For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The Punitive Society. Lectures at the Collège de France

by Foucault, Michel (2015)

Key Passage

the problem of feudal society was to assure the extraction of rent through the exercise of a sovereignty that was, above all, territorial; the problem of industrial society is to see to it that the individual’s time, which is purchased with wages, can be integrated into the production apparatus in the forms of labor-power. It is necessary to ensure that what the employer buys is not empty time, but indeed labor-power. In other words, it is a matter of constituting the individual’s time of life into labor-power. Which leads to this conclusion: if it is true that the economic structure, characterized by the accumulation of capital, has the property of transforming individuals’ labor-power into productive force, the aim of the structure of power which takes the form of sequestration is, prior to that stage, to transform the time of life into labor-power. People must be able to bring onto the market something that is labor-power, which is secured by this system of power that is sequestration, the correlative, in terms of power, of the accumulation of capital in economic terms. Capitalism, in fact, does not simply encounter labor-power, just like that. It is false to say, with certain famous post-Hegelians, that labor is man’s concrete existence. The time and life of man are not labor‡ by nature; they are pleasure, discontinuity, festivity, rest, need, moments, chance, violence, and so on. Now, it is all this explosive energy that needs to be transformed into a continuous labor-power continually offered on the market. Life must be synthesized into labor-power, which involves the coercion of this system of sequestration. For exercising this coercion that transforms the time of life into labor-power, the clever ploy§ of industrial society was to take up the old technique¶ of the confinement of the poor, which, in the classical age, was a way of fixing and, at the same time, suppressing those who through  idleness, vagabondage, or revolt had escaped all the geographical fixations in which the exercise of sovereignty was carried out. This institution will have to be generalized and utilized, in contrast, to connect up individuals to the social apparatuses; it will be specified in accordance with a whole series of apparatuses from the factory-prison to the prison, passing through poorhouses, schools, and reformatories. Reutilized to this end, all this old system of confinement will make possible sequestration, which is actually constitutive of modes of production. (p.232-233)


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The Punitive Society



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