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“Discipline and Punish” Book by Foucault


Discipline and Punish is a narration of the current disciplinary system. Foucault’s analysis and examination of power on punishment use a social context. Initially, Foucault stated how corporal punishment and public execution were the main forms of penalty (1975/1977). Torture was used to extract information from culprits as a form of a criminal investigation. Discipline and Punish, being the birth of the current prisons, is a theory used to examine communal and theoretical mechanisms in the penal framework (Foucault, 1975/1977). According to Foucault’s argument, prisons are not the principal approaches to conduct punishment due to humanitarian concerns. He links the cultural shift resulting in the predominance of penitentiaries through body and power (Mallett, 2016). According to Foucault’s theory, prisons use technological power to dominate hospitals, schools, and military camps. He relates the theory of prison to the structure of schools with features such as strict schedules, gangs, and surveillance among other aspects (Foucault, 1975/1977). The major ideas of Discipline and Punish, according to Foucault, are categorized under torture, discipline, punishment, and prison.

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Foucault is famous due to the interdisciplinary approach in his works. He transformed and extended central ideas and theories from another philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Foucault was inspired by Kant’s definition and explanation of “critique” as examining and analyzing human limits, especially in the reasoning domain. He expanded the definition, and his work followed a certain pattern that analyzed the transformation of the social lives of human beings. Foucault’s genealogical era is characterized by events revolving around human subjects.

The greatest problem in analyzing Discipline and Punish is to think it can offer a solution using the theory of power. The analysis of Discipline and Punish provides a localized account of specific types of power which institutions operate under. The power may be in a certain context and historical era. Foucault’s disciplinary power model is the famous “Panopticon”- a penitentiary having a design that allows a guard to monitor all the inmates without their knowledge. Foucault tries to depict how power and system are applicable in factories and educational institutions to instill discipline. The root purpose of discipline is to produce self-driven people who are focused and centered on being productive in society (Mallett, 2016). The power of Discipline and Punish is to measure and assess individuals to make them homogenous.

Foucault analyzed and exposed a number of perpetuating disciplinary power approaches. Similarly, his genealogical works create a gap in instilling discipline in schools and certain institutions using ethically approved methodologies. Foucault explored several solutions in his final ethical analysis and explained how it could view ethics and genealogy from all perspectives (Potter et al., 2017). Genealogy emphasizes the approaches in which a community constitutes individuals. On the contrary, Foucault’s ethic is centered on an individual’s ability to be self-transformed and resilient to domination.

In the past years, the theory of Discipline and Punish was misused in correctional centers and schools. Foucault tries to shed light on the difficulties and unethical conduct which have been ignored, paving way for violence and torture within the marginalized groups. Through his research and phenomenon analysis, people learn to socially and politically question the disciplinary system and practices which appear “necessary” to uncover the disguised political violence in the system. In today’s world, Foucault’s legacy has inspired several philosophical activists who advocate for human rights from a broader perspective.


Major ideas and theories of Foucault within Discipline and Punish are categorized and elaborated through power, surveillance, gangs, and strict schedules, amongst other similar measures. The ideas of discipline and punishment applied in prisons as corrective measures as evident in schools in one way or another, as explained below:

Strict Schedules

Prisoners live under strict daily rules, following orders and commands from prison guards. Strict routines have been formulated and implemented to instill discipline in the inmates, but unfortunately, some measures are unnecessary according to Foucault’s descriptions (Foucault, 1975/1977). Stern schedules range from waking up times, roll-calls, meal times, morning exercises, working times, learning times, telephone times, and sports events times, amongst others, depending on prison departments’ rules and regulations.

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Freedom of movement is a right not applicable once an individual enters prison. Strict rules have to be followed, and heavy penalties and punishments are unleashed to schedule lawbreakers. For instance, if an inmate is caught having a mobile phone illegally, strict punishment is prescribed, and the charge sentence can be extended. There are morning roll calls and evening calls in the penitentiaries, and all prisoners have to report to the designated regions to face the guards and be counted (Potter et al., 2017). When an inmate is not present without the prison wardens’ consent during the roll call, the report is aired immediately, and the alarm goes off depending on the rules followed by a strict search. Strict rules are followed to the latter, and inmates have to be enlightened on the penalties in case they bend or break the schedules.

