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Punishment, Power, and History: Foucault and Elias

Spierenburg, Petrus Cornelis.

Social Science History, Volume 28, Number 4, Winter 2004, pp. 607-636 (Article) Published by Duke University Press

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Pieter Spierenburg

Punishment, Power, and History
Foucault and Elias

This article reevaluates the work of Michel Foucault and Norbert Elias, in so far as it relates to criminal justice history. After an examination of the content of Foucault’s Surveiller et punir (1975), it discusses Foucault’s receptions among criminal justice historians. Some of the latter appear to have attributed views to the French philosopher that are not backed up by his 1975 study. Notably the ‘‘revisionist’’ historians of prisons have done so. As a preliminary conclusion, it is posited that Foucault and Elias have more in common than some scholars, including the author in earlier publications, have argued. They resemble each other to the extent that they both thought it imperative to analyze historical change in order to better understand our own world. Nevertheless, Elias is to be preferred over Foucault when it concerns (1) the pace of historical change and (2) these theorists’ conception of power. It is demonstrated that Foucault’s notion of an abrupt and total change of the penal system between 1760 and 1840 is incongruent with reality and leads to ad hoc explanations. Rather, a long-term change occurred from about 1600 onward, while several elements of the modern penal system (as claimed by Foucault) did not become visible until after 1840. With respect to the concept of power, Elias and Foucault converge again on one crucial point: the notion of the omnipresence of power. However, whereas Elias defines power as a structural property of every social relationship and acknowledges its two-sidedness, Foucault’s concept of power has a more top-down character, and he often depicts power as an external force that people have to accommodate. Although Foucault’s notion of the interconnectedness of power and knowledge is valuable, Elias has a more encompassing view of sources of power.

Imagine this scene, reported by an eyewitness. The authorities have ordered that a scaffold be set up for a public execution. One man, scion of a respectable
Social Science History 28:4 (winter 2004), 607–36 Copyright © 2004 by the Social Science History Association

608 Social Science History

Frankfurt family, is about to mount it. He has been condemned for robbing and murdering four men and two women. The acquittal of the murderer’s mistress increases public interest in the case. Already in the early morning, an immense multitude assembles at the square where the fateful event is to take place. Some of the spectators endeavor to create a picture of the convict, which they intend to sell to others for a profit. The scene reaches its climax: the executioner presents the criminal to the assembled audience and severs his head from his body. Now listen to a quite different text, the house rules for a prison. Each Sunday morning the warden collects the inmates and recites from the Bible or another religious book. A preacher is there to instruct them; one or the other finishes with a few ‘‘histories admonishing to piety.’’ In the afternoon, those inmates who are able to read and write receive advanced training, while the warden or a work master teaches this art to the others. During the rest of the week, the inmates have to work. Whenever they are together, the master of discipline constantly watches them. He even has to overhear them at their sleeping places to find out what they are talking about. If the inmates go astray nevertheless, the following punishments apply: for frivolously cursing or swearing, three days on bread and water; for the inability to recite one’s prayers, the same; for disrespect of the staff, such as showing an ugly face or using bad words, one month on bread and water. The list of infractions and corresponding punishments is longer still, but these suffice for now. A sequence like this is surely familiar to any reader of Michel Foucault’s Surveiller et punir (1975; all quotes are my own translations from the original French edition).That book opens with the contrasting cases of the public execution of Robert-François Damiens in 1757, followed by the house rules of the Parisian Maison des Jeunes Détenus, drawn up by Léon Faucher in 1838. Foucault cites articles 17–28, on the order of the day, and concludes with a remark in the sense of ‘‘look how much has changed in only eighty years.’’ By contrast, the examples with which this article opened are no less than 344 years apart. That fact may hardly be remarkable in itself. However, I began with the more recent example! The reporter, the French writer Albert Camus, witnessed the last public execution in France. The German leader of a Paris-based gang, Eugen Weidmann, was decapitated before a large crowd in Versailles on the eve of the Second World War, on 16 June 1939. I purposely omitted that the pictures made of the event were photographs and that the makers sold them to the newspaper Paris-Soir. The publication of

a dossier containing the pleas of the attorneys of Weidmann and his principal accomplice. The first inmates arrived a few months later. Moreover. with a brief introduction). presumably with the ‘‘delicate’’ public who had refrained from watching the event in person. Power. drawn up by Sebastiaan Egberts on 21 November 1595 (cited in Spierenburg 1991: 49–50). Several historians. have already criticized Foucault on empirical grounds. with its long list of penalties for infractions. France. Roger Million. my intention is in no way to suggest that the transformation of punishment took place in quite the reverse order than the one claimed by Foucault. England. of course. Despite these caveats. the shift to indoor executions took place in most European countries between 1850 and 1870. Conversely. and History: Foucault and Elias 609 these photos caused an outrage. After all. the Amsterdam ordinance of 1595 had a less-meticulous character than the Paris one of 1838. This chronology. focused on submission and obedience and less so on the order of the day. This was the final trigger that led to the abolition of public punishment in France (Camus and Koestler 1957: 130.Punishment. to which visitors flocked from Germany.1 My second text was a sample of the internal rules for the Amsterdam rasphouse. Soon the rasphouse had acquired an international reputation as a model prison. the French ‘‘delay’’ constitutes an anomaly that historians have not yet satisfactorily explained.’’ (Any reader needing a brief introduction to Foucault can be referred to this excel- . 222. In Peter Burke’s (1992: 8) words (understandably without concrete references): ‘‘Many sound second-rate historians can correct Foucault’s errors. Of course.That would be absurd. we should also take into account the long and agonizing treatment Damiens had to endure (and that for scratching Louis XV in his side with a knife 2). see also Revue des grands procès contemporains [1939]. my two opening examples suggest that the grand narrative of the evolution of punishment in early modern and modern Europe may be somewhat more complex than the story presented in Surveiller et punir. I suppose. but are unable to produce a single new idea. The rasphouse’s order of the day consisted of the rhythm of forced labor rather than a precise timetable. and elsewhere. They were right in the case of critics who failed to provide an alternative scheme themselves. whereas the murderer Weidmann was quickly decapitated with the guillotine without additional atrocities. His followers usually responded by emphasizing the importance of the philosopher’s overall scheme. gives pause for thought. The former. Statements in the sense of ‘‘the data are just too complex for any theory’’ are no more than a testimony of poverty.

