Foucault: Discipline And Punish Book Review

Length: 5 pages Sources: 1 Subject: Criminal Justice Type: Book Review Paper: #88625026 Related Topics: Correctional Officers, Fake, Probation, Parole
Excerpt from Book Review :

Michel Foucault: Discipline and Punish

Michel Foucault stated "We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it excludes, it represses, it censors, it abstracts, it masks, it conceals. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production." The objective of this study is to answer as to what Foucault means by that and how it relates to the rest of the book and how it might relate to Freud's 'Civilization and it's Discontents" Finally, this study will provide a reaction to the quote either in agreement or disagreement.

The claims of Foucault in the statement of " We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it excludes, it represses, it censors, it abstracts, it masks, it conceals. In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production" is a claim as stated in the work of McWhorter (1994) that "few will disagree that our prison system, along with its subsidiary mechanisms, produces the conditions under which delinquency can spread and flourish." (p.1) However, the assertion of Michel Foucault in "Discipline and Punish" is much "stronger than that. Foucault is not just reiterating the familiar claim that prisons produce a medium for the development of delinquency, rather, he is claiming that our disciplinary society actually produces the delinquent self in its very being." (McWhorter, 1994, p. 1)

I. Foucault's Assertion

Michel Foucault held that locking the individual in prison places that individual in a fertile environment for the individual to truly become a criminal or delinquent and held that the form of discipline and punishment utilized in today's society is one that is counter-productive to society and to the individual on all levels of existence. According to McWhorter (1994) "Delinquency itself-as a functional locus within a discourse but also as a possible form of selfhood, as a way of being, as a way of being known and of knowing oneself-arose simultaneously with and is sustained and perpetuated by what Foucault calls the carceral system. Delinquency and the prison system are the twin offspring of the same series of events, the same movement of power.." (p.34)

II. Two Types of Evidence for Michel Foucault's Assertion

There are two types of evidence offered by Michel Foucault to support his assertion that the "very being of the delinquent is a product of a certain series of events within a network of power." (McWhorter, 1994, p. 34) First Michel Foucault points to the "lack of the figure of the delinquent prior to the dramatic rise in the use of incarceration as a form of punishment in Western Europe" ( p. 34) This is before the prison system was conceived in terms of "their internal hierarchies and structures of corrections and their attendant psychiatrist and medical knowledges and practices, legal proceedings and techniques of punishment focused primary on an act or series of acts." (McWhorter, 1994, p. 34)

Prior to these formation of the prison system Foucault held that criminality "was merely a matter of action, not a state of being, and punishment was its counteraction." (McWhorter, 1994, p. 34) However, with the development of the carceral system the primary and centric focus became not the action "but rather self, the true being of the one who acts offensively." (McWhorter, 1994, p. 34) From this view, the individual's actions are only viewed "insofar as they function to initiate contact between the delinquent and the correctional system and insofar as they are understood to be the true express of an underlying reality. Delinquency functions as the name of that reality." (McWhorter, 1994, p. 34)

Secondly, Foucault asserts that there is more evidence that supports the idea that "delinquency is produced within a certain configuration of power relations" and notably Foucault holds that delinquency is useful and that this corresponds with the mechanisms of power and its investments in delinquency. MsWhorter states that delinquency is "indirectly useful because it represents such an improvement over popular, sporadic unlawfulness." (1994, p. 35) 35) Delinquents are very useful for those in power as they have been used as labor forces when territories were conquered for


McWhorter states the following on the uses of delinquents by those in power, "they have been used as a sort of covert labor force at home, available for employment by legitimate private businesses or various state agencies to work on the fringes of legality-as smugglers, prostitutes, odds-makers, informants, and spies.." ( 1994, .p. 5) Additionally delinquents in the ghettos are reported by McWhorter to serve in keeping keep "racial and ethnic minorities frightened and disorganized; thus they cannot effectively challenge the oppression perpetrated against them by dominant social groups." ( 1994, p. 36)

According to Foucault: "in fabricating delinquency, it [disciplinary power] gave to criminal justice a unitary field of objects, authenticated by the 'sciences,' and thus enabled it to function on a general horizon of 'truth" (DP 256, cited in McWhorter, 1994, p. 36) Otherwise stated certain levels of knowledge and specifically the human sciences have a great deal vested in "the fabrication and continued existence of the object of their study, the delinquent individual." (McWhorter, 1994, p. 37) However, it is noted that the point made by Foucault is not just focused on the carceral system but according to McWhorter "the trap is set for much bigger prey'. ( 1994,. 37)

It is the position of Michel Foucault that fake identities have been created for these young men and women labeled as 'delinquents'. According to McWhorter, "Let us consider this outrage and the assumptions that underlie and drive it. The first important assumption is that fundamentally humanity occurs as individuals, each with his or her own true core identity that is untouched by power except a posteriori and negatively. The second important assumption, which is interrelated with the first, is that power is antithetical to truth; this leads to the conclusion that we must be suspicious of any claim to truth if it is clear that the claim is in the interest of some power.." (, p. 38)

III. The Need for Delinquents

Indeed it is in the interest of those in power that delinquents exist. For example, if there were no delinquents then who would be arrested? If no one were arrested how would the structure of power operate. Consider that there were no one to bond out of jail then certainly the bonding companies would not be able to earn an income. Then consider if there were no one to put in jail, the county jail would not be on the receiving end of federal or state funding for housing prisoners and the result is that all jailers and jail staff would be out of a job.

Taking this even further, consider that if there were no delinquents the Sheriff and his deputies would not be needed and they would not have a job. Going even further, if there were no delinquents then the Judges that sit on the bench in the courtroom to hear the cases of delinquents would also be out of a job along with the District and Circuit Court Criminal Division Clerk and their entire staff.

Taking this even further, if there were no delinquents taken to jail the vending companies that provide food and other items to the jail for delinquents would also be out of work as would the uniform companies that deliver the uniforms for prisoners and law enforcement alike. There would be no need for dispatchers, no need for prison or jail provided store items and the list goes on. The numbers of individuals that would be out of a job were there no delinquents is astronomical. Community Corrections officers would have no job, probation and parole officers would also have no job.

From this listing of those dependent on delinquents for their livelihood, it is no wonder that those in power are sure to continue to create and produce delinquency because to fail to do so would result in them being out of a job and being required to join the same workforce as others in society. Maintaining the delinquent status in society is critically important for the power structure that have created and promoted what Foucault terms the carceral system because without delinquents they will soon be unemployed.

In Freud's work entitled "Civilization and Its Discontents" it is claimed by Freud that the primary source of unhappiness among people who are civilized is civilization itself because civilization serves to squelch the natural instincts of the individual, places them into ongoing and continuous…

Sources Used in Documents:


McWhorter, L. (1994) Self-Overcoming in Foucault's Discipline and Punish. UR Scholarship Repository. Philosophy Faculty Publications. Retrieved from:

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