Foucault’s Lectures on the Punitive Society VI.1

Lecture of 7th February
Foucault begins by insisting on the importance of the origin of the prison in the penitentiary. He presumably means that the prison as the major instrument of penal policy as its starting point in the use of the penitentiary in more varied forms, presumably overlapping with those limited ways he referred to in the last chapter in which the church might use imprisonment (before handing people over the civil authorities, as required by very limited aspects of church law, as part of the royal system of detention without trial), and also presumably to the forms of confinement referred to in History of Madness (compulsory isolation in leper houses, hospitals, and insane asylums). The aim is also presumably to detach the prison from an exclusive origin in the religious thinking he suggests is the immediate context of the growth of the prison. Foucault also develops the more radical claim that the whole of society is a penitentiary, that the prison is just an element of that general penitentiary nature of society. That is still likely refer to then more specific instances of the penitential just mentioned, generalised so as to characterise the society as a whole. The question of the development of the prison is here presented as the growth of its acceptability, which must precede the role it plays in new legal codes.

The role of militant Protestantism is again emphasised in this lecture, this time expanded to cover Methodism as well as the Quakers. Both are seen as promoting a new kind of order. The growth of Methodism under John Wesley in the late 18th century is mentioned as is the later role of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce is not most famous as a campaigner against slavery, but what Foucault looks at is Wilberforce’s role in promoting a very aggressively interventionist attitude to ‘vice’ and ‘morality’. The Methodists themselves had a very strict internal system of moral enforcement, in which the central organisation sent church officials to monitor the behaviour of followers, with regard to adultery, alcohol and refusal to work. Wilberforce lobbied for the state to take on such a role, putting his arguments on this issue to the monarchy. That provides a counterpart to the Quaker emphasis on public morality in Pennsylvania. . So Wilberforce’s conversations with the King are part of a pattern in which the religious societies taken on a more aggressive role, trying to intimidate people to follow their morality, as well as working to persuade the state to act as the enforcer of their moral standards. They targeted gambling, drunkenness, prostitution, and places of popular entertainment. These were seen as threats to the family, obstacles to work, and as temptations to the young.

The Methodist emphasis on enforcement of pious morality had an economic aspect in that they were giving assistance to the unemployed and vagabonds, which itself created pressure to follow Methodist morality. Foucault refers to the double function of this kind of order, the first function is the internal discipline, the second is the pressure on those receiving assistance. Both have an economic aspect, bıt this is is more apparent in the second function. Foucault refers to the societies are creating paramilitary style self-defence organisations, which are recruited from notables and the upper bourgeoisie, and go on patrol. Foucault claims that this is the origin of the police, as during the 19th century those notables employ the poorest to go on those patrols and carry out related duties. The last aspect that Foucault mentions of the role of the religious societies in changing penality, refers to those patrols which themselves are a way of protecting growing and more visible wealth in shops, the docks, and the roads (with reference to transport of goods maybe).

(Referring to La société punitive: Cours au Collège de France. 1972-1973. Ed. by Bernard E. Harcourt under the direction of François Ewald and Alessandro Fontana. Paris: Seuil, 2013)

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One thought on “Foucault’s Lectures on the Punitive Society VI.1

  1. Pingback: Barry Stocker on Foucault’s Lectures on the Punitive Society VI.1 and 2 | Progressive Geographies

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