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Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison [Paperback]

Michel Foucault
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 25 1995
In this brilliant work, the most influential philosopher since Sartre suggests that such vaunted reforms as the abolition of torture and the emergence of the modern penitentiary have merely shifted the focus of punishment from the prisoner's body to his soul.

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Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison + The History of Sexuality: An Introduction + The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3: The Care of the Self
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About the Author

Michel Foucault (1926�1984) was a French philosopher, historian, social theorist, and philologist. One of the leading intellectuals of the twentieth century and the most prominent thinker in post-war France, Foucault's work influenced disciplines as diverse as history, sociology, philosophy, sociology, and literary criticism.

One of AudioFile magazine's Golden Voices, Simon Prebble has received over twenty Earphones Awards and five Listen-Up Awards, and he has been a finalist fourteen times for an Audie Award. In 2006, Publishers Weekly named him Narrator of the Year, and he was named Booklist's 2010 Voice of Choice. --This text refers to the MP3 CD edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
On 2 March 1757 Damiens the regicide condemmed 'to make the amende honorable before the main door of the Church of Paris', where he was to be 'taken and conveyed in a cart, wearing nothing but a a shirt, holding a torch of burning wax weighing two pounds'; then, 'in the said cart, to the place de Greve, where, on a scaffold that will be erected there, the flesh will be torn from his breasts, arms, thighs and calves with red-hot pincers, his right hand, holding the knife with which he committed the said parricide, burnt with sulphur, and,on those places where the flesh will be torn away, poured molten lead, boiling oil, burning resin, wax and sulphur melted together and then his body drawn and quartered by four horses and his limbs and body consumed by fire, reduced to ashes and his ashes thrown to the winds' (Pieces originales . . ., 372-4). Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars About power and agency, not prisons Aug. 6 2003
This book is no more about the history of prisons than the fable of the rabbit and hare is about animal competition. Foucault is writing about the power of normalization in western society.
Within five minutes of my residence there are two large Texas state prisons. The offenders incarcerated in these facilities exist in a network of interlocking disciplinary mechanisms, mechanisms that Foucault unveils in this book. The criminal justice system, the prison environment, the educational/training opportunities available during incarceration, parolee supervision, and the limited employment options on release all coordinate to encapsulate the offender's life. The offender's agency is significantly impaired for the balance of his life regardless of his domiciliary.
I live in a master planned, suburban community subject to a detailed and lengthy list of deed restrictions. These deed restrictions dictate the colors that I can paint my house, the height to which my grass can grow, the type of trees that I can plant in the front yard as well as the insistence that I plant three trees in my front yard. My wife and I have had to paint the front door twice in the last four years to comply with homeowner association threats, and we have been chastised for offenses as "severe" as leaving a hose uncoiled for too long in the front yard.
Now I admit that there is a modicum of agency in my decision to live in this specific community; however, just like the offenders incarcerated nearby, I live in a network of interlocking disciplinary mechanisms. I contend that my agency is also significantly impaired. The difference between my life and the offender's life is one of degree, not kind.
This is the message Foucault communicates with both style and substance in this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating but politically static Sept. 30 2001
According to James Miller's "The Passion of Michel Foucault" (which, by the way, is the best Foucault bio), Foucault described "Discipline and Punish" as his "first real book" and noted on more than one occasion its superiority to "The Order of Things," a prior book touted by some as his best. It's not difficult to see why he was so fond of this particular text. In "Discipline," readers will discover all of the things that have endeared so many academics and students to his work. For one, there are the radical, counter-intuitive arguments themselves. According to Foucault, western societies have moved away from a punitive mechanism focused on public torture to one based on prisons not because we have become more humane but because tortures no longer effectively served their purpose, to legitimize sovereign power (here, one can detect the virulent anti-Enlightenment strain that characterizes all of his