Foucault – Discipline and Punish Chapter 1

March 2013

We accept and expect forms of punishment on those who exhibit certain behaviors. We just ask that punishment be just. Our political leaders perform their role by designing the form that punishment takes. Foucault argues that it is not a coincidence that the evolution of punishment in France and England saw significant changes as the economic structure of these countries went through massive changes from feudalism (Middle Ages), to mercantilism (1500s – late 1700s), to the industrial revolution (1760 – 1840). Punishment moved from overt, public attacks of retribution on the body to hidden punishment executed for the sake of recovering the soul of the accused. Prior to the industrial revolution the questions asked about the accused were simple: Did this person commit this crime? Torture on the body was a way of redeeming the person from their crime. During the industrial revolution torture was no longer accepted by the population as an acceptable method of punishment, and other questions were beginning to be asked. Is this person insane? Are they responsible for their actions? What kind of person are they? Can they be redeemed? By softening its forms of punishment, and by answering these questions the political leaders were able to continue maintaining public peace. The target of redemption in punishment transferred from the redemption of the body to the redemption of the soul through correcting their attitudes and behaviors (at least in theory) through training and discipline. The consequence of this was to create a role of the new sciences like psychology to take responsibility in the penal process. This has implications concerning power. Power is the primary concern of Foucault in understanding the history of punishment.


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