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Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison Paperback – Apr 25 1995

4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; REP edition (April 25 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679752552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679752554
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.9 x 20.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 159 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #10,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

About the Author

Michel Foucault (1926--84) is widely considered to be one of the most influential academic voices of the twentieth century and has proven influential across disciplines.

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback
This book was quite informative about how prisons came about. The earlier chapters gave enough background to help the explanations later, and they were interesting enough (in fact, they were perhaps the best part of the book) to read through before getting to the discussion on how punishment evolved.

While there were many examples provided in Docile bodies and The means of correct training that dragged on a bit, they were necessary to get through in order to fully understand the later parts of the book.

It was fascinating to see Foucault's points on how society in general (and not just the prisons) has become more 'mechanical' (as shown through military and educational institutions, for example), and the brief discussion of the Panopticon was an interesting read, as well. He provides a lot to think about in terms of punishment and power, and it leads to engaging thoughts about how that has shaped society now.

Not only is the subject matter interesting, but it is written in a straightforward manner that makes it easy to understand. This is definitely a book worth reading - more so if philosophy, criminology, and history are of interest to the reader.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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