Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
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by: Michel Foucault
The book very useful. It packages a lot of history into discreet bundles and reveals the method in the madness of criminal justice. But the translation is poor.
This book is Foucault's presentation of an absolutist vision -- a totalitarian infliction.
The Birth of the Prison isn't really about Prisons. Rather: the development of the modern prison represents the pinnacle of the relationship between power and discipline. The author leads up to his discussion of the prison by examining developments in other instituions: the work shop, the school and the barracks. The main thesis is that the transistion of society into modernity has resulted in institutions which are increasingly devoted to the control of the "inmate's" time. The instituions use this control of time to develop discipline. Discipline is then used to both reinforce the strength of the instituion and also to expand the reach of institution's into the community.
Basically, everything we know or believe about discipline and punishment about is wrong -- we can do this by tracing the history and evolution of discipline and punishment from the stocks and public executions of the 18th Century to the modern penitentiary system. Foucault argues that despite the 'good' intentions of the modern penal system, it has failed in its noble aims. What's more, on some level, society knows it has failed, but keeps it around anyway because it serves as a method of control which we cannot give up. This is a fascinating and persuasive book that will change the way most readers thinks not only about prisons, but discipline in society in general. The final chapter, however, was not argued on very firm or convincing grounds, nor that the conclusions necessarily derived from the premises Foucault defines. However, one can decide that for his/herself. We would also recommend this book to those who are interested in cultural studies and literary theory. The idea of the Panopticon in society has become an essential concept for both fields of study. Those readers interested in revisionist history or just an entertaining, if slightly dense, reading experience should get this title; compared to most philosophers, Foucault writes with a clarity and grace few can match.
The author's epistemology is: knowledge develops from power. This is an interesting genealogy of the penal system but, an analytical and critical depiction of an observed social phenomenom, it's not. The author's sociology of the body is quite an intriguing sidetrack in his historical account of the decentralization of power. Despite the potential for being a great piece of social analysis, this book falls short by insisting on remaining detached from the phenomenom about which is presented. However, those with the appropriate sensibilities will be fascinated by some thrillingly macabre depicitions of old forms of punishment.
Topics include: penitentiary technique, popular illegality, popular illegalities, penal detention, carceral system, penal labour, maisons centrales, penal apparatus, carceral network, punitive mechanisms, penal justice, entire social body, penal practice, juridical subject, judicial torture, des prisons, des tribunaux, public torture, political anatomy, justice criminelle