Foucault’s ‘Discipline and Punish’- A Tale Of Norms.

In Foucault’s Discipline and Punish, he tries to illustrate and analyse the historical development in the punishment system and style over the years. From the cynically crude scenes of the public execution where each body part is being ripped apart to the contrasting routine of the modern penal system of incarceration-it is all about the body. Foucault is very much interested in examining the relationship between power and the infliction of bodily pain but also by going beyond the physical realm of what the body represents. The power that is exercised when punishing is different from the violence that affects the body physically in the modern era, its main aim is to change people mentally as well and to make them more ‘normal’.

The prison’s ‘rehabilitative’ or ‘reformative’ function of removing the ‘subnormal’ or ‘abnormal’ individual from society for a period of time and making him ‘normal’ again by imprisoning him speaks volumes. It essentially means that there are certain norms or standards that people need to conform to in order to be considered as normal. If one follows and adheres to the ideologies of the society he/she is living in, then he/she is a normal, law-abiding, citizen. However, if he/she defies those ideologies, then a temporary removal from society is needed to enable ‘re-normalisation’. So, the penal system is primarily a system of exclusion. Is Foucault suggesting that norms are present only to constantly measure, control and evaluate our behaviour? He most probably is. Is he saying that punishment in the form of the prison is less concerned with justice but more so with the “manipulation of the body and soul” (Discipline and Punish)? He most definitely is- it is more about obedience than justice.


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