Monday, August 2, 2021

Basic Summary: Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault

Discipline and Punish by Michel Foucault studies the historical appearance of the prison in its modern form, starting with the disappearance of the public application of the death penalty in favor of executions hidden behind the secrecy of the walls. According to Foucault, this development is indicative of a revolution in the way power is manifested to the people .

Indeed, the torture was the central element in the manifestation of the truth of the guilt of the condemned. Discipline and Punish thus opens as an introduction to the torment of Damiens . The public nature of the torture, the symbolism of the sentences (cut fist of parricides , pierced tongue of blasphemers ) allowed the demonstration of royal power in the face of crime, which in addition to its immediate victim, attacked the sovereign in his power to make laws ( crimen majestatis ).

But, while the absolute monarch conceived of his authority only visible and terribly frightening for third parties attending to his assertion, modern power prefers to maintain a disturbing mystery as to the penalties it carries out. He discovers that the people do not need to witness the punishment of their own to stick to what they want them to do. In addition, this people can be dangerous when it supports the chastened and in the carnival aspect of public executions.

Those who do not respect the law no longer see themselves condemned to a physical sanction which will remain on their body as a testimony offered in full view of all. They are no longer condemned to direct reparation for their faults in broad daylight. The penalties now have a corrective aim. The publicity of the sentence no longer aims so much to show the suffering but rather to reaffirm the topicality of the Law. There was a reforming model and a prison model (the objective of which was more to train the bodies than to reintegrate the individual). It was the second who won.

Henceforth, outlaws are simply deprived of their liberty. However, this does not mean confinement of the culprits in dungeons or at the bottom of some prison. Rather, it is the power that disappears behind a new prison architecture capable of constraining the captives without the jailer and the authority he embodies having to be manifested directly by some whip or other.

Foucault discusses Jeremy Bentham's dream , the panopticon. The prisons are now built according to circular plans allowing the supervisor located in a central tower to observe without ever being seen, the silhouettes of the inmates standing out against the light on exterior windows via other windows facing an interior courtyard.

This architecture eventually makes it possible to do without a watchman altogether, the only feeling of being observed being likely to obtain a form of obedience from the captives . Thus, in addition to not being costly from an economic point of view , the modern prison is first and foremost an enterprise of guilt working the individual consciousnesses through an almighty gaze .

The prison then passes from a punitive function to a “normalizing” aim, indirectly targeting through the bodies the “soul” of the inmates who are to be rectifie . The prison institution and through it modern justice thus holds powers of an unprecedented scale until now, power no longer being conceivable according to Foucault without the relationship it maintains with the knowledge of the individual. Far from contributing to the "emancipation" of Humanity, an ideal inherited from the Enlightenment, modern society is increasingly akin to organized surveillance.

The modern prison according to Foucault is also an accountable world . He produces figures and constructs tables in which the cells are as much boxes drawn on paper as rooms in which the prisoners are visible. The walls separating them from each other are strong enough to stop all these petty trafficking which yesterday made it impossible to strictly control the culprits sanctioned.

The establishment of this prison system has several consequences according to Foucault. The first is the appearance of delinquency , a modern form of criminality preferable to the old in the sense that it is the work of individuals already known, registered and worked on by the authority and therefore unlikely to be affected. a much more serious recurrence/

But also, this device makes perceptible an essential reversal: whereas through the torture it was a question for the power to be visible of the greatest number, with the panopticism the problematic is reversed. How to make the greatest number visible to the smallest number. Foucault thus introduces a problematic around the police and a grid of the population on the model of surveillance in the time of the plague. Social evil is modeled on the epidemic.

The success of this system helping, the second consequence of its installation is its adoption by institutions other than the only prison, starting with the workshop , where a few foremen are now sufficient to control hundreds of workers: they roam around. present in rectilinear aisles from which they dominate the employees seated at an individual table and all visible from afar. We also find prison methods in schools, boarding schools or barracks , where beds are gradually aligned, schedules more strict, exercise and repetition valued.

The recovery of human bodies which these institutions each proceed in their own way, according to Michel Foucault, leads to the recovery of morals , each becoming its own censor once it has been corrected by a competition of organisms, throughout its life.

Through a strong social network, with the prison at the center, it is no longer the sovereign who is isolated, but the individual.