a few words introducing Elias (1897– 1990) may be in order. I am considering Norbert Elias’s theoretical framework next to Foucault’s. the original German edition of which appeared in 1982. the two theorists themselves were eager to learn from each other. Especially for American readers. as well as in several other publications and numerous conference contributions). In any case. his work can be and has been used as a theoretical base to discuss developments in crime and justice. On second thought. It is my conviction that in social science history both the ideas and the evidence count. these standards developed in close conjunction with other social processes. The development of ‘‘civilized’’ standards.610 Social Science History lent one by Burke). the disappearance of various forms of physical punishment can be understood as forming part of ‘‘civilizing’’ processes. From then on. To avoid an empty empiricism. alternately working in Germany and the Netherlands. He published a substantial number of works late in his life. including among other things a higher level of self-control and a greater degree of empathy with others. such as the formation of states. Elias . I have proclaimed the absolute incompatibility of Foucault’s and Elias’s sociological-historical approaches (in Spierenburg 1984. His first book on the ‘‘civilizing process. in particular. though it never came to a personal meeting. For his private use. One can best describe him as a historical sociologist. Far from being the result of individual efforts. and because of this.’’ which appeared in 1939. For a more elaborate discussion of his work in relation to violence. Although Elias himself hardly wrote at all about criminal justice issues. Foucault on Penal Change On earlier occasions. remained practically unnoticed until the end of the 1960s. see Spierenburg 2001). Born in Germany. long-term processes. Elias was increasingly recognized in Europe as a major theorist. that disappearance is also related to processes of state formation (Elias’s books of major relevance here are listed in the references. he argued that the society in which we live can be understood as the outcome (temporary. Foucault translated Elias’s The Loneliness of the Dying. perhaps this was an exaggeration. Essentially. is one of these processes.3 The French philosopher’s interest in this book was possibly enhanced by a sense of his own imminent death. he fled that country in 1933 and worked in England for several decades. not as a kind of final stage) of several interconnected. In particular. For his part.

penitentiaries. an important function of the execution is to underline authority (although too much emphasis is placed on the person of the king). He discusses the Enlightenment project for penal reform. is an example worth following. for example. who is studying the Elias archives in Marbach). finally. the execution serves to restore the sovereignty. the introduction of new criminal codes in France. Twenty-five years of debate and interpretation have placed layer upon layer on top of this book. In fact. Garland [ibid. when one reads Surveiller et punir with a fresh eye. and the techniques of discipline (see David Garland [1990: 135]. shaken for a moment by the crime. so he invited Foucault to a conference in Bielefeld in 1984. Elias’s open-minded stance. Foucault provides us with an inside look into the ancien régime’s criminal procedure and execution ritual: Secrecy is the paramount principle during the preliminary investigation and the subsequent trial. Consider. It has been commented and re-commented upon in relation to Foucault’s other works as well as the commentators’ personal ideas.Punishment. Having discussed the ancien régime’s system of physical punishment. and early experiments with new penal methods outside France. well-written analysis of scaffold punishments. the convict is obliged to act as the ‘‘herald of his own condemnation’’ (a clever formula. . and History: Foucault and Elias 611 wished to exchange ideas. the entire procedure in court is aimed at obtaining the suspect’s confession. any discussion of Foucault’s views of punishment should begin with an unprejudiced (re)reading of his Surveiller et punir. religious beliefs impregnate the proceedings at every level. Consequently. in particular. Power. This has made it difficult to separate the author’s original intention from the views of his interpreters. Foucault rightly stresses the constitutive role of the spectators watching an execution (providing little evidence on this aspect from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. the chapter entitled ‘‘L’éclat des supplices’’ (‘‘The Heyday of Physical Punishment’’) (Foucault 1975: 36–72). Foucault proceeds to analyze the forces of change and subsequent developments. punishment is saturated with symbolism referring to the crime. his readiness to consider the ideas of ‘‘rival’’ theorists. such as Philadelphia’s Walnut Street prison. though). The organizers were surprised when their invitee failed to show up and then learned he had died (information from Paul Nixon. which summarizes a complex staging enterprise). judicial torture plays a crucial role. it appears basically as a perceptive. who remarks that it is not a ‘‘difficult’’ text.: 155] also stresses that Foucault never claimed that Surveiller et punir comprised a general theory of punishment).

