For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Punitive Society. Lectures at the Collège de France 1972-1973

by Foucaul, Michel (2015)

Key Passage

What is dangerous is the worker who does not work hard enough, who is lazy, who gets drunk, that is to say everything by which the worker practices illegalism, not in this case on the body of the employer’s wealth, but on his own body, on the labor-power that the employer considers he owns, since he has purchased it with wages and because it is the worker’s duty to offer his labor-power on a free market.Consequently, anything that may affect not only the accumulated capital of bourgeois wealth, but the worker’s body itself as labor-power, anything that may steal it from use by capital, will be considered as that infra-legal illegalism, the great immorality, on which capitalism will try to get a hold: an illegalism that is not a breach of the law, but a way of stealing the condition of profit. And at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century we see the appearance of those singular expressions that a lazy worker “steals.”* He steals what he owes the employer, what he could earn for his family. Worker immorality is constituted by all that by which the worker circumvents the law of the job market as capitalism wants to constitute it.The point of application of the social and daily bourgeois fear as it functions at the start of the nineteenth century—at the time of the organization of the penal system—is less the marginal and dangerous classes, than the class of workers as permanent and daily source of immorality. In the form of the relationship established between the worker’s body and wealth, or of the way labor-power can be used to the maximum, ultimately it is always the worker’s body in its relationship to wealth, to profit, to the law, that constitutes the major stake around which the penal system will be organized. Hence the need to set up an apparatus that is sufficiently discriminating and far-reaching to affect the very source of this illegalism: the worker’s body, desire, need. (p.173)


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The Punitive Society



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