Foucault’s La société punitive – some additional thoughts on the second half

Following my thoughts on the first half, here are some additional comments on the second half of Foucault’s 1973 lecture course La société punitive. As mentioned, I’ll be writing a much more formal and thorough review for Berfrois.

– Harcourt’s notes suggest that this course should be seen as developing the productive side of penalty, as opposed to the more repressive side analysed in the previous course Théories et institutions pénales. But as he suggests it is more than this – it broadens the analysis as well as complements the previous course, looking at the emergence of a new kind of power: disciplinary power. In fact, it appears that Foucault half-wishes that ‘the disciplinary society’ had been the title for the course – Daniel Defert has suggested that that was indeed the original title.

– the course really needs to be seen as a third of a sequence that began with Lectures on the Will to Know. Foucault relates this course’s analysis of examination to the previous two course’s discussions of measure and inquiry. There is some interesting discussion of the relation of these three terms – likely to be even richer when the second of the three courses is available.

– Examination would take on a significant role in Discipline and Punish and some of Foucault’s later courses. Here it is described as “the system of the permanent control of individuals… like a permanent test [épreuve], without a final point. It is an inquiry, but before all offence, outside any crime. It is an inquiry of general and a priori suspicion of the individual…” (p. 200).

– the political economy themes I mentioned in my thoughts on the first half are very strong throughout the course. The body of the worker and the body of wealth are explicitly linked (pp. 191-2), as are the role the disciplined body has within the forces of production (p. 200). The original French title of Discipline and Punish is Surveiller et punir – more literally ‘survey and punish’. The pairing of these terms (or of the punitive and examining), as part of a wider system of discipline, first emerges in this text, albeit within a somewhat broader and more explicitly economic analysis. Foucault’s addition is the concentration on the various disciplinary technologies, and, in places, the moral question.

– there is some interesting discussion of prison design and how this is not just an architectural design, but a design for society as a whole. The example is not the Panopticon, but rather the star-design of prisons. Foucault is aware of the Panopticon, and in some of the manuscript notes describes the phenomena of panopticism, but hasn’t yet made the explicit linkage that is so striking in Discipline and Punish. It appears that this was made explicit for the first time in the fourth of the Rio lectures given on 21-25 May 1973 and published as ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ .

– There is some brief discussion of monomania and its relation to crime (pp. 183-4); and the emergence of dangerous individual (p. 182). These would both be themes that Foucault would elaborate in much greater length in subsequent discussions. Themes around normalisation begin to develop in this course, and there is a brief discussion of sexuality and education, and the relation between heterosexuality and homosexuality (pp. 219-21).

– the critique of Althusser is quite strong here, though he is not named explicitly. Foucault suggests, for instance, that “We must therefore distinguish not only systems of power from State apparatuses, but also, in a more general way, systems of power from political structures” (p. 234).

– Foucault summarises the course as a whole as tracing three interlinked processes: “We therefore have a series which characterizes modern society: constitution of a labour force; apparatus of confinement [séquestration]; permanent function of normalization” (p. 242). In the final lines of the course, Foucault directly links the last to the development of the human sciences (p. 244).

– Rereading the course summary – included here, but long available – is revealing. Foucault usually wrote these in June of each year, a few months after the course had concluded. He often emphasized aspects he retrospectively saw as important, or marginalised ones that had seemed crucial at the time. The summary for this course was written after he had given the ‘Truth and Juridical Forms’ lectures, where he made use of material from his three courses at the Collège, along with some additional material (some of which was drafted for this course, but not delivered). Crucially, as Daniel Defert notes in his essential ‘Chronology’ (published in Dits et écrits and translated in A Companion to Foucault), Foucault finished the first draft of Discipline and Punish in April 1973. Reading the course, the Rio lectures and the summary in sequence is interesting as he shows some sense of the movement in his thinking towards the book, with some important shifts in emphasis. Foucault would continue to work on the book manuscript until August 1974, so there was much more development to come.

I’m looking forward to reading Discipline and Punish yet again, probably in French, in the light of this course. Doing that, writing the Berfrois review, and then reworking the material again will fill an important gap in the opening chapter of Foucault’s Last Decade.

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18 Responses to Foucault’s La société punitive – some additional thoughts on the second half

  1. Pingback: Foucault’s La société punitive – some initial thoughts on the first half | Progressive Geographies

  2. Clare O'Farrell says:

    Reblogged this on Foucault News.

  3. Pingback: Foucault’s Last Decade – sixth update | Progressive Geographies

  4. Pingback: The twenty-five most important academic books to me from 2013 | Progressive Geographies

  5. Pingback: Foucault’s Lectures on the Punitive Society I | Progressive Geographies

  6. Javier says:

    Hi, I finish this book a few weeks ago and, as you suggested I did read then “Truth and Juridical Forms”.But I will make another suggestion now.

    I think that there is an strong relationship between this bulk of work and then the lectures that Foucault gave in Belgic in 1981.

    So, after reading “Truth and Juridical Forms” I move forward to “Mail Faire, dire vrai: Fonction d l’ave en justice”. This is some kind of reworking of both, the material he develop for La societe punitive and for Suveiller et punir, and the material he used for “Trutht and juridical forms”.

    As Harcourt says, in “Mal faire, dire vrai” you can find and strong connection, or reframing between the work that he did before 1975 and the devolpements of the Gouvernmentalitys ideas, and his last work about the individual.

