Last Updated 07 Jul 2020

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault analyzes the emergence of disciplinary practices

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In Discipline & Punish, Michel Foucault analyzes the emergence of disciplinary practices, as they are understood in modern schools, militaries, and prisons. Foucault understands the manifestations of modern disciplines in terms of a power-knowledge relationship. In Discipline & Punish he makes a change in his method of thinking about power-knowledge relations in using a genealogical method. The basic premise of the genealogical approach is that shifts of power in society alter the way knowledge is formed in society.

Foucault's specific focus in the genealogical framework will be on the interrelation of non-discursive practices (control of bodies) and discursive practices (bodies of knowledge). In focusing on bodies of knowledge and the controlling of bodies Foucault shows how the greatest difference in the Modern Age of disciplines and the Classical Age is that Modern society is engulfed in disciplinary practices. Foucault believes that there is a misunderstanding by scholars when studying the history of discipline and punishment in the West.

The misunderstanding is thinking that there is a progress in the way we treat criminals, or deviants, in compared with the forms of punishment used in the Classical Age. In order to view this misunderstanding Foucault begins Discipline & Punish with a horrific example of public torture that was commonplace treatment of a criminal in the Classical Age, which immediately provokes the reader to feel that the Modern Age has accomplished definite 'progress'.

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However, Foucault claims that 'progress' from a humanist perspective in relation to Modern discipline and punishment would not be accurate but, 'progress' in being able to perform punishment with the same intensity of the Classical Age and not get the negative reaction that people had towards the public torture is a more accurate picture. Foucault claims that Modern societies aim has been "not to punish less, but to punish better. " The best model of "punishing better" has taken place in the Modern Prison.

In the Prison the Modern Age changed its aims in punishing the criminal and these aims have carried over into the many disciplines of society. Foucault defines some of those differences in Modern discipline practices that culminate in the prison, but are unlimited in their reach upon society. The first difference is the object of control is no longer focused on the mind, but is more concerned with the body. An example of this is the vast apparatus of the Modern Prison that maintains a cell for each inmate to be placed.

The Modern Prison is obsessed with the location of the body, rather than the earlier disciplinary techniques in which the foremost concern was one's ideas. This modern obsession with controlling the body in the Modern Prison is also present in the military apparatus. For example, the barracks or bases are developed to locate the troops in a specific location and keep them from mixing with the outside population. The earlier days when one was called from his house to go out to battle is eradicated by making soldiers subject to a specific location.

The second area of development in Modern disciplinary practices is the control of details of specific bodily movements. The control of details of specific bodily movements is most clearly exemplified in the example of the Panopticon that Foucault gives in Discipline & Punish. One of the main characteristics of the Panopticon was to be able to constantly supervise the movements of each prisoner. The goal was to supervise the prisoner, while not allowing the prisoner to see the supervisor.

This resulted in the prisoner constantly being aware of each little movement he made because there was always the possibility of being watched. The spread of the form of control of detail into other disciplinary institutions is easily seen in the school when teachers become concerned with the way in which they're students write or their posture in the classroom. The schoolmaster is no longer as concerned with the fact that the student can read and write, as he is with the way in which the pupils perform their task.

The third object of focus by modern disciplines that Foucault suggests is new in the Modern Age is the concern with the process of production rather than just the product itself. The goal in the third mechanism is to exercise control over the complete production of an act instead of just the result of the act. The Modern Prison exemplifies this when it keeps a record of the prisoner's movements or affect. The fact that the prisoner does not break the rules is secondary too the way he goes about not breaking the rules. The control of processes is easily seen in the Modern economy.

The Modern wage laborer is prescribed a code of ethics, timetable, and a contract. All of the later are mechanisms that concern the production of the product rather than the product itself. It does not matter if one is able to produce a product if does not fit within the proscribed process. The result of the control of the body, the details of bodily movements, and the process of production is "the docile body. " In order to achieve the function of rendering "the docile body" the Modern Age has developed distinctive mechanisms.

The first of the mechanism's that Foucault mentions that are put in place to achieve a "docile body" is the Hierarchal Observations. Foucault locates the model of this method in the Bentham's 'Panopticon. ' The 'Panopticon' has a tower to be located in the middle of transparent cells, which form around the tower itself. The supervisor is to be able to see any prisoner at any time without the prisoner being aware that they are being watched. Foucault claims this gives the body a specific space of 'subjection' and makes the prisoner constantly aware of there position.

The 'Panopticon' represents a change from the Classical Age of placing prisoners in dark dungeons and makes use of the light of a constant gaze. The hospital is an example of how the mechanism of the Hierarchal Observation spreads from the prison model into other social spaces. Foucault talks about the care that went into the new architecture of the hospital that allowed for the patients to be easily viewed, it separated them from other patients, and had a separate ventilation system that was organized for each patient to avoid the spread of germs.

The hospital was no longer the overseer of death, but a whole apparatus of 'therapeutic' mechanisms. In both the Modern Prison and the hospital, the body and its movements became the target rather than the mind. The mechanism of Hierarchal Observation lays the grounding for Normalizing Judgment, which is another distinctive mechanism of the Modern Age. The mechanism of Normalizing Judgment is to be able to focus in on the errors of a given behavior in order to reform the behavior. The process of Normalizing Judgment allows for codes to be established that can be placed next to the Law and Tradition.

The emergence of Normalizing Judgment could be seen in the Modern Prison when the prisoners are subjected to a rigid schedule of prayer, exercise, and education. The prisoner was to stay within the 'norms' or be judged. The Classical Age was concerned with revenge of the victim, whereas the Modern Age is concerned specifically with the criminal as a deviant or abnormal person. Foucault recognizes the spread of Normalizing Judgment in the rise of the standardized education. Examples of standardized education would be medical schools or law schools.

These schools established the general norms of health and law. Thus, if someone deviates from "the norm" they subject themselves to space where it is appropriate for one to visit the psychologist to get help and on to the many other possible reformist mechanism. The mechanism of Normalizing Judgment enables the framework for the third mechanism, the Examination, to be developed. The Examination is a type of combination of the latter two mechanisms into what Foucault calls "the normalizing gaze. " This can be seen in the prison as when the prisoner is aware of being visible and "the norms" simultaneously.

It is as if one knows how they 'should' act and that they will be constantly held accountable through observation. The school examination is a further elaboration of this technique used in the prison. The student is constantly checked to make sure they are in order with "the norm" by a written or oral examination. The function of the school examination provides the exact same function of the prison examination, but in a new social space. The mechanisms of the Hierarchal Observation, Normalizing Judgment, and Examination ensure that "the docile body" is achieved.

The mechanisms of docility are present throughout the entire stratum of society. Although the Modern disciplinary practices developed in the isolated space of the prison they have spread throughout society into schools, hospitals, factories, courts, and various other spaces. These disciplinary practiced do not just locate the normal form of behavior, but also act as a positive force of knowledge. The mechanisms achieve "the docile body" that allow for the coding of the individual of any given knowledge.

A clue to just how vast disciplinary practices are in the Modern Age is the disappearance of "the outlaw," which is now taken up with "the deviant. " There is no way to get 'out'side the law, but one remains in a deviant form that is located within the disciplinary space. There is no escaping the mechanisms of power throughout society, as mechanisms of power-knowledge will continue to flourish in many different transformations. However, by not mistaking these transformations as necessary for 'progress' and getting the mechanism to operate in your favor, one can achieve real progress.

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