Monday, November 9, 2009

Reform or Punishment?

Foucault is constantly referring to the term "power." It is a main part of his argument in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. But what are your thoughts on the object of power in prisons? Do we think prisons hold too much of it, too little, or just the right amount? Who do you think should hold power in prisons? He argues that Mettray looked to the idea of reform which in turn reformed the image of the "power" of society over the individual. Instead of condemning individuals for their crimes, they looked to induce morals and normality to those imprisoned. This, Foucault argues, has altered society's focus from an individual's body to their mind and soul and is ultimately where the prison fails, causing more criminal activity rather than the reform these authorities hoped for. What are your thoughts? Do you think reform is the answer? Do you think prisons should be educating and inducing morals on individuals instead of punishing them for their crimes or do you think the role of the prison is to induce power over criminals who have earned their stay there?

I came across this article while reading on Foucault on the Internet. It touches on other prisons as well as Mettray. It's a little lengthy but please do try to skim through because its actually pretty interesting. Thoughts pertaining to this article and what I said above????


  1. Speaking of the "the scum of the criminal classes," I wonder how this very imminent execution figures into this discussion. I quote from the article Angela posted deliberately, but not necessarily because I think you need to think that Muhammad is scum. Rather, I'm merely pointing out how our own carceral system has arguably sanctioned that label being attached to him.

  2. Agreed Professor, that a reputation builds around certain types of people from the powerful's representation of them (which of course the readings in Hall describe). The way I see it, the fallback is in justice, in the fact that white collar criminals who cause financial catastrophe and ruin the futures of millions of people go to country-club prisons, while an African-American teen who tries marijuna gets locked up in much harsher conditions for years. In my view this outrageous disparity ties in Focoult's discussion of morality, that the ones who incarcerate need a true morality check to accomplish objective implementation of justice.

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  4. I think it's important that Professor Fisher uses the term "carceral system" in this discussion. From reading the excerpt from Foucault's "Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison," I feel that one of the larger ideals he means to convey is that one should not focus on the prison itself and its punishments but the larger web of carceral institutions. He consistently goes back to the idea of "normalizing."

    I felt that the following passage is especially relevant in illustrating the carceral system as that omnipresent structure that is intent, upon its very outset, on normalizing:

    "In this panoptic society of which incarceration is the omnipresent armature, the delinquent is not outside the law; he is, from the very outset, in the law, at the very heart of the law, or at least in the midst of those mechanisms that transfer the individual imperceptibly from discipline to the law, from deviation to offence...delinquency is for the most part produced in and by an incarceration which, ultimately, prison perpetuates in its turn." (1642)

    I think the above passage was applicable during the classical period that Foucault speaks within and today. Just as orphans or outcasts were processed through orphanages, almshouses, charitable schools, etc at that period, those in today's lower socieconomic demographic are processed through a network of social services that often fail to ever lift an individual out of its grasp. It is my view that Foucault is not even entirely concerned with prisons and their conditions but the conditions of society which foster their creation (and the entire carceral system as a whole). Today, these conditions are still prevalent and are still dealt with by this intricate web of social services-type institutions that, rather than fixing any true problem, only complicate and pluralize.

  5. I would agree that Foucault does not concern himself with the conditions of the prison or the morality of prison. He rather uses them to show that even not living in a physical cell we are imprisoned. We do it to ourselves, in our own minds. The fear and the uncertainty of what can and cannot be done and who is watching restricts our movements in the most powerful way. This comes to Foucault's idea of power/knowledge. We have no power without knowledge. If we are unable to know whether or not we are being judged, we lack that knowledge, and thus we lose power over ourselves and instead give it to each other. The institution suddenly has that power and we live within the walls of the institution.

  6. I completely agree Janetta. The created societal "norms" restrict each and every one of us. We live by a certain way because of these lists of normalcy we have created for ourselves. So like I'm sure so many people have said before, is America really home of the free? or is it impossible for anyone to be ultimately free???