Throughout the
book report, the study of Michel Foucault called ”Discipline and Punish: The
Birth of Prison”1
will be discussed from a historiographic perspective, focusing on the period
and transformation in question and on the concepts Foucault proposed and
emphasized to understand it. Before diving into the transformation starting
from the 18th century and the concepts surrounding it throughout the
work, the scholar will be viewed briefly to understand the context of the book.
Then the methodology, the main arguments and the concepts proposed to
understand the period in question will be studied, followed by the discussions
regarding the power which changes history and the subject of history.
Consequently the significance, uniqueness and the overall place of the book in
the literature it belongs will be discussed. 

In order to have
a better understanding of a work, knowing the context in which it was born will
be helpful. Therefore getting to know Foucault and his context is crucial.
Paul-Michel Foucault (1926-1984) was a French philosopher and historian who was
educated at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris in the fields of philosophy
and psychology. Foucault was not only an intellectual but also a political
activist who was involved in a wide range of protests and campaigns like the
ones against the war in Algeria, against racism, against the Vietnam War and
for prison reform. The French campaign for prison reform called ”Groupe
d’information sur les prisons” was stated as one of the major influences
regarding his work Discipline and Punish for the reason that as a political
activist he visited prisons in France and America, wrote and spoke about their
conditions. Foucault’s relationship with the structuralism movement should be
mentioned too. Structuralism was focused on studying philosophical structures
and systems of language which was influenced by the linguistic theorist de
Saussure emphasizing the role of signs in language. Foucault’s concerns about
the effect of the role of language and systems of power on individuals makes
him an intellectual who is cited as a part of the structuralist movement and a
part of the linguistic turn. Another major influence on Foucault was Friedrich
Nietzsche. The concept of genealogy by Nietzsche was stated as his main legacy
to Foucault. Later on, Foucault used genealogy to critically examine
A different part of Nietzsche’s legacy to Foucault was the perception of
history. Nietzsche argued in ‘On the Uses and Abuses of History for Life’ that
academics poisoned the perception of history as something to be read to know
what happened in the past and learn it for its’ own sake but instead history
was something for concepts and ideas to be dig out of and understood to lead to
a better life in contemporary times. This influence of Nietzsche encouraged
Foucault to look into the past to understand and make sense of the issues of
one’s own time.3

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All of these
influences on Foucault leads to the question of aim and methodology in his
work. According to Foucault, genealogy writes the past as fiction, describing
how things are made into facts and reconstructing history interpreting the
present. Genealogy aims to bring the mechanisms which enabled a particular
institutional formation to develop to the open and understand the order of
things which gave rise to the present social reality. In Discipline and Punish
the genealogical question is concerned with the way the model of power to
punish which is coercive, secret, single-handed and centered on the body rise
and take the place of the model which was public, collective, dramatic and

argument of history serving the concerns of the present is central in his
methodology. In writing the history of prison as a place where the political
instruments of the body gathered together in a closed architecture, Foucault
was actually writing the genealogy of the present form of prison through
exposing the relation of prison to mechanisms of normalization and placing the
sciences of criminality into the domain of power instead performing a part of
pristine access to Truth. Through identifying the mechanisms of normalization
such as the psychologization of the justice system and the division of abnormal
and normal allowed Foucault to write the history of present in the present
power relation and political struggles, uncovering the modern prison and
current social apparatus. This act of writing the history of the present, which
is also referred to as archaeology in Foucault’s work, defines the limits of
the modern period and modern discourse, exposing the finitude of the attributes
to humanity which seems essential and challenges the fundamental assumptions of
one’s own time. Foucault’s attempt of writing the history of the present is
also referred to as antihistory for the reason that it aims to uncover the past
to rupture the present into a future without the need of a past to be
continuously recaptured.5   

In order to
briefly summarize the subject of the book, first thing that can be said about
Discipline and Punish is that it is the work of Foucault concerning the history
of the modern penal system and it was first published in 1975. Throughout the
book, Foucault focuses on the rupture regarding the change in power relations
in the 18th century and the effects of it on criminality, punishment
and the birth of prison. The body has a central importance on Foucault’s
argument because the disciplinary and normalizing technologies practiced on the
body reveals how the operation of power changed after the 18th

The book is
divided into four main parts; respectively Torture, Punishment, Discipline and
the Prison. The first part Torture has two chapters called as ”The Body of the
Condemned” and ”The Spectacle of the Scaffold”. The first chapter starts
with a picturesque narration of the form of punishment of the 18th
century which would soon be followed with a reformation project with a new
theory of law and crime and a new legitimization of punishment also known as
the modern system of law. In this chapter Foucault problematizes the change which
is the abolishment of the spectacle and the cancellation of pain in the modern
execution ceremony, taking the place of the old performance of tormenting in the
open public sphere. Another problematic concerns the central object of the
punishment changing from physical torment to a property or a right. In this chapter,
Foucault also states the purpose of the book which is to reveal the genealogy
of the scientific-legal whole which contains the interrelated history of the
modern spirit and the new power of judgment and where the support is found, the
legitimization points and the rules are provided, the influence is spread and
the specificity is masked for the power to judge. In other words the history of
the power to punish is a part of the genealogy of the modern spirit.6

