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Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  24,077 ratings  ·  839 reviews
Librarian note: an alternate cover for this edition can be found here.

In this brilliant work, the most influential philosopher since Sartre suggests that such vaunted reforms as the abolition of torture and the emergence of the modern penitentiary have merely shifted the focus of punishment from the prisoner’s body to his soul.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 25th 1995 by Vintage (first published 1975)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Surveiller et punir: Naissance de la Prison = Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, Michel Foucault
Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison is a 1975 book by the French philosopher Michel Foucault. It is an analysis of the social and theoretical mechanisms behind the changes that occurred in Western penal systems during the modern age based on historical documents from France. Foucault argues that prison did not become the principal form of punishment just because of the humanita
David Withun
Apr 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
May 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book begins with a bang – in fact, a series of bangs. That is the point, you see. We need to be shocked about what is, after all, our relatively recent past. We too easily forget that there was a time when ‘people like us’ actually span back in history for nearly as far as the mind could imagine. Now, we struggle to believe that people who lived 20 or 30 years ago where quite like us – even when we ourselves were those people. Today we cast off selves and disown past selves like our endless ...more
Apr 05, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
“Discipline 'makes' individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise.”
― Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish


I've had this book for nearly twenty years on myself. Before a couple weeks ago I never quite found myself in the "right" mood for a French post-structural look at power, prisons, and punishment. It is interesting reading this and thinking about how influential Foucault was in the modern criticisms of the p
Dec 26, 2012 rated it it was amazing
NEW REVIEW [it took more than a few days to get back to this -- I hope someone reads it... lol]

I will add only a few additional comments to what I’ve already written (below and in the comments sections). It will be enough and more than enough.

I came at this book with decades of prejudice built-up – and it showed in my (essentially failed) reading of Madness and Civilization. I knew that Foucault was a fake and a charlatan before I ever cracked a page. So to speak…

So one can imagine my surprise a
Abubakar Mehdi
Apr 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
Foucault begins this book by recounting the fate of a man called Damien the regicide, who attempted to assassinate King Louis XV of France in 1757. He was publicly tortured for hours, beaten, stabbed and crushed only to be quartered by horses at last. Foucault says that Public executions and scenes like this were common and happened every once in a while for those who were accused of heinous crimes. This practice, perfectly inhuman and brutish, was officially sanctioned just two centuries ago. C ...more
Aug 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: culturalhistory
I've read this book three times: First time was in undergraduate, second time was in law school, third time was last week. I can honestly say that my understanding of this work has grown with each reading, but that growth in comprehension has come more from my reading of other books either discussing or related to Discipline and Punish.
Specifically, I would recommend Jurgen Habermas's critique of Foucault, although I now forget which book of his contains his critique. I would also recommend Goff
Apr 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing
In many ways a response to the French government's penal codes of the 60s and 70s but also a continuation of Foucault's work in Madness and Civilization, the influence of D&P can be seen everywhere from Spielberg's Minority Report to Enemy of the State to Ted Conover's Newjack and most if not all critiques of surveillant governments. It's also a horrifying read, starting out as it does with an account of the ritualistic execution of a regicide, which Foucault compares favorably to the prisons of ...more
Elie F
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Is the world turning into a panopticon in which everyone of us cannot evade the gaze of whoever that is occupying the central point? I find this book to be making a powerful argument, but I do have doubts as to whether surveillance by itself (without corporal violence) could impose discipline ( in other words, whether the observed really interiorizes the system of surveillance). I also doubt as to whether the systems of micro-power really fits into a bigger top-down power hierarchy. In the examp ...more
Jan 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
This book rearranged my brain. I have never read something that met my intuition half way, and then expanded my vision beyond all critical capacities I knew before. I will never conceive of power, structures, knowledge, statistics, or my cock the same way again. His anti-humanitarian, empirical, and nonuniversal critiques that follow the money and the violence are the perfect medicine for people who have been reading saggy assed media studies and cultural studies for too long. Saved my life.
Nov 10, 2007 marked it as owned-for-years-but-still-not-read
Recommends it for: intellectuals who have done something bad
I started it. I didn't finish. And unless I one day find myself in a situation with extremely limited mobility and options, with a great deal of time (read: years) on my hands, it's conceivable that I never will.

