Discipline & Punish Book Summary - Discipline & Punish Book explained in key points
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Discipline & Punish summary

Michel Foucault

The Birth of the Prison

4.3 (123 ratings)
19 mins

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Discipline & Punish by Michel Foucault exposes the hidden mechanisms and social structures behind the modern penal system, tracing its evolution from torture to incarceration and exploring the power dynamics at play.

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    Discipline & Punish
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    In the nineteenth century, public punishment of the body gave way to private punishment of the soul.

    On 2 March 1757, the streets of Paris witnessed a ghastly spectacle.

    Robert-François Damiens, a domestic servant, was publicly executed before a baying mob for his attempt to assassinate the French king, Louis XV.

    Damiens was to be quartered: his limbs were pulled by four horses driven in opposing directions. But when the arms and legs refused to detach from Damiens’ torso, the executioner drew out his knife and sheared through the tendons and tissue before the horses completed the dismemberment.

    But the execution was the last of its kind. By the turn of the eighteenth century in Europe, punishment as a public spectacle was no longer in vogue. Instead, a new approach to punishment became the norm. Now it was to take place behind closed doors and its workings were set to a timetable.

    In the nineteenth century, fewer than a hundred years after Damiens’ execution, the new penal style was codified in texts such as French politician Léon Faucher’s rules “for the House of young prisoners in Paris.”

    The prisoners’ day began at five in the morning, when they were woken by repeated cracks on a drum. By quarter to six, they were at work. They were fed at ten. Teaching began at twenty minutes to eleven. From one o’clock until seven was another period of work. Then, at half past seven, the cells were locked for a night curfew.

    Such a regimen indicated that the nature of punishment had changed. It was no longer a public indication of the will of sovereign governmental powers. It was now one in which bureaucratic penalties were fused with defined imprisonments and stringent schedules.

    Where once corporal punishment and pain had been central to ideas of punishment, now the soul of the criminal was deemed much more important.

    It’s very easy to think – as many historians have – that this represents some sort of development, that the declining severity of punishment indicates a humane advance.

    But the author thinks they have the wrong end of the stick. The purpose of punishment had changed. The objective was no longer to break the criminal’s body. It was now to target hearts and minds, thoughts and will.

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    What is Discipline & Punish about?

    Discipline & Punish (1975) is a celebrated work of renowned French philosopher and sociologist Michel Foucault. Foucault studies the history of forms of power, punishment, discipline and surveillance from the French Ancien Régime through to more modern times, seeing it as a reflection of a changing society.

    Discipline & Punish Review

    Discipline & Punish (1975) explores the history of punishment and how it has transformed over time. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers an in-depth analysis of power and the mechanisms of control, giving readers a fresh perspective on social institutions and the psychology of punishment.
    • By examining historical case studies and examining the prison system, Foucault uncovers the hidden power dynamics that shape our lives and society.
    • The book challenges traditional notions of justice and raises thought-provoking questions about the relationship between power and knowledge, leaving readers with a deeper understanding of how societal systems operate.

    Best quote from Discipline & Punish

    Discipline is a political anatomy of detail.

    —Michel Foucault
    example alt text

    Who should read Discipline & Punish?

    • Concerned citizens worried about the overreach of mass surveillance
    • Philosophers, historians, cultural scientists and sociologists
    • Anyone interested in modern prisons

    About the Author

    Michel Foucault (1926-1984), born in Poitiers, France, was a superstar academic of the twentieth century. He served as director of the Institute Français in Hamburg, Germany, and at the Institute de Philosophie at the Faculté des Lettres in the University of Clermont-Ferrand, France. Foucault wrote articles for newspapers, numerous essays and ground-breaking books such as The History of Sexuality. He also held at a chair at the Collège de France.

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    Discipline & Punish FAQs 

    What is the main message of Discipline & Punish?

    Discipline & Punish explores the history and evolution of systems of punishment, exposing the power dynamics and mechanisms of control within society.

    How long does it take to read Discipline & Punish?

    The reading time for Discipline & Punish varies depending on the reader's speed. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Discipline & Punish a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Discipline & Punish is a thought-provoking read that critically analyzes the nature of punishment and its effects on society.

    Who is the author of Discipline & Punish?

    The author of Discipline & Punish is Michel Foucault.

    What to read after Discipline & Punish?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Discipline & Punish, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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