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Discipline and Punish - The Birth of The Prison [Paperback]

Michel Foucalt , Alan Sheridan
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Jan 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.

Product details

  • Paperback: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Random House USA Inc; 2nd Vintage Books ed edition (1 Jan 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679752552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679752554
  • Product Dimensions: 20.6 x 13.1 x 1.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 696,812 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback 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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
In this insightful study, Foucault provides a meticulous account on the normalising practices employed by modern society. Using the example of the emergence of the prison Foucault shows how modern society is obsessed by a need to systematise, generalise, examine, and more generally subjectifying the individual by means of disciplinary techniques.
I can highly recommend this book, probably one of the best I have ever read.
Commenting on the review by the reader from the US (13 March 2000), Foucault is not actually writing a history of the prison, but is rather taking a genealogical approach. This suggests that we need to rethink the traditional notion of events being ordered along a continuum of chronological time.
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58 of 64 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Using academic works and legal documents dating back to the early 1700s, Foucault constructs a history of punishment in France, beginning with the spectacle of corporal punishment and public execution and ending with the institution of the modern prison. He argues that over the course of approximately eighty years (between the torture and execution of Damiens the regicide in 1757 and the opening of Mettray in 1840) that corporal punishment and public execution dissolved and incarceration became the punishment par excellence for transgressions against society.
This transition is rooted in two Enlightenment ideals: humanity and equality. On one hand, penal reformers argued that public execution is cruel and inhumane, and on the other, that the criminal laws and their corresponding punishments were too haphazard and unevenly distributed. In light of these criticisms, a series of political, economic, moral, and legal transformations occurred that found its ultimate expression in the establishment of the prison. Having argued this, Foucault concludes his discussion by explaining why the prison has been such a permanent institution in society, despite the criticisms that it fails to reform criminals and to reduce crime.
Everything considered, the title Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is misleading. The title suggests a simple (or rather, complex) explanation of the emergence of the prison out of the classical period. Foucault does indeed construct a history of the prison, but his project involves far more than simply articulating the process by which the prison is born.
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32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Foucault rules! 29 Jan 2004
By ldxar1
As someone who is sick of hearing the nonsense that's usually talked about "crime", this book was a welcome relief. In fact, it's more than that; it's one of the few books I can actually say has changed my way of thinking about social issues.
It's a historical text, following the emergence of prisons over time and looking at conceptions of power and punishment over quite a long period, but it has often been received as a contemporary commentary. Foucault once said (in Remarks on Marx) that if he has so irritated contemporary authors with a historical text, then it must have contemporary relevance.
It's also remarkably readable for saying that it's a poststructuralist classic. It's also (horror of horrors!) properly referenced and argued, and actually sticks to the subject.
Somebody should insist on reading the whole thing to David Blunkett.
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31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic - pure and simple 25 May 2006
So far as the social sciences are concerned, this is one of the most influential books to have been published in the last fifty years. Whereas radical social theorists used cite Marx most commonly, now they cite Foucault as often as not. And of all Foucault's work, this seems to be the most cited.

It begins with a description of a gruesome execution (not for the squeamish) and then moves on to describe a system of punishment a mere eighty years later that is utterly different: in place of the hanging, drawing and quartering there is a detailed timetable for a disciplinary regime in a prison. Why the drastic change? Foucault claims the target of punishment is no longer the body, but the 'soul': the soul is to be disciplined and prisoners reformed. It's all connected with the rise of capitalism and a move towards the ordered, disciplinary society. Famously, Foucault explains the principle of the panopticon in which a few guards in a central observation tower can observe a large number of prisoners in a circular prison. This vividly illustrates the way in which modern societies use surveillance techniques to control people. Knowledge combines with power to form an efficient means to conduct people's conduct. (Foucault picks up on the double meaning of 'conduct'.)

It's a great, original analysis of one aspect of modernity. Foucault is much more readable than certain other authors associated with postmodernism (not that Foucault himself accepted the label): if you're accustomed to reading academic material, it's not a difficult read, though the general public might struggle. And you don't have to buy into any general theory of power, postmodern relativism, etc. to get something from it. A brilliant intellect was at work in the writing of this book: it's well worth a read.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 12 days ago by H. D. Hoseph
4.0 out of 5 stars discipline or not
interesting social commentary looking at discipline ande punishment through the ages. lomng winded in parts but ver informatoive overall. not a punishing read
Published 2 months ago by D. R. Pugsley
4.0 out of 5 stars Bought this for an assignment but I really enjoyed it.
Foucault makes you think about things that you've never stopped to think about before and in ways that you never would have.
Published 4 months ago by Kirstie Collinge
5.0 out of 5 stars chuffed!
Such a great book. Much cheaper than the stores! Even has the photos that were published in the original. V Pleased!
Published 8 months ago by Harriet
5.0 out of 5 stars Whoa!
Thanks to Mr Focault I am now able to both discipline and punish any body who so comes with in a mile of me. Read more
Published 16 months ago by The Big Kahuna
4.0 out of 5 stars Must-read social science
Michel Foucault was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century - and rightly so. In 'Discipline and Punish', he examines the rise of the prison system in France. Read more
Published 16 months ago by A. O. P. Akemu
5.0 out of 5 stars MUST READ!!!
A brilliant, classic book for anyone interested in the new penality and the birth of the modern prison system. Ideal for criminology, criminal justice or social policy students.
Published 17 months ago by K. Bond
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book!
It explains everything about management and especially if you want to look into the surveillance theme ! I really very much enjoyed it !
Published on 29 Dec 2011 by Petros
5.0 out of 5 stars Foucault's Discipline and Punish
An absolute must read for anyone within the social sciences and an eye opener for all, inciteful, enjoyable and an inspirational source to rely upon about the birth of the prison.
Published on 23 Nov 2011 by Wesley1044
5.0 out of 5 stars Discipline and purnish
A good book to look at issues of power and hierachy within the institutions of the society. Foucault has a good idea which is not like other writers of his time.
Published on 8 July 2011 by Zeebaby
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