7 February 1973

Part of the Michel Foucault book series (MFL)


†I HAVE STRESSED THE fact that the prison was born in the element of the penitentiary because of the tendency of some historians to say that the prison existed for a long time as an empty form in which individuals were shut up, with the prison having no other function than to soak up this population that one wanted to be rid of, and that it was after negative experience and research that the penitentiary was [added] to the prison in order to rectify its effects, to reform it, as a way of adapting it to social requirements that appear later. The penitentiary element would thus be what corrected the prison. Now, there are two operations behind this reading: first, making it seem that the development of a penitentiary system and of something one is not afraid to call penitentiary science corrects the prison; that penitentiary knowledge constitutes a domain of experience sufficiently independent of the prison for it to be able to influence and rectify it. Now, precisely inasmuch as the penitentiary is not an element added on to the prison, but an element within which the prison is born, any development of knowledge arising in this dimension can only consolidate the prison. Everything formulated in the domain of the experience of penitentiary knowledge and theory belongs already to the element that gave rise to the prison. The second operation is the masking of the fact that the penitentiary is in reality a much broader phenomenon than imprisonment, that what is involved is a general dimension of all the social controls that characterize societies like ours. The penitentiary element, of which the prison is only one expression, is a feature of the whole of society. The penitentiary is therefore the prison’s associated field.


Eighteenth Century Lower Class Penal Code Penal System Judicial Power 
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