The art of punishment rests on a technology of representation. To find a suitable punishment is to find a deterrent that robs the crime of all attraction. It is the art of establishing representations of pairs of opposing values, obstacle-signs. Obstacle-signs must obey certain conditions to function: One) they must not be arbitrary. An immediate link between the crime and punishment is necessary. Two) The complex of signs must decrease the desire for crime and increase the fear of the penalty. Three) Temporal modulation is needed. Penalties cannot be permanent: the more serious the crime, the longer the penalty. Four) The punishment should be directed at others, not just the criminal. Obstacle-signs must circulate widely. Five) A learned economy of publicity exists. The penalty is now a representation of public morality. The code of the laws is evident in punishment. Punishment is also an act of mourning; society has lost the citizen who breaks the law. Six) The traditional discourse of crime is inverted. How can you end the dubious glory of the criminal? The punitive city will contain hundreds of tiny theaters of punishment. Each penalty must be a fable.

The use of imprisonment is not yet imaginable, because it does not yet correspond to the crime, and has no effect on the public. Prison as a universal penalty is incompatible with the technique of penalty as representation. The problem is that prison shortly became the essential punishment. It has a central place in the French penal code of 1810: a great hierarchical prison structure was planned. This is a very different physics of power. Across Europe, the theater of punishment is replaced by the prison system.

It is surprising that imprisonment took on such a major role. It was necessary to overcome the fact that imprisonment was related to arbitrary royal power. How did it become the general form of punishment? The most common explanation is that several models of punitive imprisonment formed in the classical period. Their prestige allegedly overcame the legal obstacles and despotic functioning of imprisonment. The last model, begun in Philadelphia, organized the prisoner's life by a timetable. Work was carried out on his soul; a whole corpus of individualizing knowledge about the prisoner developed.

There are points of convergence and disparity between these models. All are mechanisms directed towards the future. All also require methods to individualize the penalty. However, disparity exists in the technology of the penalty, in the techniques of control over the individual. Individual correction assures a process of redesigning the individual as a subject of the law through the reinforcement of a system of signs and representations. Corrective penality, on the other hand, acts on the soul. Instead of representations, forms of coercion operate here. Exercise, timetables and plans all try to restore the obedient subject, who obeys habit, rules and orders.

There are two ways of reacting to an offense: to restore the juridical subject of the social pact, or to shape an obedient subject. Punishment by timetable makes a spectacle impossible, and establishes a certain relationship between the convict and punisher. The subject must be subjected to total power, which is secret and autonomous. The secrecy and autonomy of power cannot exist in a theory and policy that aims to make punishment transparent and to include the citizen. The power that applied the penalties now threatened to become as arbitrary as the power that once decided them.

A divergence exists between the punitive city and the coercive institution. In the first, the functioning of penal power is distributed throughout the social space. In the other, there is a compact functioning of power, an assumption of responsibility for the body and time of the convict and an attempt to reclaim him individually. In the late eighteenth century, there were three ways of organizing the power to punish: one) based on the old monarchical law which still functioned. Punishment was the ceremonial of sovereignty. Both (two) and (three) were corrective, utilitarian and the consequence of the right to punish belonging to society as a whole. However, these two ways differed in terms of their mechanisms. In (two), the reforming jurists saw punishment as a way of re- qualifying individuals as subjects using signs recognized by the citizen. In (three), which was a project for prison reform, punishment was seen as a technique for the coercion of individuals. It operated by training habits.

These three mechanisms cannot be reduced to theories of law, or derived from moral choices. They are technologies of power. The problem is why the third model was adopted. Why did the coercive, corporal solitary model replace the representative, signifying, collective model?


This section is in one sense a continuation of themes introduced in the discussion of eighteenth century reformers and theories of punishment. The obstacle-sign represents a crime and its associated penalty together, in a way that is public and easy to understand. Crudely put, the obstacle-sign works like this: a man is tempted to steal, but then thinks of the penalty, which is probably the confiscation of his possessions. He is no longer tempted to steal. There is a link between the punishment and the crime: if you steal, the state takes away your property. Petty theft is a fairly minor crime, so the penalty is neither severe nor long-lasting. People see the thief losing his property, and are deterred.

Foucault imagines this relationship of signs as a coherent system, or economy. This is perhaps his most obvious use of structuralist terminology (see Context). The system operates in what he calls the punitive city, a place in which watching is still important, but in a different way. The model here is the theater, where what you see is not real but a representation. A degree of distance is introduced between the spectator and the action. The punitive city is not the ritual of the public execution, chiefly because it aims to prevent future lawbreaking.

More importantly, this is a system in which prison is an impossible idea, because it does not represent anything, and does not relate to the public. But prisons soon dominated punishment in Europe. Their dominance was by no means assured. Foucault makes it clear that several legal and representative obstacles existed. In France, for example, prison was for debtors and those sent there by the arbitrary power of the King, through a so-called lettre de cachet. Few people suggested its widespread use in the early eighteenth century.

The dominant one was corrective penality. This form of punishment was not representative, but involved coercion of the soul, as described in the first section. Correction attempted to "reset" the soul back to obedience by introducing certain new habits. It did not try to restore the individual to the place in society he had lost by breaking the law, but rather to create a subject who obeyed without question. In order to achieve this goal, secrecy and control over punishment were needed. This is a very different situation to that of the public, visible representation of punishment.

In many ways, this is a key turning point in Discipline and Punish. Foucault shows the beginning of modern coercive institutions. The coercive institution is very different to the punitive city: there is no theater, and the punishment itself is hidden and based on an idea of training. There were three ways for the prison to develop, but only the third took off. This is very characteristic of Foucault's genealogical method. He shows turning points and crucial breaks in order to make us realize that things could have been different. The rest of the book is an attempt to explain why one particular element prevailed, not from choice but through the operation of power.