28 March 1973

Part of the Michel Foucault book series (MFL)


TO CONCLUDE WHAT I have said this year I am going to try to bring to the fore what I have kept at the back of my mind while I have been talking. Basically, the point of departure was this: why this strange institution, the prison? The question is justified on several counts. In the first place, it is justified historically by the fact that the prison as a penal instrument was, after all, a radical innovation at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Suddenly, all the old forms of punishment, all that marvelous and shimmering folklore of classical punishments—the stocks, quartering, hanging, burning at the stake, and so on—gave way to this monotonous function of confinement. Historically, then, it is something new. Moreover, theoretically, I do not think the necessity of imprisonment can be deduced from the penal theories formulated in the second half of the eighteenth century, it cannot be deduced as a system of punishment coherent with these new theories. Theoretically it is a foreign element. Finally, for a functional reason:* the prison was dysfunctional from the start. First it was realized that the new system of penality did not bring about any reduction in the number of criminals, and then that it led to recidivism; that it quite perceptibly reinforced the cohesion of the group formed by delinquents.


Nineteenth Century Eighteenth Century State Apparatus Penal System Disciplinary Power 
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