Foucault on the prison: Torturing history to punish capitalism

Critical Review 13 (3-4):391-411 (1999)
Abstract Michel Foucault has been an academic cause célèbre for some time, spaivning untold thesis papers and dissertations illuminating oppression's invisible fingerprints on history, literature, gender, and government. Yet for all his ceutrality in American higher education, Foucault's books are not studied so much for their substantative content as for their underlying insights into the forces shaping society. This paper confronts this paradox through a critique of the apotheosis of Foucaultian analysis, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Discipline and Punish can be understood as a masterful harnessing of leftist assumptions about capitalism to reconfigure history. The extent to which Foucault distorts history to support his thesis, however, seriously undermines the practical relevance of his brand of social science.
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