on Foucault M (1977)
Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison, London: Penguin Books
These notes represent my own interests in reading this large, complex and highly detailed book. In particular, I have left out much of the support material, and much of the discussion of detailed cases, drawn from French historical documents and French history. As usual, my own additional comments are in square brackets. All emphases are mine too.
This is still a long file. If you are really pushed for time, a scan through the (notes on the) first and last chapters will probably give the general idea.
Part 1 Torture
There has been a shift in types of punishment for criminals. Once these tended to focus on torture or dismemberment applied directly to bodies, but now the notion of punishment involves a public appearance in court, as well as much more 'humane' sentences. This change involves distancing ourselves from spectacle, and is accompanied by a division of labour between courts and jails. Crucially, there is also an underlying technology of punishment, which changes from developing machines to do capital punishment to developing social machines to accomplish reform or conversion. There is also a shift from a notion of the body as a site of pain to one where a body simply loses rights. This is not an even historical process, and not a simple one.
Punishment was always more than the punishment of specific crimes. It was a matter of social regulation, designed to punish not just aggression, for example, but aggressivity itself. These days, it is connected to the notion of reform or normalisation, and interwoven with various psychiatric 'objects'. It is associated with other types of assessment of people as well: the classification of criminal acts, for example which should help lead to the most appropriate punishment, after, say, diagnosing madness as a kind of extenuating circumstance (once considered an alternative to guilt altogether). As a result, lots of other authorities are now used to complement the simple mechanism of judgment in court. Judges have not been unwilling accomplices in these developments though, and are now able to avoid blame for any unintended consequences of punishment, or public criticism of punishment.
There is a methodological issue to be addressed -- how to write a 'history of the modern soul' (page 23). There is a risk of describing changes as if they were simple factual matters. If we overgeneralise, and focus on forms, as Durkheim does [types of solidarity, for example], we lose the specifics and maybe even reverse the causals. We want to show how the 'new tactics of power', including penal mechanisms, have actually produced processes of individualisation in the first place. There are four general rules to guide this investigation:
1. Punishment is not just a matter of repression, but produces lots of positive effects as well. Punishment must not be considered on its own, but as part of a complex social process.
2. Punitive methods should be seen as techniques with their own specificities, especially as a 'political tactic' (page 23).
3. We should use this example to uncover the general issue of the '"epistemolo-juridical" formation' (page 23), which explains both the history of penal law and the history of human sciences. The underlying principle here is the 'technology of power' (page 23).
4. We shall ask whether the entry of 'the soul' into science is not really a matter of how the body has been transformed by power relations. A 'political technology of the body' becomes a way of tracing both the history of power relations and object relations, and has led to a specific mode of subjection [as usual, this means both political subjection and the creation of the modern subject].
Thus we need to analyse 'concrete systems of punishment' rather than just techniques to reduce crime, and to place these in a social context. We need to describe the positive and useful effects as well, which may prove to be the most important ones [explained below]. As an example, we know that early systems of imprisonment created a kind of 'civil slavery', providing an additional labour force. As for social contexts, we can see that a focus on corporal punishment in feudal societies reflects the view that the body is the only available kind of property to seize; that the growth of the economy led to notions such as the prison factory; that forced labour as a form of punishment diminishes as the institution of free labour becomes a central plank of economic growth (page 25)
There was a history of
the body already available in demography or in social medicine, but not
really a politics of it, studying the power relations which are invested
in it, how it is trained, or forced 'to emit signs'
(page 25). To make
human bodies into labour power, for example, a whole social system is
required. A number of mechanisms of subjection have developed in order
to control bodies: the study of these mechanisms becomes a 'political
technology of the body' (page
26). So far, there is no coherent discourse of such a technology, nor is
it located in specific institutions. Instead there is a 'micro
physics of power... [operating]...
between... [institutions]... and bodies themselves'
Power is exercised on the body as a deliberate strategy, which should make us rethink what the properties of the body are. It is a matter of perpetual battles rather than some once-and-for-all contract. These strategies are not privileged, owned by one social class, since the dominated can also act in a web of strategic positions which lead to dominance (page 27). It is not a matter of the simple reproduction of general social laws, nor operating with mechanisms such as violence or ideology. Any unity in the strategies arises from 'mechanism and modality' [that is from the ways in which they are brought to bear together] (page 27). There are lots of points of resistance and struggle, and locations where the strategy is at risk. Thus new mechanisms do not simply acquire a set of techniques, or replace older mechanisms, but offer new possibilities in an entire network.
