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Prisons, Punishment and Penology

5. Michel Foucault

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the ideas of Michel Foucault, focusing particularly on: (i) Foucault’s account of the shift from capital punishment as the main form of punishment in premodernity to the prison in modernity; (ii) his explanation for this in terms of the state’s greater need for control in modern capitalist society and the greater effectiveness of prisons in achieving this; (iii) his notion of the disciplinary society and the role of prisons within it; (iv) his argument that prisons produce delinquents who can be blamed for social issues to distract from the harms of the powerful.


In this course, Dr David Scott (The Open University) explores key philosophical and sociological approaches to prisons, punishment and penology. In the first module, we introduce some key areas of interest within penology, looking especially at moral justifications for punishment. In the second, we consider the classical philosophical approaches of Cesare Beccaria, Jeremy Bentham, Immanuel Kant, and William Godwin. In the third module, we think about Émile Durkheim’s sociological work on punishment, before turning in the fourth to the Marxist approach of Georg Rusche and Otto Kirchheimer. In the fifth module, we examine Michel Foucault’s influential account of the emergence of the prison in modern capitalist society, and in the final module we explore some contemporary penological debates.


Dr David Scott works at the Open University. He researches and teaches on prisons, penal abolitionism and the sociology and philosophy of punishment. His publications include For Abolition: Essays on Prisons and Socialist Ethics (2020), Against Imprisonment: An Anthology of Abolitionist Essays (2018), and, with Nick Flynn, Prisons and Punishment: The Essentials (2014).

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Scott, D. (2021, August 24). Prisons, Punishment and Penology - Michel Foucault [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Scott, David. "Prisons, Punishment and Penology – Michel Foucault." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 24 Aug 2021,

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