Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

The Problems with Historical Materialism in Discipline and Punish

In "Two Lectures," Michel Foucault criticizes historical materialism for inadequately explaining social phenomena. He derides academics that use bourgeois domination to explain a diverse range of social trends, including the exclusion of madness and the repression of infantile sexuality. Foucault calls this kind of social theory too easy and faults it for yielding results that are both true and false simultaneously. Yet, Foucault commits the same error when he derives the origin of disciplinary power from bourgeois domination in Discipline and Punish. According to Foucault, an eighteenth century shift from an illegality of rights to an illegality of property prompted the bourgeoisie to protect their goods by making the penal system more efficient. They removed public execution and torture, symbols of the inefficacy of the sovereign, and targeted the criminal's soul. Later, the upper class created the concept of delinquency to supervise and normalize the poor (Discipline 277). By using bourgeois influence to explain penal reform, Foucault ignores other social trends and insufficiently explains power outside of the prison. Without providing substantial evidence to support his claims, Foucault dismisses the idea that...

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