The discussion will show the links between power and knowledge. It is a mistake to think that these are always opposed to each other, as when ‘knowledge corrects power’, or when ‘knowledge starts where power ends’ [to cite a couple of counter-cultural slogans]. Power needs a relevant field of knowledge, and all knowledge presupposes power [such as the power to cognitively control the world, as in positivism] (page 27). It is a combination of power and knowledge (‘power/knowledge') that produces knowing subjects.
We need to analyse the 'body politic as a set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communication routes and supports [for power/knowledge]' (page 28). As the prison system shows best, as a key instant or 'chapter of political anatomy' (page 28), we can subjugate bodies by 'turning them into objects of knowledge'.
So terms like 'the soul' appear in discussions of imprisonment not as a result of some Christian revival, but more as a term arising from a specific view of the body [as some pre-psychological term to grasp the issue of consciousness, character, or personality]. This term is produced by power acting on the body, it is 'born out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraint' [so imprisonment serves to reform the soul, rather than punish the body]. The individual becomes graspable as an object of this knowledge, later to be influenced by human sciences, and not particularly from a new humanism.
[In a rare side about current politics, Foucault argues that the revolts in French prisons in the 1970s are really about this overall subjection, not just objections to specific conditions or regimes. He doesn't tell us how he knew this -- page 30].
There were relatively few capital sentences in seventeenth-century France, but lots of corporal punishments, including the common use of torture. Torture should be regarded as a careful technique, offering gradations of pain, regulated according to matters such as the gravity of the crime, the rank of the criminal and the rank of the victim. Thus a lot of detailed practical knowledge involved. The process was ritualised too, again depending on the desired level of infamy to be demonstrated, which was sometimes indicated with specific marks on the body. The whole process was designed be spectacular, excessive, a triumph of justice, but there was also this set of carefully regulated stages designed to produce specific effects in an 'economy of power'.
Firstly, torture was a legal ceremonial in which the truth of the crime was to be revealed. It took place in secret, since getting at the truth was then [17th century France] a matter for the prosecution only. Proof was to be decided by magistrates and judges. Deciding on the truth was the exclusive right of the sovereign who delegated this to his judges. Admitting the public could only threaten disorder. There were still rules, however, such as those relating to different kinds of proof or evidence. These were related in turn to particular outcomes -- thus if 'full proof' were available it would lead to full conviction. Different sorts of proofs could even be combined arithmetically in a detailed and meticulous way. However, there were still arguments over the sentences, such as whether even a full proof on its own was enough for a capital sentence. It is clear that only specialists could use this system, and this specialist knowledge should guide decisions rather than ordinary opinions: judgment was deliberately made different from 'common truth'.
Confession was crucial to the system, hence the widespread use of torture which both sidestepped a whole problematic procedure of gathering evidence and demonstrated the power of the system over any offender. Offenders confessed to a crime 'constructed by writing', that is constructed by legal authorities. However, confession alone was not conclusive but it did have priority and could save investigative time. Since it was necessary for confession to be 'spontaneous', and formally given in court, there was always room for some kind of transaction (page 39). This usefulness explains the survival of torture and the widespread support for it. It is interesting as a technique aimed at the body, which was seen as the focus for the legal subject -- the body was tortured to make ‘a [full and free] person’ voluntarily confess.
Judicial torture retained some elements of ordeal or testing, and was therefore risky: if the accused held out, they could win. Torture was sometimes not used precisely for this reason, in cases where there were already lots of proofs, and where the accused might somehow cheat justice by surviving the ordeal. Torture was an odd mix of investigation and punishment, only applied if some level of guilt had already been established (not difficult in a system where suspicion always involved some guilt). After sentencing, signs of torture on the body made the sentence legible for the public.
The accused was often expected to show
guilt himself, renewing confessions at church doors on his way to the
scaffold, or being offered opportunities for further elaborations of the
truth in the form of last minute confessions. The authorities always
hoped for 'good' executions where the victim was fully public about
their own part, but this did not always happen. The excesses of capital
punishment -- the mutilations, the dismemberment even after death and so
on -- sometimes followed a symbolic link with the crime (the tongues of
blasphemers were mutilated, for example), or sometimes even re-enacted
the crime (murderers were
killed with their own weapons). The body of the victim was a unifying
object in all these activities.
Secondly, torture was a political ritual.
Crimes were seen as offences directed at social superiors, even personal
attacks on the sovereign. The element of excess in punishment
represented the sovereign's right to reply to such an attack and to gain
revenge. It was part of his right to make war, and just as with war
processions, or coronations, punishment was turned into a spectacle,
designed to demonstrate invincibility. An attack on a person was met
with revenge on a body. Punishment was also a 'policy of terror',
designed to intimidate the rest of the population
(page 49). Punishment
therefore has functions for the current system, and cannot be seen as
some simple residue from an uncivilised past. The ceremonial involved
was meticulous and often involved the military, not just to control the
crowd but to demonstrate the end of a symbolic war declared by the
criminal. The contemptuous treatment of the criminal sometimes extended
even after death.
