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How does Foucault explain the emergence and persistence of the prison - Essay Example

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This paper summarizes the way that Foucault explains the emergence and persistence of the prison by looking at his presentation of a) the historical origins of prison b) the most important features of the prison in the last two hundred years and c) the cultural importance of the prison in the modern world which ensures it will persist as a key feature of modern societies.

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How does Foucault explain the emergence and persistence of the prison
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Download file to see previous pages The opening pages of the book Discipline and Punish narrate a historical event which spells out the cruel nature of punishment in the middle of the eighteenth century in France. In those days criminals were often tortured and then executed in public. This created a spectacle for others to watch and even the reading of the text is a very uncomfortable experience, because it does goes into great detail about the physical torments of the prisoner. He is beaten and his body is pulled apart, before finally being burned, and the worst part is that the prisoner is conscious through most of this and talking to his tormentors, the priests who minister to him, and the onlookers who are gathered there to watch. For a modern reader this quoted historical text is very shocking. Foucault appears to be using this example in the opening pages of his book is to set up vivid contrast between the punishment of that time and place, and the type of punishment that is used in modern times. During the French Revolution and its aftermath, there was continued use of the guillotine, again stressing the aspect of public spectacle, and though these examples are presented from a particularly French point of view, they represent attitudes to punishment that were very common across Europe in those days. In Britain hanging was the preferred method of punishment, and here too, public viewing was allowed until well into the twentieth century. After his narration of this barbaric execution, Foucault describes the way that prisoners are dealt with in Paris some eighty years later. Instead of physical punishment through beatings and torture there is a rigid timetable of getting up, moving from place to place, doing certain activities, and above all submitting to the constant control of the prison guards, all to the sound of a drum beat which announced the next chapter in the day’s programme: “… the fact remains that a few decades saw the disappearance of the tortured, dismembered, amputated body, symbolically branded on face or shouldter, exposed alive or dead to public view. The body as the major target of penal repression disappeared.” (Foucault, 1995, p. 8) For Foucault this is a major change in the way that society sees the human being, and instead of imposing physical pain and public humiliation on wrongdoers, there is a shift to a more subtle form of control, and to a process which is hidden behind bars and prison walls. The main feature of the modern prison is control. The human body is still the focus of punitive retribution, but it is now a question of on-going control and suppression, rather than immediate destruction: “If it is still necessary for the law to reach and manipulate the body of the convict, it will be at a distance, in the proper way, according to strict rules, and with a much ‘ ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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