I'd like to have read this book, since I'm very interested in the topics it addresses, but I don't know that I have the mind, stomach, or patience for Foucault. So while I'd like to have read it, I don't know that I'd like as much to read it, if you get what I'm saying. Well, maybe somed
This book made me think I must be getting older. Why? Because I used to enjoy trying to parse the unnecessarily complex and obtuse sentences of French intellectuals and now I seem to lack the patience. (A glorious example: "The moment that saw the transition from historico-ritual mechanisms for the formation of individuality to the scientifico-disciplinary mechanisms, when the normal took over from the ancestral, and measurement from status, thus substituting for the individuality of the memorab ...more
May 30, 2015 rated it really liked it
Finally reading Foucault after reading a ton of stuff that was (supposedly) inspired by Foucault made me realize I like Foucault a LOT more than I like people who like Foucault.
Apr 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
This reads like a dystopian novel, albeit with foucault's famously (infamously?) difficult language.

First I have to admit that I was probably provoked to read this because Steven Pinker said it was 'unconvincing' in his particularly unconvincing book 'The Better Angels of our Nature'. I was also a bit perplexed how such an apparently unconvincing book (this one) could get over 33, 000 citations on google academic. Also pretty great reviews by the goodreads non-scholars. So you know that strange
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Foucault's Discipline and Punish is a bit of a tough read. Perhaps that's due to his derivative thinking, perhaps to the translation; regardless, the book presents to me as a dissection of the construction, maintenance, and exercise of state power as it relates to the penal system. Here Foucault renders some interesting points; most significant to me is the notion of the penal system as virtual cycle. If I understand him correctly, both 'delinquency' and the justice system need each other to per ...more
Jonathan-David Jackson
Apr 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommended to Jonathan-David by: Diane
This book was the hardest book I've ever read. Generally I'll go through a 300 page book in two days - this one took me about a month. Perhaps its the style of the author, or something to do with the translation from French, but it was very difficult for me to finish it. Many times I found myself reaching the end of a page and realizing that I hadn't been able to concentrate on it so my mind had wandered and I hadn't actually taken anything in, so I'd have to start the page over, and then it wou ...more
Having previously been exposed to Foucault through a reader, it was nice to see a book-length context for his meditations on the birth of the prison. What impresses me most about Foucault are his abilities as a great synthesizer of knowledge, taking a vast body of textual evidence and orchestrating that evidence into a theoretically solid thesis, which is a skill that so few theorists seem to have. As a precise history, I have few quibbles with his reporting, and his theory seems completely vali ...more
Alexei Ghertescu
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I would recommend “Discipline and Punish: the Birth of the Prison” to everyone interested in the mechanisms of modern control of society through the institutions created since the end of the 18th century.

Michel Foucault is considered one of the major philosophers of the late 20th century. And I saw a number of critical reviews about this particular work. But some of the critics referred to some narrow philosophical issues and minor considerations found in the book (which, in my view, do not cha
Discipline and Punish is a magnificent, deeply unnerving, and ultimately utterly fascinating document. Here, the incomparable Foucault provides a structural and social examination of the function of disciplinary action and detainment. While the verbiage can be dense and elaborate, it's nevertheless such valuable writing and theory to ignore. This is a supremely observant critical reevaluation of the interacting systems and subsystems at work within modern societal infrastructure.
Richard Thompson
For a long time I turned my nose up at Foucault based on what I thought that other people think that he says. It all seemed to be convoluted and beside the point, but he is so highly regarded that I decided that I should give him a chance to speak for himself, and I now confess that I was totally wrong. Foucault is brilliant. I don't always agree with him, and I think that some of his ideas need to be reexamined and evolved a bit in light of subsequent knowledge, but the core of his analysis is ...more
Oct 14, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was my first exposure to Michel Foucault. I'm not sure whether it is the fault of the translator or not, but I found Foucault's prose to be rather thick and elliptical at times, to the degree that it may have contributed to the fleeting impression this work left on me. It was interesting, and presented a view on the evolution of criminal punishment that I hadn't considered in such a light before - I find, however, that much of it has already slipped away from memory.

