Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Foucault pg 135-141

Michel Foucault
Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
Pg 135-141
Abstract by Patricia Helen Little

In the first few pages of the chapter entitled “Docile Bodies” Michel Foucault explains his theory on discipline. Discipline is a word he uses that describes certain methods that are used to dominate ‘docile bodies’, meaning humans who are able to be dominated, namely all of us.

Foucault starts his chapter explaining when he feels this idea of ‘docile bodies’ was first discovered. To do so he uses the example of the soldier. For a long time soldiers were men who were basically born to be soldiers. These are men who physically fit the needed criteria. But some time in the 18th century it was discovered that soldiers could actually be made. Special training and other approaches were used to make a man who was not perhaps naturally inclined to become a soldier. It is at this time that humans are discovered to be docile.

Foucault writes, “A body is docile that can be subjected, used, transferred and improved” (136). This is an important concept because with the realization that people are docile, then the inclination to rule upon these people is also realized. They (who they are is not clear, Foucault never classifies them but I believe we are meant to see them as the subjugators, those who oppress or try to rule others) found that they could have a lot of control over others. While this is not a new concept, (Foucault reminds us that there have been people oppressed since the beginning of time) different methods to oppress presented themselves in new ways. First, they realized that it was more beneficial to exert control over the individual as opposed to lumping everyone together. Also, they would use their power to control other by their “efficiency of movement, their internal control” (137). And lastly, this new theory on control was focused on the process rather than the product. This would ensure control throughout and therefore would be total.

Putting these three ideas together you have what Foucault defines as discipline.
“These methods, which made possible the meticulous control of the operations of the body, which assured the constant subjection of its forces and imposed upon them a relation of docility-utility, might be called disciplines” (137). Basically these disciples are used to dominate people.

Foucault makes it clear that this domination is clearly different from slavery, which deals “on a relation of appropriation of bodies” (137). He feels it is also different from a monastery type of domination because a monastery’s main goal is not utility. “The historical moment of the disciplines was the moment when an art of the human body was born, which was directed not only at the growth of its skills, nor at the intensification of its subjection, but at the formation of a relation that in the mechanism itself makes it more obedient as it becomes more useful, and conversely” (137-138). It seems that what separates discipline from other forms of domination is its ultimate utility and usefulness to the oppressors.

This utility is ultimately realized because “discipline produces subjected and practiced bodies, ‘docile’ bodies” (138). When the masses are individually dominated you have complete control. Foucault does not feel that this was a sudden discovery. He is not painting a picture of a bunch of evil men together in a room devising a plan to rule the world. Rather, it was discovered and used, as it was needed. He writes, “on almost every occasion, they were adopted in response to particular needs” (138).

Because they were discovered and used in very separate ways the whole body of discipline has to be looked at by reviewing specific disciplines that are generally used. These are “small acts of cunning endowed with a great power of diffusion, subtle arrangements, apparently innocent, but profoundly suspicious, mechanisms that obeyed economies too shameful to be acknowledged, or pursued petty forms of coercion…” (139).

Foucault believes that “discipline is a political anatomy of detail” (139) and so we must look at the little things in order to understand the big picture. Foucault uses the next two pages to clarify why the details are important to study. He uses quotes from scholars that proclaim the truth of his method. For example, he quotes Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, “How dangerous it is to neglect little things” (140). The rest of the chapter is a detailed account of some of these ‘little things’.


I decided to do this little section because it is very important in order to understand the rest of the chapter. I admittedly ran though these first few pages and was lost and frustrated when I tried to keep going and was not understanding some very key terms. I had to start over and really follow what he was saying to understand the entire chapter.

I feel that this is a strength of Foucault’s writing. He lays everything out piece by piece. This can be bad if you are not reading closely and miss a piece because you will be hopelessly lost. However, he puts his argument out there so that if you are doing a close reading you will be able to follow him, and following Foucault through this difficult material deserves a big pat on the back.