books). But Foucault doesn't stop there. He argues that prisons are merely the visible embodiment of a broader, all-encompassing "power," the principles of which one can find crystallized in Jeremy Bentham's "panopticon." Basically, the panopticon is a model prison with an opaque tower in the center, which can house a warden or a guard, surrounded by the cages of the prisoners themselves. The panopticon creates an insurmountable power relation in which the prisoner, who can't look inside the tower to see if someone is there, internalizes the possible gaze of the authorities or the idea of being monitored perpetually, and behaves accordingly. Foucault goes on to argue that panoptic principles were not limited just to prisons, but eventually and on its own came to permeate schools, barracks, factories, and other social institutions. Read more ›
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Are All Inside the Panopticon Now April 27 2002
By J.W.K
This book has been described as Foucault's masterpiece, and for good reason. Through this "genealogy" of history, Foucault shows us how modern society has become penal and coercive in nature; and perhaps more importantly, that all us now live in the midst of an abstract, authoritative public "gaze."
Although the book traverses a lot of historical ground, Foucault's discussion culminates in an analysis of Jeremy Bentham's prison concept. Bentham, the founder of Utilitarianism philosophy, believed that individual rights are subordinate to the state. In fact, he went so far as to call them "nonsense on stilts." As long as the government protected its people and treated them decently, he did not believe that the polity could be accused of oppressing its citizen - be they convicts or otherwise. Thus, Bentham was the first philosopher to give the modern penal system its rational underpinnings. Today, we take it as a matter of course that those who do not conform to laws are trucked off to prison. But with this book, Foucault attempts to completely undermine our intuitive sense of what is right, what is coercive, what is rational, and ultimately what is true. Perhaps better than any other author out there, Foucault shows us the subtle madness of Western institutional logic.
Foucault focused on Bentham's prison model, or the Penopticon as Bentham called it - which literally means, that which sees all. The Penopticon prison, which was popular in the early nineteenth century, was designed to allow guards to see their prisons, but not allow prisoners to see guards. The building was circular, with prisoner's cells lining the outer diameter, and in the center of the circle was a large, central observational tower.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing
I read this for a course, I will reread it again and again because of its relevence.
Published on Aug. 18 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars Power, Discipline and Institutions in Modernity
I've read this book three times: First time was in undergraduate, second time was in law school, third time was last week. Read more
Published on Oct. 6 2003 by S. Pactor
1.0 out of 5 stars Virtual hot pincers speak volumes
It seems only to have occurred to a few of these reviewers that whatever Foucault intended as the poltical upshot of Discipline and Punish (and are we even 'allowed' to ask such a... Read more
Published on Aug. 20 2002 by "moirasweeney"
5.0 out of 5 stars A Fascinating - and vivid - Account of Crime and Punishment
I am not a big fan of Foucault; however, I was fascinated by Crime and Punishment. One of the principal ideas which Foucault discusses in Discipline & Punish is that public... Read more
Published on Nov. 20 2001 by Alessandro Bruno
5.0 out of 5 stars The spectacle
Foucault learns from history by looking backwards in time until a salient rupture appears, then goes forward detailing all of histories accounts. Read more
Published on Oct. 17 2001 by "warmsticky"
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I found this book especially interesting from the perspective of anarchism. It provided a richer construction of power and coersion than you see in traditional anarchism. Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2001 by Rabble
2.0 out of 5 stars Mashed Potato Through a Straw
I was assigned this book in a class last semester. I am glad that I read it; and I encourage others to do so. Read more
Published on Jan. 17 2001
4.0 out of 5 stars The coercive foundations of modern disciplinary society
"Discipline and Punish", a key text in the Foucaldian canon, is an ambitious, though at times imprecise, attempt to trace the ideological bases of the modern punitive... Read more
Published on Sept. 21 2000 by TheIrrationalMan
4.0 out of 5 stars Foucault's discipline and punish
A truly remarkable postmodern historical insight into the power structure of the prison system as only Foucault can.
Published on June 13 2000 by Derry A .Dorman
5.0 out of 5 stars Grisly...
Michel Foucault is a rather difficult individual to pigeonhole as belonging to one or another scholarly discipline. Is he a philosopher? Read more
Published on May 13 2000 by D. Roberts
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