    (sorry for my bad english)


    • stuartelden says:

      Yes, those are important lectures. They also have some relation to Du gouvernement des vivants. I will be discussing those two lecture courses in one of the chapters of my book on Foucault, and this will probably be the next one I draft.

      • sagardia says:

        I Will Look foward to that. I am working right now in an article about the genealogy of dangerosité. François Digniffe wrote a similar work on 2009, but I have a diferent approach to the subject.

        I have already read, of course, suvellir et punir, ao verdade as formas jurídicas, mal faire diré vrai and some of the articles collected in Dits et ecrits. And, well yes the Foucault Effect book.

        Do you know if I should ve looking for something el se?

      • stuartelden says:

        Those sound the key texts, though of course there is the 1977 conference on the concept of the dangerous individual, which developed work first examined at the College de France – part in the 1974-75 and 1975-76 lectures, but also in seminars. The Abnormals is probably the key place to look, and the work on Jean-Pierre Peter which I’ve discussed here before. There are a few remarks on danger in La societe punitive as well.

      • Javier says:

        Thanks! I will look forward to Jean-Pierre Peter. On the other hand I think I have the 1977´s conference. I think Foucault gave it in Canada. What it is a mistery to me is that there are 3 translations of this conference.

        First, there is a translation to english that was used at the confence. I haven´t find it. There is a second translation to english, published on 1978 I think. The problem is that this translation is different to the French work that appeared in 1981 on Deviance et societe.

        I have the courses that you mention in spanish, I hanvent had the time to study them yet. And well, yes there are remakrs on La societe punitive.

        Thanks, I will wait for new comments and well, for your book when you finish it.

      • stuartelden says:

        The Carol Brown translation was never published, as far as I know, but was used at the conference and then as the basis for the published 1978 version. Later English versions are reprints of that 1978 version. The French version in Dits et ecrits may be the original – no translator is listed. Could you send me a copy of the 1981 Deviance et societe piece please? If it is a different text, then it is strange it is not reprinted in Dits et ecrits. I say a bit more about this text here –

      • Javier says:

        Professor Elden,

        Your text summarizes some of the questions that I have also made to myself. But there is another problem. The second English translation is different from the French version published on Dit et ecrits.

        These are my thoughts:

        (1)We have the original French text. (1977)

        (2)We have Carol Brown first English translation. Un published. (1977)

        (3) We have the second English translation.

        -Published in International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Vol. 1, pp. l-l 8, 1978 Pergamon Press. Printed in the U.S.A.
        – You can find it here

        – Alain Baudot and Jane Couchman says that this is a new translation and tha they used Brown´s work only as a reference.

        (4) Then we have the first French published version.

        – Published in “Déviance et société ». 1981 – Vol. 5 – N°4.

        -You can find it here

        -We know that this is not the original text because at the end of it we found this:
        Cet article est publié avec l’accord de /International Journal of Law Psychiatry, vol. I, 1978, Pergamon Press, Ltd, dans lequel il est paru en anglais. Il paraît ici pour la première fois en français.
        – This is de source from the text that appear on Dit et ecrits , that is why there are no translator credited for this. They did not have to translate this work that was already translated. I compared both takes they are the same.

        (5) THE PROBLEM is that altought that the French version from 1981 has a disclaimer saying that this was published using the 1978 english text they are different.

        The order of some paragraph are different and some phrases were deleted from the French version. It was like Foucault reworked the text.

  7. stuartelden says:

    That is extremely helpful – thank you. But just two questions.

    1. You say “(1)We have the original French text. (1977)” – does this mean you’ve seen it and/or that it is available somewhere? Or simply that we know it existed?
    2. I will check the texts at some point, but you note reordering and deletion. Did you find any additions in the French that are not in the English?

    I will make a new post to the blog on this information, which is very useful to know, but would like to clear things up entirely first. It seems that Dits et ecrits should have provided a note on the variant; and that Richard Lynch’s biography of translations might need to be updated. (The online version at least is incorrect in translator attribution)

    • sagardia says:

      Oh… sorry, I have the tendency to write english sometimes the way we speak spanish.

      (1) No, I meant to say that you are right. There is, somewhere, an original text that was written in french.

      (2) No, I realize the differences because I read the english version first, and then, for my work I try to search in the french text but i did not find them. It was like that certain conclussions were deleted.

  8. sagardia says:

    By the way, just as a quick excercise, Look at the second page of both texts.

    French text begin: Et le dialogue que je citais tout à l’heure prouve bien qu’à cette
    question, il n’est pas suffisant que l’inculpé réponde : “Je suis l’auteur
    des crimes que voilà

    English text begin: And the dialogue which I just quoted shows that it is not enough for the ac-
    cused to say in reply to that question, “I am the author of the crimes before
    you, period.

    But… this paragraph is longer on the english version. The french text has another paragraph and then begin :

    L’intervention de la psychiatrie dans le domaine pénal s’est faite au début du XIXe siècle, à propos d’une série d’affaires qui avaient à peu près la même forme, et se sont déroulées entre 1800 et 1835.

    In the english text this paragraph only appears in the third page, after several other considerations.

  9. Pingback: “About the Concept of the ‘Dangerous Individual’ in Legal Psychiatry of the 19th Century” – details of variant English and French texts | Progressive Geographies

  10. stuartelden says:

    The original French text as a 36pp. typescript is available at IMEC: reference FCL 1.10: “A propos de la notion d’individu dangereux dans la psychiatrie légale au XIXe siècle”
    Updated list of different versions here:

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