I was especially interested in the way he describes what to me is ultimately the human condition. We are ‘docile’. We can all be led, and we are all led every single day. I have not read enough of Foucault to know what his meaning is overall, if there is one. Does he feel that knowledge is power, and by realizing that we are being subjugated and dominated that we can do something about it? Or is this just the nature of life, something we must resign ourselves to? Did smarter people figure out how to rule and now there is no way to stop it? I am in my end-of-the-semester-paranoia phase and would really like to know where I stand as a human being. Too much to ask? Probably.

Foucault – Pages 16-24

Abstract of pages 16-24 of “Body of the Condemned,” from Foucault’s Discipline & Punish: the Birth of the Prison.

by Mike Peterson


In this section, Foucault discusses the shift in punishment from torturing the body to punishing the soul. He discusses how judgment is no longer passed simply on the crime but upon on the soul (passions, instincts, anomalies, infirmities, maladjustments, heredity, environment), on the subject’s will, and on attenuating circumstances. The introduction of these extra-juridical (and non-juridical) elements in the judgment take the sole responsibility of judgment and punishment off of the judge’s shoulders and redistributes it (along with culpability, responsibility, power) to other players—magistrates, psychologists, etc—who become part of a system aimed at not only punishment, but at curing/treating the criminal.

Foucault discusses the way in which article 64, an 1810 code which states that there is neither crime nor offence if the offender was of unsound mind at the time of the act, has been twisted and forgotten, so that an unsound mind is now just one of many variables in the judgment.

Foucault ends the section by establishing the four rules by which he’ll base his study into the history of the modern soul on trial.

Comments and Questions

Foucault’s four general rules for his study of the history of the modern soul on trial (23-24):
1. Regard punishment as a complex social function.
2. Regard punishment as a political tactic.
3. Find link between the history of penal law and the human sciences.
4. Find link between the entry of the soul into the penal justice scene and
how the body is invested by power relations.

Here, Foucault is establishing the way in which he will approach his genealogy of the penal system. He doesn’t want to adopt a limited viewpoint, such as that of the humanists, but instead he wants to analyze the history of the discourse by examining the interconnectedness of politico/socio/epistomologico/scientifico-juridical phenomena.

Judgment is no longer passed on crime as a mere “juridical object defined by code;” it is now passed on “passions, instincts, anomalies, infirmities, maladjustments, effects of environment, or heredity”—some object and say this isn’t to judge the subject, but to determine their “will” in committing the crime, but Foucault argues the soul is judged along with the crime and must share the punishment (18). Murder, for example, isn’t just murder: there’s manslaughter, negligent homicide, first-degree murder, etc. So many factors go into it: your state of mind, premeditation, how the crime was carried out. If the soul weren’t on trial, murder would be murder, and the punishment for murder would be equal for all those found guilty.

It’s always troubled me that homicide as a crime of passion usually gets a lesser punishment than other forms of homicide. Or for that matter, that everybody arrested for homicide plays the insanity card in hopes of treatment rather than punishment (though I’ve seen Cuckoo’s Nest, and I have to wonder if treatment and punishment aren’t the same thing).

If judges have started judging something other than crimes, they have begun to do something other than pass judgment. They judge—define, impose, etc.—“normality,” which opens the judging to psychologists, magistrates, educationalists, and members of the prison service. “A whole set of assessing, diagnostic, prognostic, normative judgments concerning the criminal have become lodged in the framework of the penal system” Psychiatric expertise gets a justifiable hold not only on offenses, but on individuals: “not only on what they do, but also on what they are, will be, may be” (18). (18).

This makes me think of a typical law and order episode where so many people have their hands in the pie when it comes to a trial: the defender wants his glory (and pay-check), the psychologist wants to look credible, the DA wants to increase his public standing, the victim wants justice for all, the human-rights activists want fair treatment, the Republicans want heads to roll, the prosecutor wants to send a message, the judge doesn’t want to set a precedent, and so on and so forth. So many outside factors come into play: power struggles, judgments of character, politics, social control—pretty much all the stuff Foucault is talking about.

Key Terms

Soul – “the heart, the thoughts, the will, the inclinations” (16).