Has he purposely published an unfinished book. and the army. entitled ‘‘Discipline. The inmates of panoptic institutions knew (or thought) they were constantly watched. most of the theorizing was reserved for later. the ‘‘metaanalysis’’ of his work on punishment took shape in scholarly and political debate. I think. enables him to trace the origins of the disciplinary principle back to the seventeenth century. some of it with him. and the classification of people into distinct categories constituted the pillars of the regulatory program. a footnote to the last word in the body of the text: ‘‘Here I interrupt this book which is meant as a historical background for several studies on the power of normalization and the formation of knowledge in modern society.’’ The formulation is slightly ambiguous. . in particular.’’ appears as the book’s cornerstone. Since Foucault subsequently shifted the focus of his attention to sexuality. The last institution. And how is it possible that. both mind and body were now the objects of surveillance and disciplinary intervention. notably in schools. essentially constituted the realization of the panoptic project. Next to surveillance. Nevertheless. He purposely intended it to be largely empirical. In it Foucault temporarily leaves the field of punishment. In all cases. or does its end mark the interruption of a larger series? Yet the meaning of the quoted sentence is clear enough. This part of the book culminates in an analysis of the panoptic principle. as advocated by Jeremy Bentham and others. upon rereading. the subject of the book’s last part. This brief summary of the themes dealt with in Surveiller et punir almost makes one wonder why it has obtained such a contested status. the most efficient system of surveillance. the ordering of activities in time. The new prisons of the first half of the nineteenth century. Foucault rightly stresses that punishment had not simply changed from being directed at the body to being directed at the mind. lies in its very final sentence. a larger part without him. Foucault wrote Surveiller et punir as a historical work that would form the basis of a study of modern society. looking for disciplinary enterprises in other sectors of society. the arrangement of bodies in space. so they had no option but to internalize the docility and bodily control expected from them. he never completed that other task.612 Social Science History The third part. rather. solitary confinement was the most distinct characteristic of these institutions. one can describe this work as a set of solidly historical analyses? The clue. factories.

some of my own earlier criticism was aimed or should have been aimed at the Foucaultians rather than the French philosopher himself. In a recent overview. too.Punishment. A. In fact. Power. It would by far extend the bounds of this essay to consider all those publications. played an important role. first calls Foucault’s analysis of penal change a ‘‘materialist’’ one and then discusses some elements of this analysis in a seemingly approving fashion. most historians of crime and criminal justice reveal themselves neither as ardent supporters nor as uncompromising opponents. they summarize Surveiller et punir in a few paragraphs. As with other important works. for example. For a considerable part. but in most cases it is assumed that the rise of absolutism was part of an all-encompassing drive toward a disciplined society in which the churches. the notion of ‘‘social discipline’’ (Sozialdisziplinierung) has been paramount for several decades. for example. In his elaborate study of . Alternatively. Gatrell (1994: 14–16). the meta-analysis of Surveiller et punir has been construed by scholars from various disciplines who reflected about Foucault’s entire work. Often.) Among German historians. In German historiography. They mention Surveiller et punir as the only or one of the few theoretical works in their field of study and proceed with their own evidence. they are content with just citing Foucault. some of those who reflected on the implications and significance of Surveiller et punir made statements or discovered theses not fully backed up by the book. Martin Dinges [1996: 169] was already critical of associating Foucault with this German tradition. The theoretical positions associated with this concept vary somewhat. and History: Foucault and Elias 613 Foucault and Historians of Crime and Justice It seems inevitable that widely admired theorists get their interpreters—a facet Foucault and Elias have in common. in a book on English executions of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. hardly discussing to what extent this confirms or disproves Foucault’s views. The Foucaultians are numerous. so I will restrict myself to those pertaining directly to the history of punishment. V. A slightly different way of introducing Foucault while avoiding too much debate is to consider his work as a parallel to other traditions of historical discourse. with little indication of what they think of it. (Behrens’s article gives a useful overview of the literature devoted to ‘‘social discipline.’’ Before Behrens. As it happens. C. Martin Dinges stands out as one who has occupied himself intensively with Foucault’s work. Ulrich Behrens (1999: 46–48) refers to Surveiller et punir as a reinforcement of that thesis.

An article on Foucault’s reception in Germany is more directly relevant to the present discussion. as far as prisons. few historians have applied his work to twentiethcentury developments—that is. For example. no agency can rely solely on compulsion or force. courts. Even he relies implicitly rather than explicitly on the French philosopher’s thoughts. This argument inappropriately reduces a scholarly debate to a political and ideological clash of views. in my view.’’ Only then can a ‘‘disciplined’’ or ‘‘carceral’’ society emerge. In an overview of the existing institutions and legal measures for imprisoning the regime’s opponents. Problematic. ‘‘Not all members of such a society will lend a hand in policing. arguing that every regime. is one of the exceptions. It confuses the analysis of social change with its moral appreciation. in several publications dealing with the gestapo. Because the French philosopher ‘‘criticized the Enlightenment’’ with his emphasis on the rise of a disciplinarian society. Despite Foucault’s insistence that the disciplinary principle continues to affect modern society. nor is it necessary that all of them do so’’ (Gellately 1990: 12). Gellately’s book Backing Hitler [2001] has no references to Foucault. and policing are concerned. is Dinges’s consistent labeling of Foucault’s critics as people led by a belief in progress. Gellately reminds us in the introduction to his 1990 book. which may be legitimate in philosophy but definitely not.’’ (Surprisingly. several German historians ignored or rejected Foucault’s notion of the ubiquity of power. In a modern industrial society. his opponents must necessarily be prophets of rationalization and modernity (Dinges 1996: 159 on power. The remainder of the book comprises an analysis of the functioning of the gestapo without further references to Foucault. 170–71. Gellately (1996: 203) remarks that ‘‘if ever there was a ‘great carceral network’ of the sort alluded to in several well-known passages by Michel Foucault. requires a measure of cooperation from ‘‘acting subjects. on progress). then it existed in Hitler’s dictatorship. Dinges concludes that most of his compatriots have failed to grasp the full significance of Foucault’s views on punishment and discipline or have misinterpreted his work. Dinges (1994: 30–35) uses the French philosopher’s views on discourse as the basis for an assessment of the meanings to be attributed to the narratives contained in the Parisian archives. I believe. He goes on to cite Foucault. preferring instead to assume a clearly defined center of power within society. 161–62. This subject will be discussed below.) . Robert Gellately.614 Social Science History violence and conflicts of honor in eighteenth-century Paris. including that of the Nazis. in social science history.

