Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish is a critical philosophical history of the modern prison and its attendant institutions. Foucault considered the work to be more than the reporting of history; he believed it to be an archaeology of history, the uncovering of social forces and relations that shaped history. The book comprises ten chapters divided into four main parts that examine torture, punishment, discipline, and the prison.
Chapter 1, “The Body of the Condemned,” opens with an account of a public execution in France in 1757. Foucault then cites a mundane prison timetable from 1837 to show how quickly the attitudes toward punishment changed. By beginning his work with a depiction of death, Foucault immediately subverts the title of the book, which contains the word “birth.” In addition, the unspeakably gruesome and horrifying narrative of the execution shocks the reader into opposing physical torture as a mode of criminal punishment. Foucault, however, is teasing the reader. Although he opposes torture, he quickly reveals that his purpose in Discipline and Punish is not to argue against torture in favor of prison as a better method of dealing with criminals; rather, his purpose is to critique the modern penal system and its underlying philosophy. This penal philosophy, he argues, pervades society outside the prison.
Foucault argues that the move from torture to incarceration has not made punishment more...
(The entire section is 1310 words.)
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