Abstract on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punishment, Part 3, Chapter 2, Section "Normalizing Judgment." Pages 177-184
By Bridgett VanDerwalker
Description of Section:
Foucault continues in this section by discussing how the process of judgment and punishment becomes ingrained in the routine of everyday life. Punishment as a spectacle has now become habitual and practiced not only on the offender but on the whole of the society. Punishment has become an everyday institution that "compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes"(183). Punishment has in itself become a power structure that not only punishes the offender but the observers and those who enforce the punishment also.
Penality of the Norm
Comments and Questions:
Foucault starts off this section with an example of an orphanage that illustrates his idea of how normalizing judgment/punishment has turned into a system that keeps all inline not just the "offender." Foucault says that "At the heart of all disciplinary systems functions a small penal mechanism" (177). I think Foucault is saying that every social system surrounding us has a built in "penal mechanism," to keep people in line. Foucault points to the cause as being an overcompensation to fill in the gaps that law does not regulate. Foucault says that such institutions such as schools and the military are "subject to a whole micro-penality of time, of activity, of behavior, of speech, of the body, and of sexuality" (178). Somehow, Foucault seems to chronicle how punishment became an everyday apparatus that no one can function without; as a result of this gradual process punishment ceased to be a spectacle and became a cultural restraint that affects everyone not just the offenders.
Foucault states that a behavior or individual that doesn't follow the prescribed guidelines can be punished. It seems that punishment has shifted its focus from that of the individual to the group. This next quote exemplifies the above statement. "The order that the disciplinary punishments must enforce is of a mixed nature: it is 'artificial' order, explicitly laid down by a law, a programme, a set of regulations. But it is also an order defined by natural and observable processes" (178). It is human nature, or any living thing for that manner, to avoid punishment by watching and learning from those who are punished. We learn from example and modeling. Foucault says, "In a disciplinary regime punishment involves a double juridico-natural reference" (179). I really don't know what Foucault meant by this sentence perhaps that there are the official punishers and the social judgment or punishment carried out by one's peers.
Foucault talks about how displinary punishment reduces gaps and so performs in a corrective manner. Punishment comes in the form of correcting a 'crime' instead of physically punishing the individual. Foucault states that "To punish is to exercise" (180). This made me think of the army or in PE class when one makes a mistake you are punished by doing extra exercise. I know this is taking what Foucault says literally but it applies to other social activities like school and religion as well.
Foucault states that punishment is based on achieving gratification and avoiding punishment. People want rewards and fear punishment but my question is if physical punishment is not a threat anymore than do we have reason to fear it? If the consequences of one's actions have no dire consequences does that really deter one from committing an offence? Also what about radicals that do things against the establishment in order to reform the system who seek punishment to invoke a response, what then? I think Foucault is too simplistic in his assessment and that it is too cut and dry for any complex society. Foucault observes that penalty operates not on the acts themselves but the individual by their value or nature. I agree and it describes a problem in our own society where the individual is paramount rather than the act itself. For example, those who are on death row, if one commits murder he or she is allowed to live years or decades after judgment has been made. This doesn't seem right to me and doesn't act as a deterrent for the rest of the society when a sentence takes so long to be carried out if ever.
Foucault says that a system that rewards and punishes equally creates gaps and separates people. And that "Rank in itself serves as a reward or punishment" (181). If this is true, why bother fixing the system at all? No matter how hard a system tries, people can't or are unwilling to conform in all possible ways. Conformity is a nice idea but doesn't really work as countless countries, schools, businesses, and other organizations have discovered.
Foucault describes five operations that the regime of displinary power allows. It compares the individuals against the group; it separates individuals from one another, "It measures in quantitative terms and hierarchizes in terms of value, the abilities, the level, [and] the 'nature' of individuals" (183), and defines limits and differences that will be tolerated. This doesn't sound like a system I would want to follow; however, we are all participating in similar systems whether voluntarily or not.
This next point seems essential in this section of Foucault. "The perpetual penality that traverses all points and supervises every instant in the disciplinary institutions compares, differentiates, hierarchizes, homogenizes, excludes. In short, it normalizes" (183). Foucault seems to think that the law system is the only fair or regulated social structure that avoids or at the very least minimizes these effects in a way that is both fair to the individual and the society as a whole. I also think this idea goes back to Foucault's idea of keeping punishment private and not a spectacle in a way that doesn't affect society in such a direct manner.
Foucault states that the "power of the norm" is the new wave of the future, the new law of society. He says this system improves "homogeneity" while at the same time distinguishing the right qualities and harboring them while allowing the individual to evolve. By allowing individuality and encouraging equality within the society the process leads to a better, more efficient and orderly society. I like the idea in theory but it sounds a little too utopian in practice.