as Philippe Robert explains. which took place in the 1820s and 1830s. This criticism began directly after the publication of Surveiller et punir. is Perrot 1980. Foucault’s most ardent supporters among historians of crime and justice. resulting from a conference in 1977. he sees these prisons as . they both argue that penal change. and it was largely concerned with questions of detail. a practically unchanged reprint of a collection first published in 1981. economic change rather than politics is the main explanatory factor. together with whom she published a collection of archival documents concerning private confinement (Farge and Foucault 1982). most of them concerned with minor criticisms. Thus. 247–48. Foucault’s influence has been less than among their colleagues in the Anglo-Saxon world (Robert in Mucchielli 1994: 435). (The first publication. penal change was a response to or part of political or economic transformations. He explains the rise of this institutional network with reference to Jacksonian democracy. which included poorhouses and insane asylums. French historians of crime and justice have made a habit of criticizing their famous compatriot.) Even among French sociologists of crime. appears more positive toward Foucault. established in the first half of the nineteenth century. Among their foremost representatives are David Rothman and Michael Ignatieff. Essentially.) The historians involved in it point at weaknesses. such as Dinges and Gellately. Essentially. (For a few critical notes on this collection’s introduction. In Michael Ignatieff ’s 1978 study of English prisons. Power. see Spierenburg 1991: 242. in the book’s historical narrative or the neglect of other evidence. Jacques-Guy Petit’s Ces peines obscures (1990). such as the introduction and spread of incarceration. Rothman emphasizes that the proliferation of prisons in the United States. He focuses on the model penitentiaries. was not due primarily to the conscious efforts of individual reformers. In The Discovery of the Asylum (1971).Punishment. was part of a larger movement of establishing institutions. and History: Foucault and Elias 615 Intriguingly. has scattered references to Foucault. with a regime of solitary confinement. although the exact nature of the link between the two remains unclear. are found outside his native country. 2002. See also Petit 1984 and Petit et al. the standard work on French prisons of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In a follow-up study of American prisons in a later period. real or alleged. Arlette Farge. The criminal justice historians who have sided most conspicuously with the French philosopher are those proclaiming a ‘‘revisionist’’ historiography of carceral institutions. Rothman (1980) focuses on the tensions within Progressive politics. instead. on the other hand.

although most of this attention is reserved for institutions established since the 1770s. ‘‘the great confinement’’ of the early modern period is a central theme (Foucault 1961.5 More important for our discussion is that Foucault’s work only partially supports the others’ views. Since prisons appeared on the scene as an alternative to corporal and capital punishments. Although true to a certain extent for the United States. most of their predecessors were either amateur historians. in Foucault’s book on madness. see Spierenburg 1991: 10). emphasizing the contribution of such utopian industrialists as Robert Owen over that of philanthropists such as Elizabeth Fry.4 One common element. they were useful institutions that deserved to be applauded by every- .’’ In fact. In a similar vein. In Surveiller et punir. and he himself had pioneered in a new historiography of imprisonment. according to Rothman and Ignatieff. Another new element in Rothman’s and Ignatieff ’s historiography— the main reason why it was termed revisionist—concerned their argument that penal change reflected. I have no argument with this book except about the term ‘‘great confinement’’ itself. had to do with timing: Prisons emerged following the great political and economic revolutions around the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Although The Discovery of the Asylum was published earlier than Surveiller et punir. or lawyers with an interest in the past. They aimed this argument at the authors whose history writing Rothman and Ignatieff. attempted to ‘‘revise. students of local institutions. Foucault. Ignatieff (1983) proclaimed that Rothman. These authors often produced an appreciative story with an emphasis on the benevolent motives of the principal actors: penal reformers and philanthropists. he does pay attention to the early modern precursors of penitentiaries. and the army clearly demonstrates that the disciplinary principle far predated the great political and economic revolutions that took place around 1800. where prisons and related penal institutions were conspicuously present throughout a large part of the early modern period (Spierenburg 1991). factories. Finally. Rothman later noted the resemblances between his work and that of Foucault and Ignatieff (notably in his contribution to the conference ‘‘Crime and Criminal Justice in Preindustrial and Industrial Societies’’ held at the University of Maryland in September 1980).616 Social Science History the product of the Industrial Revolution. his discussion of schools. a desire for greater control over lawbreakers and other deviant persons. still claiming that Foucault was with them. according to these authors’ story. this thesis has to be rejected for most of Europe. Moreover. first of all.