Executioners were constrained and regulated, in the
middle of all this excess. The crowd was sometimes complain if an
executioner was too cruel or inefficient. The condemned as expected be
reprieved if the execution failed in some way, an old custom which
lingered for a long time and required a final explicit legal denial.
There was also the ritual of the possibility of last-minute pardons,
sometimes granted as a further demonstration of the sovereign's power.
The contempt for the prisoner's body is a symbolic
opposite of that involved in the labour process. Of course, death was
generally more accepted, but spectacular executions seemed to be
associated with crises in the monarchy, where crimes were seen as
particularly threatening to social order. Such threats were replicated
in excessive punishment. Seventeenth-century notions of punishment
should not just be seen as a moral flaw, therefore, but as an effect of
mechanisms of power -- represented in armed might, manifested in
personal allegiance, and involving rituals of offence and vengeance, and
the need to renew power in spectacles.
The public was there to be terrorised, but they
also to be spectators or witnesses. The authorities permitted their
attendance as participants in the process of royal vengeance, but their
role was to be limited. However they were capable of rejecting the
spectacle and its meaning and revolting instead, and there were many
occasions where the condemned was released, or pardon successfully
demanded. The crowds cheered and shouted in
'a momentary saturnalia' (page
60). The condemned often turned on the authorities in their speeches,
even the Church. Further, executions often seemed to bring shame on the
crowd, and their resistance as the annuity intervene in the process will
sentence, especially if the relevant laws were unjust or partisan
(domestic larceny was one example -- page 62). There was often social
disorder at execution sites, such as fights, theft, or drunkenness.
Sometimes solidarity with the condemned developed, as all present
realised they were victims of the sovereign's power. These feelings were
not destroyed by the terror of the occasion but reinforced. It became
increasingly necessary to keep the public well back, but this also
reduced the intended effect. This political ineffectiveness was one
reason for the demands for abolition of public executions
It was the same with gallows speeches, which the authorities hoped would allow a full confession, but which often had to be faked afterwards when they were written up. Such speeches became a literary genre, appearing in broadsheets and pamphlets, intended to act as a final proof of guilt. But they could also lead to hero worship, and increase the romance of the crime. This literature was widely read, possibly as result of a widely held public morality, or from an interest in souvenirs, precedents or from political curiosity. It tended to be replaced by later much more romantic crime literature, an interest in 'great murders', or in criminals of another social class, while the details of every day crime appeared in newspapers.
Part 2 Punishment
The demand for reform came at the end of the 18th century: public executions were seen as revolting, shameful and dangerous. The sovereign's will was too abstract to be a principle for punishment, perceived as falsely claiming to be universal rather than legitimate. Punishment was to continue, but not torture.
It looked as if an appeal to the humanity of murderers was a main factor here, and although a more general leniency followed from this, new problems emerged around the problem of how to award suitable punishments nevertheless. The move towards leniency was assisted by an apparent decrease in horrible crimes, and the growth of crimes against property, or more skilled and calculating crimes. It was no longer necessary to react to these crimes with excessive displays of power. There was also a move to control violent impulses [rather like Elias's civilisation thesis?], and an increase in prosperity. The bourgeoisie began to dominate discussions rather than the old aristocracy. As a result, the law changed to become more severe with property offences, and an organised police force appeared (which helped to drive crime underground and marginalise it, according to Foucault -- page 76). There were still widespread fears of crime and calls for harsh penalties, however.
The mechanisms of power adjusted to these new conditions. As one result, they became much more concerned with every day life. As another, the system of justice had to be fine-tuned to relate to new elements of the social body. Traces of this are found in the discourse of reformers of the time, who were complaining about the regularity of punishments, and the dominance of the aristocracy and their privileges in the whole system. There were lots of different courts and often conflicts between them, while Royal power was often seen as arbitrary (page 79). The power of the courts was seen as excessive, badly distributed and poorly regulated by the absolute power of the monarch, which had led to the selling of magistracies, the proliferation of offices, and arbitrary interventions.
However, the aim of reform was to create a new 'economy of power', rather than more lenient punishments as such. Punishment had to be dissociated from social rank and political risk. This pressure did not just come from reformers, however -- it had no 'single origin' (page 81). The role of lawyers was also important: they wanted to systematise justice themselves and develop some autonomy from the monarchy and property owners, enabling them to specialise and develop their profession. Many interests were united behind these demands.
