For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

by Foucault, Michel (1979)

Key Passage

This 'self-evident' character of the prison, which we find so difficult to abandon, is based first of all on the simple form of 'deprivation of liberty'. How could prison not be the penalry par excellcnce in a society in which liberty is a good that belongs to all in the same way and to which each individual is attached, as Dupon put it, by a 'universal and constant' feelingl lts loss has therefore the same value for all; unlike tlrc 6ne, it is an 'egalitarian' punishment. The prison is the clearest, simplest, most equitable of penalties. Moreover, it makes it possible to quantify the penalty exactly according to the variable of time. There is a wages-form of imprisonment that constifirtes, in industrial societies, its economic 'self-evidence' - and enables it to appear as a reparation. By levying on the time of the prisoner, the prison seems to express in concrete terms the idea that the offence has injured, beyond the victim, society as a whole. There is an economico-moral self-evidence of a penality that metes out punishments in days, months and years and draws up quantitative equivalences between offences and duratiorts. Hence the expression, so frequently heard, so consistent with the functioning of punishments, though contrary to the strict theory of penal law, that one is in prison in order to 'pay one's debt'. The prison is 'natural', just as the use of time to measure exchanges is 'natural' in our society. (p.232)


Discipline, Foucault, Capitalism, Biopower


Discipline and Punish, Foucault Citations, History of Work

Links to Reference


Sheridan, A.



How to contribute.