Although he makes condescending remarks once in a while about authors who applaud penal reformers.’ as it is formulated in theories of the law or schematized in projects. he does not bother to enter into a debate with these authors. 1–10. . the revisionists created an opposite image. In confronting it. the insane became subject to tighter control (Scull 1979 and 1993: esp. Power. however. . is the political or philosophical adoption of that strategy: . In a similar vein. is whether Foucault sides with the revisionists on this point. Although I reject ‘‘humanitarianism’’ as a descriptive category. therefore. . authors such as Andrew Scull applied the revisionist argument to the history of mental institutions. The question. The conjuncture which witnessed the birth of reform. Consider the following: ‘‘During the eighteenth century . . From good guys. mixing scholarship with moral judgment. And the actual ‘reform. Yet Surveiller et punir contains passages that might be interpreted in the revisionist sense.Punishment. Admittedly. the revisionists opposed their control-oriented approach to an approach centering on benevolent intentions: One either explains changes in criminal law with reference to the sensibilities of contemporaries (they became more ‘‘humanitarian’’) or one considers the rhetoric of contemporaries as masking their aim to supervise deviants more intensely. This is precisely the sort of statement that would lead proponents of the ‘‘control thesis’’ to believe that Foucault is in their camp. which in turn was not entirely free from moral judgment. Thus. is not that of a new sensibility. . he still seems to concede that attitudes to suffering played a part and thereby to reject a mono- . but he acknowledges that punishment turned less severe. needs serious attention at all. also with reference to the French philosopher: Far from being treated more considerately. In my view. Foucault appears to deny that changed sensibilities played a part. the reformers turned into bad guys. not of punishing less. . Their true intention was not to treat criminals more ‘‘humanely’’ but to subject them to tighter control. but also to punish with greater universality and necessity.With this acknowledgment. the formation of a new strategy for the exercise of the power to punish can be observed. by contrast. but punishing better. . to punish with diminished severity perhaps. and History: Foucault and Elias 617 one. sentiments and the desire for control are not mutually exclusive. again. but that of another politics with regard to illegal activities’’ (Foucault 1975: 84). One may wonder if such a view. That supposition is questionable. with reference to Foucault 1961). I do think that sensibilities were involved in penal change. in the sense of involving less physical suffering.

these changes were related to processes of state formation. who argues that the increased sensitivity toward suffering that emerged at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries brought with it a new ‘‘pornography of pain. including myself.’’ refers both to Foucault and my Elias-based analysis of punishment as background works. he stressed the importance of structural constraints as well as the possibilities of individual people to opt for different courses of action within these constraints. it is not the first time this conclusion has been drawn. the quoted statement can equally be read in accordance with an Elias-based theory of the development of punishment: There have been gradual sociopsychological changes affecting people’s attitudes to physical punishment. I believe that their basic agree- .) In other words. The ‘‘real Foucault. (This is an implicit linking of Foucault and Elias. they are no irreconcilable opposites.: 8). in Burke 1992: 157–73. Although these two theorists differ in many respects. who draws a parallel between Foucault and Max Weber. Foucault increasingly acknowledged ‘‘a self that is autonomous and able to extricate itself from normalising judgements and disciplinary practices’’ (ibid. in the latter part of his career. his words constitute a parallel to Cesare Beccaria’s well-known dictum that the prevention of crime depends not on the severity of punishment but on the certainty of being caught. In the end. but in turn. Admittedly. The editors stress that. which makes him come closer to Elias’s views. for example. Frey 1997: 17–18).Thus. These are only a few examples of scholars linking the work of the two theorists discussed here. Karen Halttunen (1995). however. Both a Dutch and a German historian who studied the development of hygiene and bathing argue that it reflected the disciplining process and the rise of a medical regime in Foucault’s sense as well as the civilizing process as posited by Elias (Roding 1986: 7. Intriguingly. since none of the contributors to this collection refer to any of the latter’s works. Other authors have noted resemblances between our two protagonists as well. In a review article on Foucault’s impact on German historiography. have previously thought. An argument about the relative similarity of Foucault’s and Elias’s approaches can also be deduced from a collection edited by Alan Petersen and Robin Bunton (1997). probably had more in common with Elias than some scholars. Ulrich Brieler (1998: 277– 78) sees parallels between Elias’s portrayal of the process of civilization and the French philosopher’s notion of the genealogy of the modern subject.618 Social Science History causal explanation. Compare John O’Neill.’’ then.

Since then.Punishment. Elias and Foucault resemble each other to the extent that they both thought it imperative to analyze historical change in order to better understand our own world. too. Foucault has a tendency to see abrupt change and. Foucault comments that ‘‘historians have just discovered this. consequently. he posits a total transformation of the penal system within a time span of only 80 years. they agreed that the ‘‘otherness’’ of past societies formed an indispensable key for the study of modern society. The reforms of criminal justice in the second half of the eighteenth century. causing the remainder of violent criminality to be on the whole less serious. the property offenses the courts had . he says. That said. Foucault identifies three constitutive elements of this change. With a view on Europe’s long historical experience. The other. can be demonstrated by considering a few concrete examples from his book. As said earlier. This. The Penal System: An Abrupt and Total Change? Clearly. The first is the supposed shift in the character of criminality. a consideration of Elias’s contribution to social theory takes us further. Foucault neatly specifies the beginning and end terms: 1760–1840. It is widely known now as the violence-to-theft thesis. this would be short indeed. He finds it at the opposite end of the spectrum: the behavior of lawbreakers. Power. Or. from a predominance of violent offenses to a predominance of property offenses. In some cases. Finally. In both cases. he points at the liquidation of great robber bands in the 1750s with similar consequences. and History: Foucault and Elias 619 ment is to be found at a more profound level.’’ As a second element. I maintain that the ‘‘real’’ Foucault can be criticized on two principal points. looking for a historical background to this rapid transformation. concerning his conception of power. to put it differently. this lack of a long-term perspective leads to inadequate conclusions. concerns the pace of historical change. He then proceeds to the explanatory level. referring directly to Surveiller et punir. I will argue. although promoted by philosophers and politicians from Beccaria to the members of the constituante. One. to neglect gradual development taking place over the very long term. still according to Foucault. he refers to the decline of violence in absolute terms. writing in 1975. also had to do with a change in the nature of criminality. equally refers to this book and much of his other work.