One fundamental purpose of school is to instill appropriate skills and knowledge in learners. However, schools are the same as prisons due to tough schedules created to guide students during their learning periods. Compared to prisons, students have to wake up early in the morning at specific times according to the schedule. Roll calls are taken strictly, and in case a student is missing, stern disciplinary measures are implemented for the victim. Times of meals, game times, visiting days, and class sessions are well timetabled, and learners strictly follow the timetable (Lessing, 2017). According to Foucault’s theories and explanations of stringent prison schedules, the same programs are evident in school systems making the learning centers to be similar to penitentiaries.


Correctional facilities depend on the technology of surveillance to provide maximum security. Apart from physical patrols conducted by trained wardens, video surveillance structures are essential when monitoring inmates’ activities. Some activities such as fights, drug use, and other misconducts within prison walls are monitored and appropriate corrective measures are implemented. Several prisons and correctional institutions are expansive, having a variety of departments, all requiring close monitoring. Since guards and designated officers cannot be at all the required areas to offer the needed effective surveillance, cameras have been installed to aid the surveillance system. On most occasions, inmates try to tamper with cameras to avoid being monitored while engaging in malpractices. Disciplinary actions are implemented for inmates who are caught by the surveillance cameras while breaking prison rules and regulations.

In some schools, surveillance cameras have been installed to monitor all the activities of learners, similar to those in prisons (Mallett, 2016). Since most school compounds are massive with many offices, teachers cannot effectively monitor all the students within the compound. Some schools have sophisticated facial recognition systems at the entrance to identify the students entering and exiting the school compounds. Similar to prisoners in the penitentiaries, learners are subjected to a stern surveillance system, and disciplinary actions are taken to break school laws. An inmate is subjected to punishment when caught by the surveillance camera while being on the wrong side. A student will face the disciplinary committee if recorded by the CCT while misbehaving.

Gangs and Power

Some prisoners have organized themselves into well-sophisticated powerful syndicates having a common interest. Some of the shared interests of gangs include smuggling electronics, and illegal drugs into the cells and organizing other prohibited activities in the prisons. Similar to the penitentiaries, some schools have organized groups engaging in illegal practices against school rules and regulations (Lessing, 2017). From Foucault’s theories, he clearly explains the existence of resistance to counteract power. Prisons have authority and power as a way of instilling discipline in inmates. However, prisoners see the existence of power as being oppressive and no longer helpful (Foucault, 1975/1977). In school, the exercise of power has to be productive, but some learners become gangs and resist the school’s power.


In his book The Birth of Prison, Foucault tries to explain Discipline and Punishment in prison to instill the required code of conduct in prisoners. However, inmates resist the process of change, and the entire prison system appears to be oppressive and no longer essential due to several strict practices. For instance, stern schedules are meant to be corrective measures, but to some extent, they act as severe punishment for inmates. Schools are meant to be a safe learning environment, but learners have a different opinions. Learning institutions are similar to penitentiaries with the infiltration of violence, drugs, and gangs. The prison and school systems need to be reformed to instill the desired discipline in inmates and students.


Lessing, B. (2017). Counterproductive punishment: How prison gangs undermine state authority. Rationality and Society, 29(3), 257–297.

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Mallett, C. A. (2016). The school-to-prison pipeline: From school punishment to rehabilitative inclusion. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 60(4), 296–304.

Potter, H., Boggs, B., & Dunbar, C. (2017). Discipline and punishment: How schools are building the school-to-prison pipeline. Advances in Race and Ethnicity in Education, 65–90.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish. (A. Sheridan, Trans.). Pantheon Books. (Original work published 1975).

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