A new strategy of punishment emerged, which was to be better, more detailed and consistent, and, as a consequence, deeper in its effects on the social body. It was this, rather than some new sensibility, which led to change. The old system was too variable. It even permitted and encouraged illegalities in the form of rights, privileges, and concessions granted to the crowd. Some of these were perceived as necessary to growth, such as the avoidance of feudal customs duties.
This system was in crisis in the 19th century in France, in the very visible form of increases in predatory vagabonds roaming the countryside. New bourgeois property owners acquiring land were particularly hostile to traditional 'rights', such as poaching: property became more important than rights. The growth of industry led to new problems with traditional rights as well [my own homely modern example concerns how the perceived right for dockyard workers to take home offcuts of wood, leftover screws, or unused tins of paint suddenly became defined as 'theft'].A whole black market had grown up, trading in pilfered goods. Clearly, some systematisation was needed, at least a new classification of offences.
This was accompanied by general replacement of the old rights and obligations with property relations, particularly in labour markets. There is clearly a class dimension to this development, showing the usual bourgeois ability to manipulate gaps in law to suit themselves, including redefining bourgeois crimes as new kinds of rights after all (examples on page 87 include fraud and tax evasion). Courts and punishments were reorganised to emphasise property and rights like this. New forms of supervision and policing soon followed. The principle of punishment turned on issues of consistency ineffectiveness rather than spectacle and excess, and this helped reduce the power of the sovereign as well as the working classes. This was the context for the attack on public executions, which was seen as a nasty combination of the powers of sovereign and people. However, it suited reformers to attack either group separately according to tactical needs: the campaign against the people tended to lead.
The attack was based on the theory of contract. Punishing serious challenges to the social order came to be seen as defending the social contract against those who break it. This was done as usual in the name of 'society', not the sovereign, but it still permitted excess and terror on occasion, and criminals could still be seen as traitors. However, there was an aversion to cruelty, rooted in the modern sensibility of the 'reasonable man' (page 91).
For lesser crimes, it became a matter of
calculation as well -- punishment could be calculated according to the
same principles of economic life. The functions of punishment were
clarified too -- reparation, setting an example, and meeting the risk of
social disorder were acceptable now only for particularly horrific
crimes. For lesser crimes, the problem was to calculate the effects of
the repetition, and to punish exactly enough to prevent repetition.
Eventually, this process became codified:
Crime and criminals were therefore objectified, and
attention turned to the mind rather than the body, specifically
how representations and signs might affect the mind. Power
relations are duplicated in object relations -- crimes are facts, and
individuals are objects to be known. However, the latter needed much
more development. The classification of crimes had already be undertaken
in a number of ways, including work on interests, representations and
signs, an early semiology. This had already led to some notion of
linking crimes and punishments, but it was to be replaced by 'a new
politics of the body' (page
Punishment as rational calculation began to spread,
although there was still a fear of torture. Among the developments:
Simple imprisonment was seen as costly and unproductive, and degrading for both prisoners and guards, although it remained as a very common form of punishment, and the whole hierarchy of prisons were built, increasingly integrated into the State. The punitive city disappeared, and prison soon became a major way to punish, with increasing uniformity of penalties -- the 'colonisation of the penalty by the prison ' (page 117).
Prisons began as places simply to hold the body of the convict as a guarantee, or a security. They were originally under royal power, but became popular only after a period of reforming zeal, in the early 19th century. Examples appeared in Amsterdam and Ghent offering individually tailored punishments, constant supervision and exhortation, and a central emphasis to be given to work, partly because idleness was seen as the roots of crime: they offered nothing less than a 'reconstruction of homo oeconomicus' ['economic man'] (page 123). In England, model prisons added isolation of inmates in an attempt to reactivate the moral subject, as a deliberate 'reformatory'. This model appeared in the USA in a number of variants of ‘penitentiary’ , one which featured compulsory wage work, close supervision and regimentation, lots of solitary confinement for the intractables, and conditional sentences.
Prisons became secretive organisations for the first time, offering treatment that was personal to the prisoner and the guards. They featured a deliberate attempt to alter minds, and kept detailed records of individuals based on observation, classifications, and estimates of danger represented by the prisoner. In this way, 'prison functions... as an apparatus of knowledge' (page 126). Prison became future oriented, offering methods to reform and individualise.
These changes, where a coercive institution replaces the city of punishment, arose from a definite change in the mechanisms of power and technology. The emphasis on representations, coupling of ideas, and the person of the criminal gives way to one focused on the body and 'soul', on training mechanisms, on the manipulation of the individual. The goal is to generate an obedient subject who obeys and responds automatically. This does not require spectacle. It does, however require total power over that person, omnipresent and enforced automatically. This can and must be secret and private, although there is a risk that arbitrary despotism will return.