Genealogy – From what I understand of this, a genealogy is a study of the history of systems of knowledge. Here, Foucault is studying how the discourse of punishment has developed, and how we can (if possible) step outside of that discourse to examine it’s myths, origins, fallacies, etc, in order to…well that’s my question: In order to what? Create a new discourse?

Normality – In order to judge someone as abnormal, someone has to determine what normal is. Defining and establishing normality increases the power exercisable by judges, psychologists, magistrates, etc (since power through the penal system isn’t something to be possessed but exercised) (23).


Perhaps someone who knows more about literary criticism could answer this. What does Foucault mean on 17 when he says, referencing the end of torture and the beginning of the punishment of the soul, “It was the end of a certain kind of tragedy; comedy began, with shadow play, faceless voices, impalpable entities”? I think it’s beautifully worded, but I’m not familiar enough with comedy and tragedy to get the impact of the statement. All I really have to go on is Sanderson’s summation: Comedy: you wed. Tragedy: you’re dead.

Stabbing at Foucault

Abstract of Michel Foucault’s “The Body of the Condemned” from Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison

by Tyson Livingston

Description of Article

This piece is the first chapter of the book and also serves as an introduction to the topics and methods of research used for the book. Foucault begins by providing a description of a public execution that occurred in 1757. The description is gleaned from a number of eyewitness accounts and reveals the physically brutal and torturous nature of this type of execution. He then compares this event to a “daily schedule” for prisoners that was written about eighty years after this execution had taken place. Foucault acknowledges that these are examples of different situations with different crimes, but he shows them as representations of two different types of penal styles.

The chapter then focuses on the historical shift from this type of torturous public display of punishment to the modern penal system that we have now in most of the western world. Foucault gives two reasons for this. First, the disappearance of punishment as spectacle (8), and second, the slackening of the hold on the body (10). His discussion of these topics also leads to another key element of this chapter, which is that our modern justice system does not judge merely the criminal act, but the passions and normalcy of the accused. He indicates that “the soul also is to be judged and share in the punishment” (18).

The next section of the chapter launches into a description of the goals of the book, and the core methods Foucault uses in his study. He indicates that the book is a “correlative history of the modern soul and of a new power to judge...” (23). The four guiding “rules” of the study are, in short, 1) Regard punishment as a complex social function, 2) Regard punishment as a political tactic, 3) make the technology of power the very principle both of the humanization of the penal system and of the knowledge of man, and 4) Try to discover whether this entry of the soul on to the scene of penal justice, and with it the insertion in legal practice of a whole corpus of ‘scientific’ knowledge, is not the effect of a transformation of the way in which the body itself is invested by power relations (23-4). Foucault finishes the chapter by providing information about other theorists who have had similar ideas and describing in greater detail the foundational ideas of their and his research.

Key Terms

Penal System
Technology of Power
Micro-Physics of Power
Corpus of Knowledge
Power-Knowledge Relations

Comments and Questions:

This is the first time I have read any Foucault, though I have obviously heard him referenced numerous times, and I have to admit that I found the first chapter of the book much more interesting than I expected. Some of the ideas that initially jumped out at me are physical pain being a possible unintentional but inevitable byproduct of imprisonment — can you have a gilded cage? — and especially the idea that in modern penal systems “an army of technicians” takes over the job of the executioner, that the “immediate anatomist of pain: warders, doctors, chaplains, psychiatrists, psychologists, educationalists; by their very presence near the prisoner, they singe the praises that the law needs: they reassure it that the body and pain are not the ultimate objects of its punitive action” (10). Foucault’s take on the formation of this group, and that they are a result of the interplay of knowledge-power relations within the justice and penal system is extremely fascinating.

Foucault’s ideas of power relations are a little different than I previously understood them. That power constitutes a “network of relations, constantly in tension, in activity, rather than a privilege that one might possess” (26) is a slight shift from how I have traditionally viewed such relations. I tend to think of it as haves and haves not, rather than as a sort of eco-system.

