Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. I

The last volume of Michel Foucault’s lectures at the Collège de France to be edited has now appeared in print. The volume comprises the lectures he gave in the academic session of 1971 to 1972, that is the second year of his appointment. The volume name is Théories et institutions pénales, and like the other volumes was published by Seuil in collaboration with Gallimard in May of this year. It is of course most obviously connected with Discipline and Punish (Surveiller et punir) amongst the books that Foucault completed and published in his own lifetime.

I’ll be blogging the recent published volume as ‘Penal Theories and Institutions’ lecture by lecture in order to help present Foucault’s work here to an Anglophone audience and generally contribute to the circulation of the ideas contained. An English translation of the volume should be appearing from Palgrave Macmillan sometime within the next two years in the series of Foucault’s Collège de France lectures edited by Arnold I. Davidson and translated by Graham Burchell.

How many lectures I cover in one post, or how many posts I take to cover one lecture will depend on how long the published text is and how much I am inspired to add detail and commentary beyond a basic summary.

24th November, 1971. 

Foucault announces the intention to discuss the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The method will be avoid a point of departure in legislation of penal institutions. He will discuss them in their combined function as systems of repression. These systems have a double aspect, which is that they both repress and are repressed. They are systems which respond to the strategic intentions within relations of force. They are system which put instruments at the disposition of a force which enable to the force to destroy another force, or enfeeble, isolate or disarm the force. ,

The heading of simple principle appears under which Foucault mentions that placing the analysis of the penal in systems of repression enables him to avoid the following ways of thinking about the penal: moral terms of good and evil, sociological terms of deviance and integration, psychological terms of delinquency.

In taking the analysis of systems of repression as the point of departure, it is possible to see how the terms above have a history in which they appear and are reformulated. Foucault now moves onto some seventeenth century events, which are presumably the beginning of the history of systems of repression, along with the other terms which are best understood as products of that history, rather than as terms assumed in order to understand that history.

Foucault begins the account of historical events with popular uprisings in Normandy (northwestern France) in the 1620s and 30s. These are in response both to government activities and economic hardship. However, the illegality was not confined to the unprivileged classes, but included some aristocrats and members of the bourgeoisie resisting state authority, particularly with regard to taxation, and sometimes resorting to violence. Members of a parlement refused to register an edict and marched through the town in full regalia, both calming the local population which had been engaged in violent disorder and giving those who had been involved in violence some protection.

It is necessary to interrupt the exposition of Foucault’s lecture here and explain what a parlement is. It was an important institution in medieval and early modern France, lasting up to the French Revolution. Not only is understanding what it is key to understanding French history of that time it was where two major French writers served, Michel de Montaigne in the sixteenth century and Montesquieu in the eighteenth century.

The parlement of course changed in nature over its long history, but it was always a court in which local notables served as judges and which combined the judicial function with two other functions: registration of royal edicts, which made it the last moment in the legislative process and which they sometimes stretched to include a right to remonstrance or complaint; a sometimes linked role as a representative body for the locality, or region, which might be accepted by the common people as representing them, even though they had no role in appointing it.

It is a particularly French institution, but the intersection of judicial, legislative, and political roles expresses something about the nature of judicial institutions in all times and places for Foucault. There was a time when English language writers would refer to the parlement as a parliament, which risked confusion with the British Parliament, though that can be revealing with regard to the overlapping history of representative, legislative, and judicial bodies.

Foucault’s account here refers to the city of Rouen in Normandy, where he says the parlement  demanded mediation from someone directly representing the king, above the agents sent to them, and that even after the restoration of order the parlement did not ensure the reconstitution of the tax gathering offices which had been physically damaged and morally undermined by riots. Riots in which there was evidently collaboration between local notables, responsible for enforcing royal administration and law, and members of the less privileged classes against the agents of the monarchy.


2 thoughts on “Blogging Foucault’s most recently published lectures, Théories et institutions pénales. I

  1. Pingback: , since | Progressive Geographies

  2. Pingback: Barry Stocker on Foucault’s Théories et institutions pénales lecture course | Progressive Geographies

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