In the late 18th century in France, there were three mechanisms at work -- the traditional royal mode, the punitive city, and the prison, although the prison was to triumph. These three models did not simply reflect different theories of law, nor different apparatuses or institutions, nor simple moral choices. They indicate different modalities of how power is to be exercised, three 'technologies of power' (page 131).
Part 3 Discipline
The techniques to manipulate bodies can be seen in the military, which set great store by the 'bearing' of a soldier. It reflected the high point of the conception of man as a machine (page 176), supported by parallel developments in philosophy, as in Descartes, as well as requirements to do various techno-political tasks in armies, schools, and hospitals. These conceptions (or 'registers') overlap in various treatises celebrating man as a machine. A theme of docility also emerges -- human beings are to be manipulable as well as analysable in these treatises.
became individualised in the 18th century, and the power over the body
was extended to the most minute movements. This time, it was driven by a
search for an economy of movement. Manipulation was to be uninterrupted,
constant, and detailed, leading to a stress on 'discipline'. The changes
also were about extracting maximum utility from people as well, and the
ascetic disciplines of the monastery were an influence. A 'political
anatomy' ,a 'mechanics of power' were
developing, to simultaneously increase energy and subject it. This
implies some prior analysis and classification of the characteristics of
A unified technique emerged from a convergence and overlap of lots of small movements and tendencies found in schools, hospitals and the military as solutions to various developments, such as an outbreak of disease, or industrial or military innovation. The essential techniques passed from one institution to another, sometimes quickly, sometimes less quickly. Together, they made up a new 'micro physics' of power over individual bodies, which then spread throughout the social body itself, including the punishment system. Techniques were very detailed, thanks to an 'attentive malevolence that turns everything to account' (page 139), and detail is important to Christian thought as well. Meticulous observation of detail, together with a political awareness of them, led to a whole body of knowledge and techniques -- thus 'the man of modern humanism was born' (page 141). Further:
Timetabling developed, probably originating in monasteries. It became increasingly detailed and managed: time was to be made useful with no waste. There was an increasing elaboration of the desired act, such as different types of marching step in the French army, a whole choreography. The body was to be used to maximum efficiency, producing early advice about things like the correct posture for handwriting in schools. The relations between objects were described with increasing precision, such as how to hold a rifle in different circumstances -- a 'body - weapon' complex (page 153). Machinery and people were to be used exhaustively, to prevent idleness, as in military drill [the example looks like an early time-and-motion study]. Finally, new knowledge about the body emerged, eventually developing into a science of behaviour.
In France in 1737 a new school appeared which ranked its pupils according to their ability at fixed tasks, following a careful specification of tasks and the accurate recording of performance. Time was carefully managed, divided into discrete periods and sequencing the curriculum. Learners were segregated from the experienced pupils, and systematic teaching began, organised around progress from simple elements towards greater complexity (simply copying whole sequences had been the norm before). The duration of teaching was carefully decided, and there was a test at the end. Exercises were individualised according to ability.
Thus began a whole analytic pedagogy. Learning to read for example was divided into seven stages. Pupils were streamed. Teachers were given a considerable scope for control in detail. Frequent exercises took place aimed at future evolution according to a guiding programme. What might have started originally as a religious search for perfection now offered endless possibilities for subjection.
The development of military organisation came from both economic factors, such as a view that each soldier should be used to maximum efficiency, and technical ones, such as the invention of the rifle. Developments in the division of labour in factories followed a similar route. In both, the individual was now used according to location rather than individual qualities, and the organisation of units became the most important task. Chronological series became used as machines to extract the maximum from people, as in the gradation of tasks by age in factories and schools, so that even children would always be doing something useful. Finally, new command systems were required, such as signals with automatic responses.
Power became cellular, organic (classifying activities), genetic (taking place over time) and combinatory. It was founded on tables, prescribed movement, frequent exercises, and tactics (the 'highest form of disciplinary practice' page 167). Military tactics became a model for social order, a peaceful and docile and mechanical one.
Training became important, and it is this that makes individuals. The great ceremonial procedures are important, but so are the minor ones, and indeed, they came to invade the major ones.
Training depends on careful observation, the
rendering of objects as visible, in 'observatories' like military camps,
urban developments, working-class estates, hospitals, asylums, prisons
and schools. These locations offer networks of gazes, hierarchical
surveillance and 'embedding' [that
is, a system of building in, of observation in this case, into precise
arrangements of walls, windows, furniture and rooms] (page 172). A whole
architecture of control develops, permitting staff to observe and
treat patients, prevent contagion, or circulate air, for example.
Schools like the Ecole Militaire taught people in sealed compartments
with apertures for surveillance, had a raised table in the dining room
so the staff could see everyone, and built latrines with half doors so
the legs were visible at all times.
