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

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

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 Audio CD edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage Books; 2nd edition (April 25, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679752552
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679752554
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 7.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

420 of 440 people found the following review helpful By Peter A. Kindle on August 6, 2003
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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238 of 256 people found the following review helpful By J.W.K on April 27, 2002
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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60 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Louise Dana on December 21, 1999
Format: Paperback
Foucault traces the history of the prison system and the fundamental change in punishment that took place in the seventeenth century from retributive punishment of criminals, 'supplice,' to the rehabilitation of delinquents. Foucault is concerned with this change as it demonstrates something pervasive and not just exclusive to the prison system--normalization, or socialization. All the silly little things done in schools, for instance, you will see in quite a different light after reading this book. It's one of those books that--well, at the risk of sounding supremely cornball, will open your mind. All mind-opening books are painful, though, and this is definitely a painful read, mainly thanks to Foucault's _terrible_ writing style. Apparently he wrote it in two days straight with the aid of way too much coffee. (This is partly the translator's fault--other translator's version are a [slight] improvement, and when Foucault wrote in English he did a better job than any of his translators. Slightly better, that is.) Be prepared for sentences within sentences within sentences within sentences within sentences, none of which are marked off by parentheses or dashes. Foucault uses commas very, very lavishly, as some sort of all-purpose punctuation mark, and shies away from periods as if they were the Plague. Eventually, you get used to it, though, and the content is actually worth it.
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53 of 59 people found the following review helpful By AGaul on February 17, 2005
Format: Paperback
Reviewers are right about this book tracing the origins of the modern surveillance state back to the birth of the modern prison system but they are not mentioning the prime motive for this that Foucault points to: profit and capitalism. With the rise of industrial society it was more important to regiment and discipline the masses than 'off with their head' or hands. The panopticon prison idea was taken to the factory and service industry by industial giants like Carnegie and Rockefeller and the fruits of this profitable perversion can be seen all over society today: delivery drivers monitored throughout the day by GPS, social security cards, public schooling (founded by the same industrial giants) intellectual and psychological grading, job placement and conformity, credit ratings, licences needed to do everything but go to the bathroom, a growing snitch culture...Foucault's major thesis is that surveillance (discipline) aids profit and any deviation from profit leads to state-sanctioned punishment in the form of increased surveillance. As industry and profits increase so will the surveillance and discipline that make it run smoothly. Every facet of modern society works to this end. The irony is, as techno-pundits like McCluhan later pointed out, in the modern world the prisoner with a tv set has as much denatured freedom as the tycoon in his guarded estate and they enjoy a lot of the same things in a world where pleasure is increasingly programmed and vicarious; in a world that has turned from the moral order to the profit order, where bad credit today is the profit order version of the ancient moral order idea of excommunication. Everything that stands in the way of the profit order, whether it be an idea, person, religion, or country is attacked.Read more ›
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