The principal thrust of
Sean Chick
Aug 12, 2011 rated it did not like it
The first two chapters are interesting, although his defense of public torture is idiotic. His critique of modern society is a stunning case of postmodern claptrap. My god, prisons are meant to dissuade us from committing crime! You don't say! He essentially says Enlightenment reform was actually insidious and bad for humanity. In this way he is actually a conservative, by calling into question all the reasons for reform. The fact that the left embraced this book, which was a grand critique of l ...more
Jul 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing
i first trudged through this book when i was in high school. being 17, i realized that i wasn't really understanding what he was saying, but for the first time, felt like i was exposed to an analysis that transcended dominant thought in a way that i didnt know was possible. for the next 3 years i read a lot of foucault..his understanding of the co-productive nature of knowledge and power gave me tools to deconstruct our funny world and truths. not to be too corny, but this shit changed my life. ...more
Erik Graff
Feb 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Erik by: Erik Badger
Shelves: history
This book was much less personally problematic than his first book about sexuality because prisons are, barring one night as a teen, beyond my experience. It did shake up some of the beliefs I'd obtained in elementary school about Patricia Mott and the prison reforms of the nineteenth century--reforms which were naturally part of the ever-progressive movement of the world led by the United States of America according to the secular religion we were inculcated with back then.

It is, however, a fin
When I finished reading this book, I broke out a tub of Ben and Jerry's Half Baked—chocolate and vanilla frozen yoghurt with brownie and cookie dough chunks seemed the only suitable reward after 300+ pages of Foucault's prose. Whether or not its his writing style or an effect of the translation, Discipline and Punish is a dense and at times frustratingly opaque book. That, coupled with Foucault's fondness for using minuscule, ahistorical details to justify large-scale abstractions, made this a v ...more
Mack Hayden
Nov 11, 2017 rated it liked it
Take this review with a grain of salt since I’d say about half of this book flew over my head completely. The density of the prose plus the preponderance of documents cited in giant chunks made this something of a slog for me. But when Foucault comes through loud and clear, almost in spite of himself, his insights are brilliant. The ideas in here about contemporary Western society’s obsession with ‘norms’ and the ways in which disciplinary, penal structures have woven their way into nearly every ...more
Tariq Fadel
Jul 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Even though the idea that Foucault os trying to convey is very interesting, the book is badly written,repetitive and quite boring.
Yet it's enlightening to learn how the systems of punishment and domination have changed throughout history to become more efficient and economical. You no longer need huge and heavy crowded prisons to contain the criminals you just need to spread the simple ideology that crimes are punishable. The same system once proven effective in one field can be copied to compl
May 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book, but very dry and over my head at times. There were times I feel like you have to know about French history and French prisons to fully get this book. I think I made mistake reading this book first. I wouldn't recommended it unless you have a strong interest for philosophy, criminology, and/or French history. It's obvious Foucault was channeling Marx, Rousseau, and de Sade in this book (he never talks about de Sade, but it reminded me of de Sade's philosophy). I'm st ...more
Jan 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: inmates, guards, and parole officers
This should be required reading if you plan to work in our criminal justice system at all. Foucault can be hard to slog through sometimes, but is always worth it.

I just wonder what he would think of our current warehousing prison system. We haven't really gone the direction that he anticipated.
Alain Dib
Apr 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: philosophy
"Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison" is undoubtedly a controversial book. Either people like it and they are eager to change enthusiastically the system, or at least attempt to do so. On the other hand you have people who hate heavily on it, attacking the post-modernists in general and Michel Foucault in particular. At this instant he is accused of cultural relativism, of feeling repressed having lived as a homosexual man, of claiming crazy stupid things.
Most of those claims stem fr
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Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title "History of Systems of Thought," but before he was Professor at University of Tunis, Tunisia, and then Professor at University Paris VIII. He lectured at several different Universities over the world as at the University at Buffalo, the University of California, ...more

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