All this detail led to problems of co-ordination.
One solution was circular architecture to which we shall return to, but
the usual solution involved pyramids, with levels and connections
between them, subdivided supervision and a degree of specialism. Marx
notes that some factories developed systems like this, the better to
extract relative surplus value [or
'increase productivity' to use more conventional terms]. Teaching was
done this way too, with senior pupils assisting in administration and
surveillance as well as tutoring. Power is dispersed in systems like
this, seemingly not possessed by anyone, but appearing automatic and
Most organisations also had some system of
penalties, punishing people [ eg in schools] for lateness or
impoliteness, for example. The
whole area of non-conformity gradually became punishable, and this
too came to seem natural. Punishment was intended to correct
non-conformity, usually in the form of exercises and tests, a
'reduplicated insistence' (page 180). Punishments were connected to rewards in a simple
system of good and evil, although it was possible to calculate more
specifically, leading to a whole 'micro economy of privileges and
impositions' (page 180),
often turning on tiny distinctions of clothing or duties. Social
mobility between the levels produced a constant pressure to conform. In
this way, disciplinary organizations 'normalise'
(page 183). These normalising tendencies are very important:
defining what is normal is a major instrument of power, and this was
realised eventually even by the external legal apparatus which changed
[in all its senses, a medical examination, a scientific
examination, and an educational examination] offers such a 'normalising
gaze' (page 184), which is
central to the exercise of power. Examinations involve a micro focus of
power as well, on their objects. Examinations make knowledge possible --
the hospital examination allowed the development of medical knowledge,
and transferred power to the physician from the religious staff.
The hospital became a place of knowledge and training, and
produced a whole medical discipline, based on the examined objects.
School examinations also enabled the transformation of pupils into
objects of knowledge, leading to the emergence of pedagogy. Army
inspections enabled the development of a body of tactical knowledge.
This is how the modern individual emerges. Previously, only wealthy or famous people could claim to be individuals, but now we have all been ‘individualised’ in this anonymous and functional way, as a result of 'descending power' (not just as a result of pressures from the economy). So ironically, deviants now have more chance of being genuinely individual than do the law abiding normal citizens [so is this an endorsement of a deviant way of life?]. Such individualisation is the basis of all subsequent psychological science.
Surveillance can be very detailed and very
powerful, as seen in the example of the egime enforced on a French
village during the plague. Consistent and massive discipline and
supervision often led to some imagined Utopia of a perfectly governed
city, but the real applications were found in asylums and then prisons.
Bentham's Panopticon was designed to make prisoners objects of information, never subjects or citizens in their own right. Isolation was used to discipline prisoners, and school children and workers too. Constant surveillance was supposed to induce a permanent awareness that they were being watched, while the actual occurrence of surveillance was to be 'unverifiable'. Thus power was to be seen as automatic and impersonal, with the abilities and motives of the supervisor as irrelevant -- indeed, no particular skills were required. Prisons need not be heavy dark buildings any more. Prisoners were to internalise the gaze of the supervisor, each 'inscribes in himself the power relation' (page 203).
The point of all this observation was to be able to classify prisoners, for example to distinguish '"laziness and stubbornness" from "incurable imbecility"', in Bentham’s words (page 203 of Foucault). Experiments were also possible, to test the effects of different prison regimes, or to measure the effects of contacts with others. Employees could also be observed, and so could the director, so they needed to be [self] disciplined as well. Knowledge was to follow the power to observe, and to normalise. The techniques could be applied to a wide range of institutions, and were effective, automatic, and infinitely adjustable. The techniques were powerful in themselves and were seen as a solution to many problems at once. Finally, the prison could be inspected and understood by the public, leading to democratic inspection to prevent abuses of powers.
Mechanisms like these strengthen social forces and multiply the power gained from constant low level action. Power no longer needs to be violent and discontinuous. The new physics of measurement, comparison, low-level data gathering generates power that can be focused directly on to individual bodies, and prisons became models for disciplinary networks and an entire disciplinary society. Disciplines are not the same as institutions, but are a modal type of power.
This happened because of an increased demand for
the positive role of disciplines, not just constrain people but to
increase their effectiveness. There
was a spread from particular institutions [or State apparatuses], from
children in schools to their parents and neighbours (who also needed to
be observed and researched in the interests of effective education),
from hospitals and charities to their communities. The State took an
increasing role, at least in France, by organising a national police
system, for example, with a specific role to observe details and gather
intelligence, and to set up surveillance networks.
All these are examples of the necessary context for more abstract
examples highlighted by other thinkers, such as the 'great abstraction
of [economic] exchange' (page 217) [obviously for Marx -- and I would
want to add 'organic solidarity' for Durkheim, 'rationalisation' for
Weber, and so on]. These
mechanisms fabricate individuals.