The second chapter
of Torture discusses the ritual aspect of the old form of punishment through
tormenting as somewhere the power expresses itself. Throughout this ritual of
torture, the body produced and reproduced the reality of the crime and this
ritual strengthened the power and revealed the relation which gave power to the
law. This chapter also emphasizes a very important part of the old practice of
punishment which is closely related with the concept of agency. When the
justice expressed itself out in the public and even called the public as
witnesses or assistants of this justice it also opened a space for a response,
an intervention which could force itself into the mechanism of punishment and
divide the effects of it or even change the direction of the violence. The
ritual aspect of the punishment of tormenting opened the space for the public
to show their rejection of the power of the punisher and might gave rise to an
uprising too.7

The second part
of the book has two chapters; respectively ”Generalized Punishment” and ”The
Gentle Art of Punishment”. The first chapter of this part discusses the new
strategy of the reformist project in creating the new law to punish which
argued for making the punishment and suppression of unlawful practices a
function dispersed into the whole society, punishing no less but better and
punishing with a softened strength and in a more ‘humane’ way but making it
more universal and in more necessity and making the power to punish to reach
deeper in the society. This refers to the argument that through the
representations and signs of a calculated economy of power to punish, the mind
is also exposed to this power as well as the body.8         

The second
chapter of the Punishment part of the book discusses the form and function of
the punishment: penal institution and correction facility where the power to
punish is institutionalized in a closed suppressive place and aims to
appropriate the time and body of the criminal and to surround and correct the
behaviors of the criminal through a system of authority and information or
coercive institution and punitive city where the power to punish is disguised
under a generalized function of society and aims to suppress the crime through being
present everywhere with representation, symbol and discourse and acting as a barrier
placed against the idea of crime in the minds of people. Foucault argues that
punishment is the ceremony of the sovereign in monarchic law, the coded representations
and symbols aiming to redefine the subjects of law in the projects of reformers
and lastly in the draft of prison it is a technique to suppress individuals and
discipline the bodies and it requires an original power established for it. Essentially
Foucault problematizes the enforcement of the prison out of all three, taking
the place of public, representative, collective, referential model with a
suppressive, bodily and secretive model.9    

The first
chapter of the Discipline part of the book discusses the way disciplinary
practices work which creates procedures for the coercion of bodies to subjugate
them and to impose an obedience-utility ratio on them. Disciplinary practices
and techniques as a concept have a central importance in Foucault’s arguments. According
to Foucault, discipline creates individuality equipped with four
characteristics from the bodies it controls; cellular through spatial
distribution, organic through coding of activities, formative through time made
cumulative and integrative through assembly of powers. In order to do that
discipline has four major techniques; build tables, sentencing maneuvers, imposing
practices and organizing strategies.10  

The second
chapter of Discipline argues that the success of the disciplinary power lies in
hierarchical observation which refers to surveillance as a mechanism of
control, normalizing judgment which is a system of rewarding-punishing
according to a penalty of norm providing a way to measure differences and
homogenize and lastly examination which makes possible the individual to be
seen, documented, analyzed and described. All these aspects of disciplinary
power can be observed in places like schools or factories.11

In the third
chapter of Discipline Foucault discusses Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon which is
the architectural form of hierarchical observation made possible through a
circle shaped tower in the middle enabling the supervisor in it to keep a close
watch on every individual in every cell without being seen. The perpetual
visibility makes the power to discipline with maximum efficiency in an economic
way. In Foucault’s argument, this disciplinary technology referred to as panopticism
can be expanded and applied in various spheres of social life. 12




Michel Foucault, Hapishanenin Do?u?u (Ankara: ?mge Kitabevi, 2017)

2 SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on Discipline and
Punish.” SparkNotes LLC. n.d..
http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/disciplinepunish/ (accessed January 11,

3 ”Philosophy – Michel Foucault,” YouTube video,
8:16, posted by ”The School of Life,” July 3rd, 2015,  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BBJTeNTZtGU (accessed January 11, 2018)

Sharalyn Popen, ”Review of Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by
Michel Foucault and Alan Sheridan”, The School Review 86, no. 4 (August 1978),
pp. 686-690.

Michael S. Roth, ”Foucault’s ‘History of the Present’,”, History and Theory
20, no.1 (1981): 32-46.

Michel Foucault, ”Mahkûmlar?n Bedeni” in Hapishanenin Do?u?u (Ankara: ?mge,
2017), 33-69.

Michel Foucault, ”Azap Çektirmenin Görkemi” in Hapishanenin Do?u?u (Ankara:
?mge, 2017) , 71-121.

Michel Foucault, ”Genelle?mi? Ceza” in Hapishanenin Do?u?u (Ankara: ?mge,
2017), 125-166.

Michel Foucault, ”Cezalar?n Yumu?akl???” in Hapishanenin Do?u?u (Ankara:
?mge, 2017), 167-204.

Michel Foucault, ”?taatkâr Bedenler” in Hapishanenin Do?u?u (Ankara: ?mge,
2017) 207-253.

Michel Foucault, ”?yi Terbiye Etmenin Araçlar?” in Hapishanenin Do?u?u
(Ankara: ?mge, 2017) 255-287.

Michel Foucault, ”Görülmeden Gözetim Alt?nda Tutan Hapishane Sistemi” (Ankara:
?mge, 2017) 289-331.

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