Foucault’s visit to Attica prison in 1972

Attica,_New_York_(Correctional_Facility).jpgIn April 1972, during a visit to SUNY Buffalo, Foucault visited Attica prison. This was only one year after the uprising and its brutal suppression. John K. Simon, chair of the Buffalo French department, interviewed him about what he saw. The interview was published in Telos, and then reprinted in Social Justice and Foucault: Live. (The journal links take you to accessible versions; a French translation is here.)

Foucault says that it was his first time inside a prison, but we know that his psychiatric work of the early 1950s meant that he regularly visited the Fresnes prison outside Paris. 1972 was in the middle of Foucault’s time with the Groupe d’Information sur les prisons, which has left an extensive legacy of interviews and reports, and led to both his 1972-73 course The Punitive Society and, of course, Surveiller et punir/Discipline and Punish. There are many account of Foucault’s prison activism in France, and some on his links to the Black Panthers (see essays by Jason Demers and Brady Thomas Heiner [paywall]). Jean Genet and Catherine von Bülow were crucial in mediating the links between the GIP and the Black Panthers. One of the GIP pamphlets was about the murder of George Jackson in a California prison, which was one of the events behind the Attica uprising. I discuss all this in Foucault: The Birth of Power chapter 5, partly in relation to how this led to Discipline and Punish. An English translation of GIP material is forthcoming.

One of the things that comes through strongly in the Attica interview is the importance of class struggle. This theme is muted in Discipline and Punish, but much stronger in The Punitive Society.

Thanks to Laleh Khalili and Sebastian Budgen for prompting this post.

This entry was posted in Foucault: The Birth of Power, Michel Foucault, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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