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Review: Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault

This post provides a synopsis for the book written by world renown French Philosopher Michel Foucault. Central to this book is Foucault's theory that punishment in society hasn't necessarily gotten anymore 'humane' moving from public executions to the birth of the prison -- rather punishment has merely shifted to the soul of the individual and therefore, seeks to normalize, and discipline said individual.










Foucault starts the book off by looking at how punishment has shifted overtime throughout the history of society from the Middle Ages up until Modern Day. He claims that there has always been a system of control or a repressive system so to say. This system can be witnessed purely by looking at the relations of force between individuals with slavery being its most pure manifestation of unequal relations of force. As it so happened with the entering in of the age of modernity, slavery began to be questioned and was eventually outlawed in the 19th century. But the unequal relations of force and extractive system still had to be maintained. The prison helped to do this by keeping labor as cheap as possible. Foucault claims that the birth of the modern prison was a way to keep labor cheap in relation to capital now that slavery had begun to be outlawed. It did this by forcing the convict -- whatever his or her conduct may be to work for the public. Thus we see 'public works' come about and the individual who is incarcerated is now providing 'free' extractive labor in the form of which slaves had once provided. Furthermore, by permanently tainting that individual with a criminal record, he or she now had a much more difficult time reintegrating into society and of obtaining a job that would pay a higher wage because of the record. As one can see, this was a method to keep labor cheap in relation to capital.


Another central point that Foucault examines is how the prison and its disciplinary forms of power had transpired themselves across society at all levels. It wasn't only the prison that now fell under this disciplinary form of power, it was the school system, the hospital, the factory (production), and the military as well. This art of disciplining society was also the art of normalizing society and pulling human beings into the relationships of force within which they are present and thus helping them to obey the system of which they are living in (whether they know it or not). In fact, there was once a utopia asides from civil society that dreamed of every individual obtaining liberty, but a military society. A society in which everything and everyone was disciplined and homogenized to fit 'normality' but also to keep the individualization of individuals intact therefore remaining in place a hierarchical order upon society. A society in which an individual could be 'examined' and thus ranked according to his or her wealth, occupation, sanity etcetera. This form of disciplinary power is actually the form of power which pervades the capillaries of society today. It is these acts of micro-powers and relationships of force that maintain the hierarchy in society. This same power is a power that requires constant surveillance. Surveillance of the individual, what is he she like, what are they thinking, it is a power that requires observation. And if this power realizes that an individual is deviating from the norm, it will seek to 'normalize' that individual in order to make that individual fit 'normality'.

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