For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

by Foucault, Michel (1979)

Key Passage

Penal labour cannot be criticized for any unemployment it may give rise to: with its limited extent, and its low output, it cannot have a general effect on the economy. It is intrinsically useful, not as an activity of production, but by virtue of the effect it has on the human mechanism. It is a principle of order and regularity; through the demands that it imposes, it conveys, imperceptibly, the forms of a rigorous power; it bends bodies to regular movements, it excludes agitation and distraction, it imposes a hierarchy and a surveillance that are all the more accepted, and which will be inscribed all the more deeply in the behaviour of the convicts, in that they form part of its logic: with work 'the rule is introduced into a prison, it reigns there without effort, without the use of any repressive and violent means. By occupying the convict, one gives him habits oforder and obedience; one makes the idler that he was diligent and active . . . with time, he finds in the regular movement of the prison, in the manual labours to which he is subjected . . . a certain remedy against the wanderings of his imagination' (Bdrenger). Penal labour must be seen as the very machinery that transforms the violent, agitated, unreflective convict into a part that plays its role with perfect regularity. The prison is not a workshop; it is, it must be of itself, a machine whose convict-workers are both the cogs and the products; it'occupies them continually, with the sole aim of filling their moments. (p.242)


Discipline, Foucault, Capitalism, Biopower


Discipline and Punish, Foucault Citations, History of Work

Links to Reference


Sheridan, A.



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