How knowledge relates to power is also very interesting. Foucault states that “Perhaps we should abandon the belief that power makes mad and that, by the same token, the renunciation of power is one of the conditions of knowledge. We should admit rather that power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another; that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations” (27). This is still a little foggy for me, but the idea above, about psychiatry, psychology, and other specializations to determine the nature of deviancy and possible “treatments” or courses of action to determine the future of the criminal, seem to be the best example of this. This whole body of knowledge, and the careers and institutions that rise from it, are produced because of the power relations between the criminal and the members of the justice and penal systems. They are symbiotic and cannot be separated from each other.

Another area that I am having trouble wrapping my head around is Foucault’s idea of the soul. It is obvious, even before he states it, that his concept of the soul has nothing to do with Judeo-Christian ideology. But it also seems obvious that for Foucault the soul is not simply the sum of our personality, experience, and the elements that we would include to form our concept of “self.” He says that “This real, non-corporal soul is not a substance; it is the element in which are articulated the effects of a certain type of power and the reference of a certain type of knowledge, the machinery by which the power relations give rise to a possible corpus of knowledge, and knowledge extends and reinforces the effects of this power” (29). To me this seems to indicate that the soul is a construct created out of the activity and tension of power-knowledge relations, which is then superimposed upon “the self.” This construct then becomes the “prison of the body” (30).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Reading/Thinking Foucault; The ‘new’ body of the condemned

by Matt Dewey

It is sometimes difficult to read Foucault, after reading so many references to his work in the course of a social science education, and not immediately search somewhere in his books, within some strange sentence or agitating prose, an answer to his most blinding contradiction... “How can he both universalize the domination of subjectless power and still leave space for the empowerment of marginalized voices? How can, or why would, subjects which are the effects of power also subvert it (Haber, H., Beyond postmodern politics, 1994, pg. 97-98)? This problematic has be reified and reified to the point of becoming academically passé in its treatment, merely skipped over in progressive arguments of social reconstruction (as in the case of media reform) and identity politics in order to validate new forms of intellectual, social, and political domination...

...this is unfortunate- that Foucauldian arguments get only so far until we loose a vocabulary to speak about emancipation, and that it is this ‘brain worm’ that arrests my reading of Foucault (is this because of a power relation?); there are other important ideas... his critical approach of ‘genealogy’ or tracing the development of ideas and meaning we’ve historically accepted as self evident, for instance that ‘the idea of a ‘truth’ that exists outside cultural production, which we now accept as invalid, resonates in contemporary human studies...

In the first chapter of Discipline and Punishment, we are introduced to the relationship the body has with history, or more specifically modes of production, and in turn, how that relationship has affected the justifications for the types of punishments administered to those deemed criminals:

“...the penitentiary, forced labour and the prison factory appear with the development of the mercantile economy. But the industrial system requires a free market in labour... the role of forced labour in the mechanisms of punishment diminishes accordingly and ‘corrective’ detention takes its place (pg. 25)”. it seems also worth mentioning that the types of ‘acts’ considered or defined as ‘criminal’ get there justification as well from certain modes and rationalizations of production and accumulation...The illegal and therefore untaxable drug trade and its overwhelming race and class representations in US prisons may be one example...

Foucault then on pg. 26, refers again to the significance of ‘modes of production’ and the idea of the body by stating; ‘the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body’. This seems to be reminiscent of post colonial studies in that colonial power is at its most powerful when it no longer needs to show or articulate a sense of force or violence on those it subjugates; hegemonically they self regulate. It is here that Foucault begins to articulate the ‘all encompassing’ or ‘ubiquitous’ nature of power by characterizing it as a function of an entire network of social relations and institutions (a micro-physics of power, pg 26)

“...this power is not exercised simply as an obligation or a prohibition on those who, ‘do not have it’; it invests them, is transmitted by them and through them; it exerts pressure upon them, just as they themselves, in their struggle against it, resist the grip it has on them. This means that these relations go right down into the depths of society...” (pg. 27).

