Discipline and Punish

by: Michel Foucault

Docile Bodies

Summary Docile Bodies

Foucault begins with time and space as the individual experiences them, but he places this time within a large context. He argues that a wider type of time existed, in which everyone moved; he also argues that the eighteenth century invented the idea of the progress of society. Foucault is talking about the Enlightenment, an eighteenth century philosophical movement that was concerned with reason and human progress. He is unusual in that he links this movement, represented by writers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, and Kant, to the development of prisons, timetables and other technologies. However, it is important to Foucault that philosophical texts and timetables are part of the same structures of power.

Like the timetable, exercise derives from the practices of monasteries, and is yet another way of regulating the body through activity. Prayer, which was aimed at salvation, and military drills are examples of this original form of exercise. The key shift came when the purpose of exercise changed from the benefit of the individual to control. Unlike silent prayer, the "exercise yard" of a prison does not necessarily benefit the prisoners, Foucault would argue.

The final element that Foucault analyzes is the idea of the body as part of a machine. This is a development of the division of space and time. Now, however, the body becomes a cog in a machine. Foucault does not argue that groups of people never existed before the classical period, but that the idea of arranging and controlling them was new. The power that arranges people, however, makes them into individual units. It seems like a contradiction in terms, but for Foucault the "individual" could exist only when massive groups were created. The group was not created from individuals, but vice versa. The idea of creating the individual as an object of knowledge becomes important later. Creating the individual out of the group contradicts the common philosophical view about the creation of society. This view argued that society came from a contract or agreement between men. Foucault reveals his opinion of modern society here: that you cannot choose to enter it through a contract, and that it controls you absolutely through technology and power.