For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

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

by Foucault, Michel (2015)

Key Passage

The control of time is one of the fundamental points of the hyper-power organized by capitalism through the State system.† Even apart from the institutions of concentrated sequestration, school, factory-prison, reformatory—in which the employment of time is an essential component […]— the control, management, and organization of the life of individuals [represents] one of the main things established at the beginning of thenineteenth century. It was necessary to control the rhythm at which people wanted to work. When individuals were paid by day, one had to make sure that they did not take their leave when they wanted. It was necessary to hunt down festive revelry, absenteeism, gambling, and notably the lottery as a bad relationship to time in expecting money from the discontinuity of chance rather than from the continuity of work. The worker had to be made to master chance in his life: illness, unemployment.* To make him responsible for himself until death, hehad to be taught the quality called foresight by offering him savings banks. Now, all this, which appears in the literature of the time as an apprenticeship in moral qualities, actually signifies the integration of the worker’s life into the time of production, on the one hand, and the time of saving, on the other. The time of life, which could be broken up by leisure, pleasure, chance, revelry had to be homogenized so as to be integrated into a time that is no longer the time of individuals, of their pleasures, desires, and bodies, but the time of the continuity ofproduction, of profit.† The time of people’s existence had to be fitted and subjected to the temporal system of the cycle of production.‡ Such is the first function of sequestration: to subject the time of life to the time of production. If the problem of feudal society was one of localizing individuals, tying them to an estate over which one could exercise one’s sovereignty and from which one could take rent, the problem of capitalist society is not so much to tie individuals down locally, as to capture them in a temporal mesh that ensures that their life is effectively subjected to the time of production and profit. We pass from fixing locally to temporal  sequestration. (p.210-211)


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The Punitive Society



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