They do this in new circumstances, required to do so at lowest cost, and to the greatest effect and extent. New mass institutions such as schools and armies require legions of docile objects, and the old mechanisms of docility are inadequate and too costly. Mechanisms are needed to manage increasing populations, and to harness the recently developed productive forces. These developments have to be co-ordinated, and resistance overcome, and this is to be done by an insistence on vertical channels of power, preventing horizontal communication at the lower levels (page 220). These mechanisms of power could also be incorporated discreetly. The spread of these techniques enabled a political and administrative take-off in modern society akin to the economic one. This is equally integral to the accumulation of capital (page 221).
The spread of these disciplinary techniques accompanies politics at the grand level as a necessary 'dark side', an essential accompaniment to the political rhetoric of equality and rights. They guarantee the necessary submission to authority, the real basis of social order, and the 'foundation of formal juridical liberties' (page 222). They do not extend the law but underpin it -- for example by it supporting the work contract. by developing workshop discipline. Disciplinary techniques cover those frequent local occasions where the law must be temporarily suspended [or extended and modified] in the interests of order. Thus prisons have an important role in applying a universal law to complex concrete cases. They implement the power to punish, and turn it into a matter of observation [and behaviour-shaping]. This carries on where the law stops [and into things like social science].
A threshold was crossed in the 18th century,
producing new scientific knowledges and disciplinary technologies. This was as
important a step as the emergence of industrial technologies, even
though it has never been recognised as such. It led to the growth of
empirical investigation and to both natural and human sciences. It even
recolonised the system of justice from below, so that now, prolonged
observation is at the heart of penal justice, and other institutions for
that matter. However, it must be remembered that these are not abstract
techniques, but still linked to power.
trends of observation,
measurement and coding
predated the use
of prisons as
There were several
other disciplinary mechanisms
Prisons helped solve
the contradictions between
egalitarian law and
the need for
in the form
of a more
It soon seemed
as if there
was no alternative.
Since personal liberty
was highly prized,
a restriction of
it just seemed
right and egalitarian,
and this could
even be quantified.
Prisons can also
generate labour for
the benefit of
the whole society
off a debt',
as we have seen.
They seemed to
be only an
extension of familiar
and they always
offered to reform
had long been
an interest in
machines to reform
of the prison'
had long been
an active field.
of prisons led
to the development
of advanced record
a kind of
This was the
only way to
implement the intentions
of the sentence,
and had the
additional advantage of
The real achievement, however, was the emergence of an entirely new object -- the delinquent. This is a person who offends because of their past life, uniquely requiring an institution like a prison to reconstruct their entire life in the form of specialist knowledge, such as their 'psychology, social position and upbringing' (page 252). There was a whole new biographical inquiry. This reduces the personal responsibility for crime, but simultaneously makes criminality even more formidable, requiring even stricter regimes (page 252). Delinquency also requires the investigation of other issues beyond personal responsibilities double - the 'instincts, drives, tendencies, character' (page 253), and the social groups [almost subcultures] to which delinquents belong. There was also a classification of delinquency leading to different regimes for different types (such as imbeciles or cunning people), which eventually led to modern criminology. In this sense, 'Prison fabricated delinquents' (page 255), although both delinquents and modern prisons appear together, rather than the one causing the other. Delinquency was nevertheless a unique category, standing between the old ones, such as the social outcast, and the reformed individual. The category expressed a unique combination of law and science, and it was the main contribution of the prison (and its continuing social value) to bring this contribution into being (page 256).
in punishment technology
were symbolized in
the ending of
the chain gang,
the public display
of convicted criminals
on their way
marching chained together.
This used to
work as one
of those public
the public were
supposed to interpret
in official ways
they also interpreted
in unofficial ways)
as part of
The spectacle induced
as it traveled through
frequently played to
even suggested that
their crimes were
As a result,
the chain gang
became very unpopular
with the authorities
in the 1830s.
As an alternative,
a special police
carriage was devised
to transport prisoners,
no mere enclosed
This began the
process of reforming
the old semiology
since the coach
was supposed to
be a dark
warning to onlookers.
of prisons has
always been accompanied
by criticisms of
included that they
demonstrated with statistics
as early as
they did not
especially the dangerous
rather produced them,
this time in
the usual sense
of making them
unsuited to return
to normal society,
brutalising and corrupting
them to build
loyalties to their
and offering them
no real chance
of work outside.
