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Foucault And Punishment Essay

1441 words - 6 pages

Change over time; that is a common theme with everything in the world. The concept of punishment is no different in that regard. In the 16th and 17th century the common view for punishing people was retaliation from the king and to be done in the town square. In what seemed to be all of a sudden, there was a change in human thinking, the concept of punishment changed to a more psychological approach compared to a public embarrassment/torture approach. The following paragraphs will discuss the development of prisons and what in fact gives people gives people the right to punish; as well as the overall meaning and function of prisons. The work by Michel Foucault in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison will help with the arguments at hand.
The first thing to be looked at is the change from a medieval concept of punishment to a more modern concept. What sparked this seemingly sudden change in thinking? Foucault describes how punishment was handled at the very first page of his book. He used an example of Robert-François Damiens, the man who tried to assassinate King Louis XV, and how he was used as a public display to show other towns people what would happen to them is such an act was to be attempted again. This was a specific example of how punishment was used in the form of torture and a public spectacle to embed fear into the minds of the public. A major aspect of punishment was the body, how to torture and be able to display it to the people. The public display was similar to a ceremonial occasion, as if it was a significant get together for the public, very similar to a state fair or a carnival. All of this changed in the coming decades, “disappearance of the tortured, dismembered, amputated body, symbolically branded on face or shoulder, exposed alive or dead to public view. That body as the major target for penal repression disappeared” (Foucault 8). The public spectacle went as far as chain-gangs until that was abolished in 1848 (Foucault 8). The reason for this change, according to Foucault, was due to the overwhelming thought of humanization that developed in society.
How did this change to a humanization thinking come about and more importantly how was it implemented into the penal system? Foucault accredits the evolution to the humanization process of thinking based on how people portrayed the executioner. What that means is the overwhelming sense of savagery that was bestowed into the people by the fact that the punishment had ‘out-done’ the crime itself. “It was as if the punishment was thought to equal, if not exceed, in savagery the crime itself, to accustom the spectators to a ferocity from which wished to divert them…to make the executioner resemble a criminal, judges murderers, to reverse roles at the last moment, to make the tortured criminal an object of pity or admiration” (Foucault 9). The perception by the people in seeing how criminals were dealt with was the turning point and the leading factor to the eventual...

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