see also Brown 1997). In fact. banditry in France by no means was over after the 1750s.620 Social Science History to deal with were of a more individual and petty character. fostered by the unsettled conditions of the struggle between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces (Cobb 1970. in at least one case. In addition. although there were temporary peaks at the end of the sixteenth century already. He concludes that a softening of crime preceded the softening of the law (Foucault 1975: 78). larger and more tightly structured bands were active in several regions toward the end of the ancien régime (Hufton 1974: 266–83. burglaries. 2001 and the literature referred to there). Moreover. the violence-to-theft thesis has been discredited by most historians since the early 1980s. this shift occurred before industrialization. in some countries. counted about 300 members (Hufton 1974: 277). In most of Europe rates of prosecuted property crime went up toward the end of the eighteenth century as a result of widespread proletarianization. Historians generally assume that these low numbers are due in large part to the informal (‘‘infra-judicial’’) handling of cases. they agree that temporary peaks in estimated ‘‘real’’ property crime occurred during economic crises or in the aftermath of war. Richard Cobb’s The Police and the People (1970). If we venture a little further into the question of important shifts in the estimated levels of property crime. They agree that the increase in the prosecution of property offenses represents a shift in the policy of the courts rather than a massive change in real criminality. However. The numbers of prosecuted thefts. The Bande Hulin. The story of a softening of crime must be modified in the light of research appearing simultaneously with or after Surveiller et punir and. Here I am obliged. For one thing. The last revival of banditry occurred in the 1790s and 1800s. I will indicate its relevance for my overall argument though. despite my earlier reservations. it is assumed . Because. Second. and related offenses were relatively low in the early modern period. whose operations extended from 1767 to 1780. it becomes apparent that a long-term perspective is called for (see my contribution to Stearns et al. those scholars who posited a rise in property crime based their claim on the proportion of categories of offenses rather than presenting any absolute numbers (Spierenburg 1996: 67–68). from the 1870s onward a great shift took place from poverty-related to prosperity-related property crime: The weakening and ultimate disappearance of a correlation with economic conjunctures indicates that people no longer stole out of sheer necessity. Castan 1980: 223– 28). to present a little criticism of detail myself. earlier than. for example.

several historians observe that the first stages of industrialization and urbanization led to a decline rather than a rise in (property) crime. Again. It holds by no means for the death penalty. based on an extensive database. the homicide rate indeed dropped during the eighteenth century. Power. When viewed on a European scale. with percentages rather than with estimates of real crime continues to the present day. What about the development of violent crime? The preoccupation. In particular. these considerations cause the third pillar under Foucault’s softening of crime to tumble down. on the other hand. it would be highly surprising if future research showed this to have been the case in France. among others. this formed part of a longer-term decline over many centuries. for example. Thus. In the Netherlands. On the whole. Foucault’s claim that. again with divergent timing: In the end the death penalty everywhere was reserved for murder and a few other heinous offenses (see. However. a restriction of the . and History: Foucault and Elias 621 that factors such as the rise of social security were at work as well. in the form of the visibility of goods in department stores. Evans 1996). we simply have no homicide rates—the only good indicator for the level of real violence—for ancien régime France. for example. Presently.Punishment. This practice then declined. see Eisner 2001). So. especially if they were recidivists. the relationship between changes in the severity of punishment and shifts in the type of crime is more variegated. rates of property crime massively increased in practically the entire Western world. Most historians and criminologists agree that modern rates of property crime result from increased opportunities. From the 1960s onward. As a consequence. A similar change occurred throughout Europe. Nowhere can it be pinned down on a short period in the middle of the eighteenth century. and the timing of accelerations in this decline diverges per country and city (for a recent overview. it was common up to about 1750 to inflict capital punishment on burglars and robbers. All this suggests that a long-term perspective as advocated by Elias is better equipped to deal with shifts in property crime than Foucault’s notion of sudden change. the levels are so high that the difference with preindustrial society obviously is also a matter of real crime. we must conclude that a long-term perspective as advocated by Elias is called for. from the late eighteenth century onward. punishment increasingly served to repress property crime is only partially true. among French criminal justice historians. and capital punishment became increasingly reserved for manslaughter and murder. In addition.

have always been inherent to executions at moments of popular unrest. the tense atmosphere in no way diminished the authorities’ sense of the appropriateness of their response.’’ What really happened should be described not in terms of before or after but in terms of the interdependence of several long-term processes. Scaffold punishments sometimes took place in an atmosphere of popular unrest. whereas the explanandum. which. he considers this political fear as a major factor contributing to the eventual abolition of scaffold punishments.622 Social Science History application of the death penalty occurred. the concomitant of this process was precisely that the image of punishment increasingly came to be determined by the prison. At this point. From this he concludes that. This would remain so even if his claim of a softening of crime had withstood later research. Another example of ad hoc reasoning concerns the relationship between disturbances during public executions and their eventual disappearance. But it was not. if you believe that the explanandum is a shift within a brief span of time. Foucault does cite one incident from the late seventeenth century. Moreover. notably when riots had already occurred and rebel leaders were brought to justice. is a key word in Elias’s work. formed part of the very longer-term process by which punishment became gradually dissociated from the infringement upon bodily integrity. When they started to doubt this. a political fear of these ambiguous rituals (Foucault 1975: 61–68). but. Apparently. The ambiguity and danger. see Spierenburg 1984: 13–16). significantly. of course. for the authorities. For a long time. although one may speculate about the role of ‘‘sentiments of humanity’’ in the abandonment of the ceremony of the scaffold. all incidents date from the second half of the eighteenth century. the transformation of the penal system. we can draw a preliminary conclusion: Foucault favors an ad hoc explanation for the transformation of the penal system. This has been demonstrated for Amsterdam from the middle of the seventeenth century onward. It is understandable to look for an ad hoc explanation. in turn. But this situation was the result of a complex interplay of developments at the level of crime and that of ‘‘control. Foucault gives a series of examples of popular discontent with executions. however. in various parts of . and prisons housed mostly property offenders. there also existed. Of course. In that sense. but this is of a quite different type: that of the bungling executioner (on this type of case. Foucault’s argument is largely restricted to events in France. was a Europeanwide phenomenon. Foucault is right. Interdependence.