... Foucault also says that power is ‘exercised rather than possessed’, not a ‘privilege, acquired or preserved...but the overall effect of strategic positions (pg 26) and as much as this maybe accurate in some instances it does not seem to take into account that theses strategic positions are exclusive in many respects to members of elite socio-economic classes. Preservation of power and status and the acquisition of more of both, in many instances constitute the political and economic agendas of this class, however consciously or unconsciously callous or apparent the deliberation is. In this ‘ubiquitousness’ of Foucault’s power it seems important to contrast this idea with the way in which, for instance, ‘modes of production’ and ownership are physically organized- typically in the modern age, in top-down hierarchies. It seems as well that within such organizations, or maybe within different social organizational contexts all together, power is not so inconspicuously manipulative but overtly and visibly modulating (Galloway, A.,’ The Exploit’, 2007). In other words, maybe there isn’t an implicit, all encompassing ‘force’ acting through us and upon us in order to get us to behave certain ways, but a political-economic system that simply and overtly takes and rewards where it most benefits its reproduction (this seems to make just as much sense given Foucault’s suggestions of a ‘subjectless power’ and postmodernism attempts to decentralize the subject also). As well, Cornell West has explained in many places that there are certain realities or truths (power relations) that black people in America cannot deny or suggest exist merely in ‘strategic positions’; the power of racism does not necessarily need such ‘strategic positions’ in order to control, exclude, train and oppress. I can’t help but think that just as the ‘specters’ of ‘big brother’ are personified and exercised in the everyday operations of social relations, that it is equally shadowy to assume, with events such as the War on Terror or the Patriot Act, that there isn’t such a controlling entity, exclusive, subjective and with calculated affectations of power...

On the bottom of page 27 Foucault suggests his most grand theory, one that he will outline in the years to come more specifically in a book of writings entitled, Power/Knowledge. The relation ship between power and knowledge for Foucault is that one ‘directly implies’ the other:

…that there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations (pg27).

…This quote along with a similar one that continues on pg. 28, seem to perfectly describe the college experience, and in particular to my major, the prevalence of certain types of communication study. Along these lines, the idea power itself seems to imply a type of control, whether manipulative or modulating, of social processes; in effect, a control, either physically or ‘psychically’, over the behaviors of others. In order to thwart potential revolution by the masses it is important to legitimize the control and this legitimization becomes the logic and forms of institutions (Habermas, Legitimation Crisis, 1975). The imprint of these institutions of ‘civil training’, the sight, place, or ‘element’ where it affects us it characterized by Foucault as the ‘soul’ (pg29), or he adds, the ‘psyche, subjectivity, personality, consciousness, etc.’ If this is true, then we are simply unable to rescue ourselves…and this is, I think, the new form of prison Foucault is talking about; one without walls or guards, and no hope to escape and we are the new bodies of the condemned...

Foucault - pages 3-16

Abstract of Michel Foucault’s “The body of the condemned” (pages 3-16) from Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.

By Jenny Lowry

Description of Article

Foucault begins this chapter with a vivid description of a torturous public execution from 1757, he then fast forwards eighty years and gives a “time-table” of prisoners’ daily life. He goes on to give a history of criminal punishment and the transition from a public spectacle to a more private punishment. He states that with the abolishment of public punishment, the publicity is now the trial and sentencing. He argues that there is a shame in criminal punishment; that the “legal violence” or public torture put shame on the executioner, but now the shame is in the justice system. Even the use of chain gangs was stopped because of its spectacle and public display of criminal punishment. Public punishment turned the punishers into criminals as they became the murderers and made the prisoner something to pity.

Foucault describes how the “body” plays a role in punishment. Unlike the public executions of the past in which the body was tortured, in the current penal system the body is no longer touched: It is the deprivation of liberty that has become the punishment. The prisoner is no longer supposed to feel any pain, even in executions, which should be quick deaths. Machines were made to ensure a quick and painless death for criminals, making capital punishment an “equal death for all.” The condemned man was not to be seen by the public; in executions the prisoner head was covered with a “black veil”- making the crime and the criminal “faceless.” Even with these new tactics, the practice of capital punishment was still too shameful so it had to be moved behind the prison walls, making executions completely private. Even the prison system can be seen as a place of torture since the prisoners body is deprived by the “rationing of food, sexual deprivation, corporal punishment, solitary confinement” (16).

