For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

by Foucault, Michel (1979)

Key Passage

Several polemics that took place under the Restoration and the July Monarchy throw light on the function attributed to penal labour. First, there was the debate on the subject of wages. The labour of prisoners was remunerated in France. This posed a problem: if work in prison is remunerated, that work cannot really form part ofthe penalty; and the prisoner may therefore refuse to perform it. Moreover, wages reward the skill of the worker and not the improvement of the convict: 'The worst subjects are almost everywhere the most skilful workers' they are the most highly remunerated, consequently the most intemperate and least ready to repent' (Marquet-Wasselot, quoted in Lucas, 324). The debate, which had never quite died down, was resumed with great liveliness in the early r84os: it was a period of economic crisis, a period of workers' agitation and a period, too, in which the opposition between the worker and the delinquent was beginning to crystallize (cf. below,285).  (p.240)


Discipline, Foucault, Capitalism, Biopower


Discipline and Punish, Foucault Citations, History of Work

Links to Reference


Sheridan, A.



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