psychiatrists and other medical experts play a crucial role. A. The medicalization of the criminal was a typical development of the late nineteenth century. Sharpe [2000] reaches a similar conclusion. all contributing to the production of power-knowledge. Moreover. arguments based on avoiding danger could come to the fore (discussed more extensively in Spierenburg 1984: 100–109). but in 1840 this role was still extremely limited. in a recent overview. while the round panoptic prison is now considered a nineteenth-century architectural classic. stresses that criminology’s history. Needless to say. the year 1840? By then.Punishment.) It casts serious doubt on the significance of the year 1760 as a marker for the onset of a quick and total transformation. he claims. Laurent Mucchielli (1994: 7). on the other hand. all elements of our modern penal system were more or less in place. (This is the central argument in Spierenburg 1984 and 1991. I feel no need to elaborate on it. the professions of sociology and psychoanalysis were not yet in existence in 1840. Power. date back no further than the end of the nineteenth century. Panopticism and solitary confinement. the penal system has continued its transformation also after 1840 (for a similar critique of Foucault. Becker 2002). viewed from this . we find that the entire penal system had undergone major changes toward diminishing the centrality of the public infliction of bodily harm from about 1600 onward. This applies with equal force to another constitutive element of modern penality emphasized by Foucault: Not just lawyers but a whole range of nonlegal specialists are involved in the modern penal system. and History: Foucault and Elias 623 Europe toward the end of the eighteenth century. J. he finds these of lesser importance. Examining that longer chain of events. Among them. including in it all nonlegal specialties just mentioned. and Germany have made clear (Nye 1984. Wiener 1990. for England in particular. see Garland 1990: 161). One only realizes this when one considers a longer chain of events instead of assuming sudden change. although he admits that some were introduced later. England. are unmistakably important in Foucault’s analysis of penal change. Even the classification of prisoners and their differentiated treatment. as studies for France. 1993: 72–97. So what about Foucault’s end term. something else had changed as well. Although the editor. When public punishment began to be questioned for other reasons. lawyers and legislators have long abandoned the idea that complete solitude somehow benefits the mind. as David Garland (1985) demonstrates for England. A recent collection dealing with the history of criminology in France takes a broad view of its subject. Apparently. Considering this to be well known.

By contrast. this is a far cry from the refined strategies operating in the modern penal system according to Foucault. it will not do to conclude that the riot was the ‘‘cause’’ of the change in penal procedure. A study of developments in penality appears to sustain his views. to broaden the explanatory perspective. In Elias’s—and my—view of historical explanation. It is certainly unsatisfactory to argue in terms of straightforward causalities. For the end of that century. begins at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The concealment of the spectacle of death and suffering. which calls for an explanation in general terms. Similarly. In this way. Instead. with constant shifts of focus. this procedure is very similar to the comparative method advocated by Marc Bloch more than 70 years ago. I would say that the ‘‘privatization of executions reflected a change in sensibilities. He noted that every medievalist writing about the estates of a particular region tended to explain the emergence of this institution in terms of a peculiarity of the region studied. the main task for scholars is to arrive at a better understanding of how social processes are interwoven instead of thinking in terms of cause and effect. the volume demonstrates also that the process of intruding nonlegal specialties into the treatment of crime was going on. based on a 1988 thesis) considers the reception of Cesare Lombroso in France as the beginning of criminology in that country. Elias. . finally. Martine Kaluszynski (2002. apparently. Bloch (1963 [1928]: 24–26) argued. historians should acknowledge that the rise of estates was a Europeanwide phenomenon.624 Social Science History perspective. but the system stays in place because no one knows the road to reform. we have arrived at a composite picture of overall historical change. if some places witnessed riots at the scaffold and this prompted the authorities to move executions indoors. is the theorist who has emphasized time and again that societies change continuously and that scholars should attempt to trace the interdependent long-term developments making up that change. Interdependence is the keyword here. we may again turn to Garland (1990: 3–10). who speaks of a crisis in criminal justice: Few people really believe in its efficacy. we should never say that ‘‘changed sensibilities were the cause of the privatization of executions. well into the twentieth century.’’ Instead. it is important to note the more or less contemporaneous tendencies toward concealment in other spheres of social life.’’ Second. Obviously. In fact. For example. was part of a more encompassing process of privatization. of course.

Kim 1995: 88). to find out if all this may enhance our insight into the structure of our own society and ourselves. power is something which certain people possess while others are excluded from doing so. The aim is to explore in what way changes in punishment reflect broader. the apparatus of the state is merely an ‘‘auxiliary structure. The latter task has been accomplished in a creative way by David Garland (1990) in a work that remains relatively undisputed. here. In this case. we note that the views of Foucault and Elias converge on one fundamental point. my main interest goes in the opposite direction. and History: Foucault and Elias 625 Ultimately. to learn. To the contrary. An examination of the concept of power serves to expound this scholarly project in greater detail. it has to be discussed in particular with reference to the history of punishment. could be effective only because of the preexisting power structures of paternal authority and religious com- . The police of ancien régime France. Elias. Power. through the study of punishment. however. Although this is definitely an idea that Elias and Foucault have in common. a second notion he rejected was the idea that power can be localized. many authors appreciatively refer to it as deriving from the latter alone (even as mild a critic as Garland [1990: 138] does so). in the words of one interpreter. power is embedded also in families. Consequently.’’ He put forward four theses. Elias’s and my principal goal is not ‘‘to explain why corporal punishments disappeared and capital punishment came to be executed indoors. Their basic agreement concerns the idea that power is everywhere or. and the Problem of Power The theme of power obviously relates to any object of study. Although the phrase ‘‘they are in power’’ may serve as a convenient political slogan. or rather he discussed four commonly held notions that he rejected: One. and neighborhood life. long-term developments in society. too. it is unhelpful in a historical analysis. Rather. Foucault clarified his position in terms of a ‘‘microphysics of power.Punishment. for example. living conditions.’’ the instrument of a system of powers far greater than the state. how these developments are interrelated. sexual relations. In a brief. specifically. programmatic essay. ‘‘the postulate of the omnipresence of phenomena of power’’ (‘‘Allgegenwärtigkeit der Machtfenomene’’. Foucault.’’ Much less is it my aim to provide a kind of overall theory of punishment. while in the end they diverge in crucial ways. that it can be confined to state institutions. Apart from politics.

