Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

by Michel Foucault

Other authorsAlan Sheridan (Translator)
Paperback, 1979




Vintage, (1979)


Two hundred and fifty years ago, a man condemned of attempting to assassinate the King of France was drawn and quartered in a grisly spectacle that suggested an unmediated duel between the violence of the criminal and the violence of the state. This groundbreaking book by Michel Foucault, the most influential philosopher since Sartre, compels us to reevaluate our assumptions about all the ensuing reforms in the penal institutions of the West. For as Foucault examines innovations that range from the abolition of torture to the institution of forced labor and the appearance of the modern penitentiary, he suggests that punishment has shifted its focus from the prisoner's body to his soul-and that our very concern with rehabilitation encourages and refines criminal activity.Lucidly reasoned and deftly marshaling a vast body of research, Discipline and Punish is a genuinely revolutionary book, whose implications extend beyond the prison to the minute power relations of our society.… (more)

Media reviews

Whatever the disagreements, "Discipline and Punish" is that rare kind of book whose methods and conclusions must be reckoned with by humanists, social scientists and political activists.

User reviews

LibraryThing member johnredmond
A very big book for me. Still many insights, even if I'm no longer in the same place I was when I first read it. Foucault and Ivan Illich (and for that matter Wendell Berry but from a different perspective) should be read by all those who consider the social environment in which we live to be
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somehow "natural".
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LibraryThing member TakeItOrLeaveIt
Foucault is a historian, at least a his-story-ian. and this is an interesting story. take the soul out of the prisoner, the atrocities of the execution, the discipline and punishment pre 1847 when peasants enjoyed the spectacle of watching a man have his limb's ripped apart for killing another man.
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this is good writing.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
It’s easy to understand why Foucault was such an influential theorist; his explanation of the use of information collection and standardization to work on the body, in places from prisons to hospitals to armies to schools, offers a powerful theoretical apparatus with lots of applications across
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countries, times, and situations. That said, if you’ve read summaries elsewhere, it’s not clear to me that you need to read this book (cf. Bowling Alone). One very striking thing to me, since I also just finished Matt Taibbi’s The Divide, was how much these two books described the exact same thing: the extension of categorization, surveillance, and manipulation to poor people, who gain “identity” by being classified and recorded. By contrast, rich people gain identity (and even acclaim) by being above the law—that’s not Foucault’s focus, but he mentions it. Thus the modern army and modern capitalism go hand in hand.
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LibraryThing member AlexTheHunn
Foucault relates developments in prisons and punishment with larger trends in culture and civilization. He argues that ancient regime punishment of the body evolved into punishment of the mind or spirit. He relates these changes to capitalism.
LibraryThing member beau.p.laurence
not the easiest read, I grant you, but indispensible history (both social and as a business) of "corrections"
LibraryThing member jukke
Pity that there is not so much Foucault in Finnish. He really is quite difficult to read in French, at least for the uninitiated, who are prone to take a joke seriously or a profound remark as a joke
LibraryThing member Ramirez
Prison is the symbol of a certain idea of society and of the mechanics of power inside it.

From the excessive and bloody justice of the ancien régime to a disciplinary society in which ongoing examinations take place every time and the judges-controllers are a lot more than we think.

Foucault gives
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to the prison also a political contingence but tells us also that soon or later it will not be necessary anymore, for the widening of punish/reward connections with the consequent fainting of punishments' intensity will make detrimental to mantain structures for the total submission and recostruction of individuals such as jails.

The only problem of this intelligent and challenging book is that Foucault seems shy to share his opinion on the issue; nearly as if he's afraid of 'abuse' of his power and influence over the reader.
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LibraryThing member Wilwarin
The few chapters I read for school were interesting. Might come back to read the whole book sometime.
LibraryThing member bnielsen
Indeholder "The body of the condemned", "The spectacle of the scaffold".

"The body of the condemned" handler om ???
"The spectacle of the scaffold" handler om ???

Foucault's syn på fængsling og henrettelse.
LibraryThing member RajivC
I must say that "Discipline and Punish" is a difficult book to review. It is excellent, and it is deep. The book starts with the description of a prisoner being tortured and killed. The final stages of the torture, and the execution used to take place in the public sphere.

We may be squeamish
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today, but we cannot state that torture has disappeared from the world. It has just disappeared from the public eye.

From there, he moves on to the concept of punishment, and the various theories that prevailed. And, of course, the practices. For me, the most interesting chapters were those that pertained to discipline, the panopticon, and delinquency.

I don't think that 'the birth of the prison' is a good subtitle. This book is much deeper than that.

It revolves around the concept of power (initially with the king), punishment, society's attitudes towards this, discipline and society; and finally, the Panopticon. This concept was centuries ahead of its time.

In many ways, society is living in a Panopticon today.
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LibraryThing member Paul_S
Interesting to see how penal/educational/employment systems which seem obvious now developed. Although I think this happened in a more haphazard, unplanned way than what the author proposes.
LibraryThing member M.J.Perry
It's Foucault! It's about power. This time he explores the ideas of power through looking at the hisotry of discipline--usually state but sometimes civil. The relationship of the individual to the society and the government/soverign is explored form the age of toruture on.
LibraryThing member stargazerfish0
This book will make you want to live out in the woods.

Its language is very cold and measured - except, of course, for the graphic description of a man's quartering in the beginning - but it systematically begins to make you feel enclosed upon from the outside in. Foucault succeeds in sounding
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objective, letting only detailed facts and descriptions persuade you of his point. But, to be honest, although this subject is right up my alley, I can see a lot of people not being convinced by the text's problem at the very end. And, to be even more honest, the problem is probably not something we can solve in our lifetime anyway. S0, why read this book? Because you like learning about scary depressing things that you can't change. Enjoy!
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