Michael Scrivener
Discipline and Punish Book review

a review of

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault. Trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977)

The book is now a Vintage paperback; the original French version was Surveiller et punir, Naissance de la prison (Paris: Gallimard, 1975)

Foucault insists that “delinquency, controlled illegality, is an agent for the illegality of the dominant groups” (p.279). Delinquency is a uniquely modern development, which first materialized in the nineteenth century. As Foucault delineates the process, tine Enlightenment reforms of the penal code and prison conditions were adapted to the new conditions of early industrial capitalism. Delinquency, then, is depoliticized crime, distinct from popular illegalities such as peasant uprisings, sans-culotte direct democracy, Luddism, strikes, insurrections and so on. The reformed penal code and the new criminal justice bureaucracy (police, courts, lawyers, prisons) created, in the nineteenth century, a circumscribed zone of illegality that was easily controlled and which posed no threat to the ruling class. On the contrary, delinquency became one of the principal modes by which the bourgeois regime maintained its legitimacy as a ruling class.