Questions and Comments

I am a little confused about the idea of “shame” and who is or should be ashamed in the penal process. Foucault writes:

“Punishment had gradually ceased to be a spectacle. And whatever theatrical elements it still retained were now downgraded, as if the functions of the penal ceremony were gradually ceasing to be understood, as if this rite that ‘concluded the crime’ was suspected of being in some undesirable way linked with it. It was as if the punishment was thought to equal, if not exceed, in savagery the crime itself, to accustom the spectators to a ferocity from which one wished to divert them, to show them the frequency of the crime itself, to make the executioner resemble a criminal, judges murderers, to reverse roles at the last moment, to make the tortured criminal an object of pity or admiration” (9, my emphasis).

I understand the point he is making here to be that the punishment for the crime was often so much worse than the crime itself that the persons who executed the punishment (executioner, judge) were just as guilty, if not more so, than the criminal himself, but was it there intention do this? I wouldn’t think so, but it kind of sounds like that is what Foucault is implying. I am also confused by the section in italics: does Foucault mean that by this public torture the spectators would (hopefully) not commit crimes? I am assuming that is what he means but I don’t understand the “frequency of the crime itself”? Where the executioners acting out the crime of the criminal? He states later that the shame was on the executioner - but what about the shame of the criminal? In the torture account, the confessors repeatedly tried to get the criminal to admit his guilt but he wouldn’t, is Foucault saying that the criminal is not shamed by the torture? That the act of torturing itself is what is shameful or that the persons doing the torturing should be ashamed by their behavior, their acting like criminals?

I also find this confusing: “Justice no longer takes public responsibility for the violence that is bound up with its practice” (9). Has justice every taken responsibility for the violence in its practice? Did justice take responsibility when they held public executions? Was the fact that they were public seen as responsibility? Are they no longer taking responsibility because the punishment happens behind closed doors?

He goes on to say that punishment was kept in secret that “It is ugly to be punishable, but there is no glory in punishing” (10). Then later in the same paragraph, “Do not imagine that the sentences that we judges pass are activated by a desire to punish; they are intended to correct, reclaim, ‘cure’; a technique of improvement represses, in the penalty, the strict expiation of evil-doing, and relieves the magistrates of the demeaning task of punishing […] there is a shame in punishing” (10). I am still confused as to where the shame comes from? I don’t really understand why the judges or magistrates should be ashamed of punishing a criminal? I can see how the public executions of the past would be shameful in that they were often worse than the crimes committed, but I don’t see how putting someone in prison is shameful. Maybe I am missing something; this is just confusing to me.

Another source of my confusion is the section on the body, which begins on page 10. Foucault writes:

“But the punishment-body relation is not the same as it was in the torture during public executions. The body now serves as an instrument or intermediary: if one intervenes upon it to imprison it, or to make it work, it is in order to deprive the individual of a liberty that is regarded both as a right and as property” (11).

I think he means that punishment is no longer physical in the torture sense, but physical in that the prisoner is confined – not to do as he chooses, but as someone else chooses for him. The prisoner’s body is now the property of the prison system and no longer belongs to him.

It also seems like all of the things Foucault describes as physical punishment are meant more to break the spirit of the prisoner than to cause physical harm. He does discuss the soul in the next section as well as the prisoners state of mind, but I think that the physical punishment, even that of torture, was meant to break the prisoners spirit more than anything else. Even when death was inevitable it was still the ultimate goal to get the prisoner to confess his sins, as is shown in the torture account.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Latino subculture, focusing on media representation

Here is a link to my cultural studies project. I'm sorry that the technology wasn't working for me today in class. I hope you like the music videos and expect many changes to come!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jenny's Project

Here is the link to my blog: Flavor of What? This is just a rough draft, so bear with me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Mike's Presentation

Here's the blog I'll be using in my presentation. I don't know when I'll be presenting yet, but feel free to take a gander.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Diane's Project

Here is the link for my cultural studies project. It is most definitely a work in progress, so a lot of the pages are still blank. Don't worry, it won't stay like that forever.