault

The Body of the Condemned

Philosophical Themes, Ideas and Arguments

The Spectacle of the Scaffold

Summary

Foucault begins by comparing a public execution from 1757 to an account of prison rules from 1837. The shifts between the two reveal how new codes of law and order developed. One important feature is the disappearance of torture; the body of the criminal disappeared from view. Punishment as spectacle disappeared; the exhibition of prisoners, the pillory and the public execution ended. Now, the certainty of punishment, and not its horror, deters one from committing a crime. Conviction marks the prisoner; publicity shifts towards the trial and the sentence.

A theoretical realignment occurs. Sentences are now intended to correct and improve. A sense of shame about punishment develops along with this. Punishment no longer touched the body. If it did, it was only to get at something beyond the body: the soul. New figures took over from the executioner, such as doctors, psychiatrists, chaplains and warders. Executions were made painless by drugs. The elimination of pain and the end of spectacle were linked. Machines like the guillotine, which kills almost without touching the body, were intended to be impersonal and painless. Between 1830 and 1848, public executions ended. This was an irregular, delayed process, however. A trace of torture remained because it is difficult to imagine what a non-corporal punishment would be.

The penalty now addressed the soul. Although the definition of crimes changed, some elements remained the same. Judgment was now passed on the motives, passions and instincts of the criminal, not only punishing but also supervising and directing the individual. Offenses became objects of scientific knowledge. The development of a new penal system in Europe led to the soul of the criminal as well as the crime being judged.

The power to punish becomes fragmented. Psychiatrists now decide on a criminal's medico-legal treatment. The adoption of these non-legal elements meant that the judge is not the only one who acts or judges.

This book is a genealogy of the modern soul and the power to judge. It follows four general rules: one) to regard punishment as a complex social function; two) to regard punishment as a political tactic; three) to see whether the history of penal law and of the human sciences are linked; four) to try to find in changes in penal techniques a political technology of the body and a general history of changing power relations. We need to situate punishment within systems of production and the political economy of the body. Historians have yet to consider the body as a subject of political power or power relations. The body is subjected to a body of knowledge; this is the political technology of the body. A "micro-physics" of power operates; power is a strategy, and we need to decipher it in a system of relations that can be called political anatomy. Power is not a property but a strategy evident in the relations between people. Power relations operate and exist through people. They go right down into society. We need to realize that power and knowledge are related. We should think of the body politic as a series of routes and weapons by which power operates.

A history of the micro-physics of power is an element in the genealogy of the modern soul. Upon the idea of the "soul", concepts of the psyche, personality and consciousness are created, as well as scientific techniques and claims. This is not a substitution of the soul for the real man; now, the soul is the prison of the body. Foucault ends by relating his commitment to modern prisoners, and to writing a history of the present.

Analysis

The beginning of this section is typical of Foucault: he characteristically began his works with a shocking image to attract the reader's attention. The horror of Damiens's 1757 execution shows that this is an unusual kind of history book. Foucault draws heavily on contemporary documents, like the two at the beginning, but goes beyond this to construct a complicated theoretical argument. This argument will chart the movement between the public execution and the modern prison.

The body-soul shift is central to Discipline and Punish. For Foucault, the body has a real existence, but the "modern soul" is a recent invention. There are limits to how you can punish the body, as the execution at the beginning demonstrates, but the soul allows new possibilities. Firstly, it allows you to consider why the crime occurred; the motives that drive the criminal become knowable, and the subject of investigation. Secondly, it becomes possible to consider the criminal beyond the crime and its punishment. Instead of inflicting a painful penalty, or killing him, it becomes possible to supervise and investigate him. The shift from body to soul also marks the end of the public idea of punishment, because whilst the body has to be tortured in public, the soul is a private thing.

Foucault's idea of the fragmentation of judgment is related to the shift away from the body. When a criminal is condemned to be executed, the judge alone passes the sentence. When he is sent to prison, he is also evaluated by doctors and psychiatrists. The rise of what Foucault calls the human sciences is a personal preoccupation, found throughout his work. Psychiatry, social work, medicine and other professions assess and judge people according to standards called norms: they ultimately decide what is "normal" and "abnormal". This involves judging not a crime but a person, making decisions about his sanity, his treatment, and even when he should be released. According to Foucault, the modern world has given the important power to judge to a shadowy body of professionals whose role is sometimes uncertain.

This section is also an introduction to Foucault's methodology. The reference to genealogy is vitally important here. It represents the idea of writing a history that reveals struggles, discontinuities and the role of the individual. Discourses such as that of modern punishment define what it is possible to say and do about certain things. People are in a sense trapped inside them, but Foucault aims to give them a voice and help them to resist. In Discipline and Punish, he writes in order free prisoners not from their cells but from the discourses that helped to create them. His argument is that when the power to judge shifted to a judgment about normal and abnormal, the modern soul was formed. The prisoner or delinquent with an abnormal soul is defined against the normal majority. In showing how the prisoner is oppressed, Foucault wants to show us what is wrong with the modern soul in general.

Of the four straightforward rules for this investigation, the fourth is the most interesting. The techniques applied to the prisoner and our attitudes to him show the ways in which power operates in society. The knowledge possessed by prison warders and psychiatrists creates a certain "technology of power." Foucault's metaphors are drawn from science and industry, but he is also clear that economic and social circumstances are important. The reference to systems of production (the means of making and creating products and capital) is from Marx.

Foucault's discussion of power is central to Discipline and Punish. He thinks that power is a strategy, or a game not consciously played by individuals but one that operates within the machinery of society. Power affects everyone, from the prisoner to the prison guard, but no one individual can "control" it.

The remarks about the soul being the prison of the body reflect Foucault's love of contradictions, but they also make a deeper point. The body is imprisoned because people can be controlled by sciences directed at the soul, such as psychiatry. Foucault attempts to chart a move from a situation where the criminal's body is attacked, to one where we are all disciplined and controlled.

Finally, Foucault's role in the prison reform movement is an important context for this section: he helped to run the French Groupe d'information sur les Prisons (GIP) in the 1970s. The group distributed information on prisons to the public, and was concerned with letting prisoners speak for themselves. In a way, Foucault sees Discipline and Punish as a theoretical counterpart to the work he carried out in practice.

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Imprisonment Critized

by brittfoerster, April 12, 2013

The ideal of a penal imprisonment is criticized by many reformers because
1. it is incapable of corresponding to the specificity of crimes
2. it has no effect on the public
3. It is useless, even harmful to society: it is costly. it maintains convicts in idleness, it multiplies their vices.
4. the execution of this penalty (imprisonment) is difficult to supervise
5. There is a risk of exposing prisoners to the uncontrolled power of the guards
6. The job (prison guard) is an exercise of tyranny (dictatorship)

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