Prison also punished
families by making
Running throughout these
criticisms are contradictory
prisons should both
act more effectively
to correct and
that they should
still offer punishment.
criticisms led to
an insistence that
prisons should not
but must: be aimed
at reform; must
isolate and individualise;
must offer modifiable
make work central;
should offer education;
should be staffed
by trained specialists;
and should be
extended to include
a system of
follow-up on release
to check if
prisoners had successfully
These themes remained
with prison design
as a 'complex
utopian elements surfaced,
together with interwoven
regulations and scientific
and reinforcing programmes'
Throughout it all, prisons
continued to be
Prisons were continually seen to fail to rehabilitate offenders, and yet they still received public support. That is because of their other positive functions, including the creation of the delinquent. This category was created not to eliminate criminals, but to use them, to handle illegalities and to process them, to use classifications and legal punishments as part of a much more general strategy to preserve social order. The criminal law always had the problem of dealing with illegalities, not only those of the feudal regime, but those arising from the political revolt of 1830 and 1848, which showed how illegal action could take on a political dimension (as, say, the refusal to pay taxes escalated into civil disobedience, or as strikes became revolutionary). These new illegalities helped to delegitimize the law, which became seen as increasingly partisan. New illegalities arose from the proliferation of new offences -- ways of avoiding new property laws, conscription or work discipline, for example, and there was a danger that these would be associated with wider social struggles.
was a general
fear of the
people in the
a myth of
including scientific versions
referring to ‘criminal
the law increasingly
became a matter
of regulating this
criminal classes not
only disobeyed the
were seen to
misunderstand its abstract
kind of 'linguistic
The prison's role became even more important, to define and classifying and treat delinquency as a manageable form of illegality. Delinquency was seen as less dangerous politically and economically because it did not escalate into social struggle, and thus it became an approved and politically convenient category. Delinquency was seen as a useful safety valve. It is easier to supervise delinquency too. Demonising delinquents seemed to localise criminality, and control illegality (indeed, the police deliberately used local thugs or prostitutes to control and inform on local activists -- page 279 -- as a kind of 'reserve army' for the police).
of criminals enabled
developments of general
surveillance of the
population as a
this with the
CCCS accounts of the
moral panic generated
as a device
to excuse the
increased policing of political
Surveillance required an
extended security service,
involving criminal intelligence,
central records and
Small techniques such
as the use
of the card
index enabled considerable
the prison remained
as an important
contacts could be
delinquents could be
the failure to
reform became insignificant
compared to these
were not policed,
It is literally
impossible to police
all of them.
needed as a
category that can
and has even
led to the
emergence of celebrity
practised illegality only
in delinquent ways,
not politically subversive
reminds me of
the celebrity enjoyed
by the notorious
Kray or Richardson
Gangs in the East
End of London,
who were admired
as diamond geezers
because they looked after
their old mums,
only did normal
criminality such as
armed robbery, and
only murdered fellow gangsters].
The debate shows that
tactical importance of
definitions and classifications,
in this case
from normal working
This assisted the
training in general
was successful enough
to turn respectable
(Union leaders were
denounced as criminals
and tended be
punished more severely!)
Delinquents were seen
to be everywhere,
and the fear
of them increased.
attempts to map
their world as
an alien one,
in crime novels
techniques have worked
but there has
been resistance in
the form of
a long alternative
working-class account of
delinquency as a
often associated than
an attempt to
expose upper-class crime.
There was even
some early work
to celebrate the
political potential of
journals of 1838,
in the spirit of ‘the return of the repressed’, and some
criminals were celebrated
as offering political
example of rebellious
opens with a
description of a
particular model French
prison (Mettray), possibly
for young offenders.
This one seemed
to combine a
number of disciplinary
schools and even
their own internal
timetable stressed physical
and the systematic
recording of results,
and the aim
was to produce
a skilled agricultural
The prison trained
other professionals too,
focusing on techniques
of 'pure discipline',
rather than science,
although Psychology was
to develop in
that institution as well,
to speak by
the practical techniques
Prisons like this were to represent just one stage in a whole 'carceral archipelago' (page 297). They spawned Alms Houses, penal colonies, agricultural schools, orphanages, ‘factory-convents’ and specialist charities, all of which practised additional surveillance on their communities as well as on their inmates. What resulted was:
We can see that this model is based on the notion of networks of power, rather than a single central source for it, and on a whole series of elements including 'walls, space, institutions, rules, discourses' (page 307). There is a whole set of mechanisms to administer punishment, and particular institution such as the courts depend on this set. The set is aimed at a number of illegalities rather than at preserving some central body of laws. It is run by strategy and struggle. It is not enough to explain the emergence of this system as simply a matter of 'repression', or marginalisation: instead a whole series of petty decisions, techniques and negotiations is responsible. The system is dominant, but always there is the 'distant roar of battle' (page 308).