Moreover.626 Social Science History munity. it is mistaken to draw a sharp distinction between force and ideology. The third claim obviously separates Marxist from non-Marxist historians of crime. Although Elias adopts a different terminology. then. Three. next to being repressive. According to Foucault. guilds. power is inextricably linked to every part of the social body. especially from the nineteenth century onward. Rather. All four points can easily be related to issues central to this field. informal and formal social control often were intertwined—an observation congruent with Foucault’s second claim. Every situation in which power is exercised is also an instance of gathering knowledge. if not more. the claim that power. and neighborhood associations was equally. every ‘‘agent of power’’ routinely provided feedback to his superiors about the implementation of their commands. power is rooted solely in physical force. For example. a considerable amount of negotiation concerning the acceptance of norms went on between state agents and the rest of the population. . Consequently. power is subordinate to or a derivative of a mode of production. The notion that power is not something possessed by the mighty alone and the acknowledgment of its relational character are central themes in his work from the 1960s onward. This approach to the concept of power has an obvious relevance for criminal justice history. In preindustrial Europe the role of families. Foucault’s first claim—that power is rooted in families and neighborhood communities no less than in state institutions—matches the observations of many historians about informal social control. On the other hand. And informal control at the neighborhood level remained influential in several places until the early twentieth century. obviously. power is not merely repressive.) Four. important within the system of social control than was the role of the state courts. or engaging in robbery. It is only through power mechanisms that people are prepared to devote a considerable part of their lives to labor instead of such alternatives as taking a rest. he would have no objections to the general idea. is also productive and integrative is relevant for the discussion about the extent to which the criminal law served to protect the lower classes and was welcomed by them. having sex. serves to distance the author from orthodox Marxism. (This thesis. Finally. It supports the latter to the extent that they argue that crime is not merely a function of the prevailing system of labor relations. Thus. In fact. power is a constitutive element of the prevailing mode of production. Thus. it also has productive and integrative effects (Foucault 1976a: 114–23 6).

as outside groups were aware that they suffered. Moreover. it can be concluded. the more distressing aspects of life in captivity became intolerable. In a similar vein. a parent is likely to devote attention to it. these two-sided power relationships are not static. who also coined this term. ‘‘Power is not a magic substance which you carry in your pocket. power is always two-sided. are more sociological in tone. From the end of the nineteenth century onward.’’ As he said in academic lectures. we may speak of the power of a baby over its parents. prisoners have some measure of power over their supervisors and policy makers.’’ Consequently. but usually the distribution of power is unequal. Material conditions in prisons improved.Punishment. To put it differently. Those who withhold things from others sometimes still need these other people. It has something to do with the fact that people as groups or as individuals can withhold or monopolize what others need—food. developed the idea of the omnipresence of power more or less simultaneously but independently from each other. Dutch convicts gradually became more powerful. On still another occasion. love. Elias and Foucault. Power. however. of every human relationship.’’ Rather. it is an aspect of the interaction between two or more people. protection from attack (i. group A may be more powerful than group B. In the penal realm. but that does not leave group B entirely without power. even though the contrast between life in captivity and life outside remained con- . even though the latter two are by far the stronger parties within this social relationship. up to millions of them. They are subject to change as new or enlarged sources of power become available to certain people in connection with broader social transformations. Because sensitivity to suffering in society at large increased. security). but power itself should neither be personified nor reified. and History: Foucault and Elias 627 Elias’s views of power are equally relevant for criminal justice history. analyzed for the Netherlands by Herman Franke. related in their turn to more encompassing changes in society. as well as knowledge and some other things. Elias (1984: 251) explained: ‘‘In fact what we call ‘power’ is an aspect of a relationship.e. For example. His basic rule is simple: Power should always be linked to people (individuals or groups). Whenever the child cries. operating from the top down as well as from the bottom up. new conceptions of childhood and the value of children. Elias (1971 [1970]: 101) defines it as ‘‘a structural property of a social relationship. meaning. In the case of babies. one of the most telling examples is the process of emancipation of prisoners. Elias’s writings on the theme. may increase their chances of being attended to.

is actually a verb. His power is a function of the organization of the castle and the surrounding domain and the conviction of all those involved that this is legitimate. The source of power in question may be called cultural or sociopsychological. When we consider the social class of knights as a whole. for example. Alternatively. and future investigations of it could demonstrate the usefulness of Elias’s concept of power for the study of criminal justice history. on the other hand.628 Social Science History siderable (Franke 1990. The last example easily brings to mind Foucault’s notion of the interconnectedness of power and knowledge. but in other situations. Franke 1995 is a condensed English version). Certain people are more powerful than others because they have valuable means of orientation at their disposal. knowledge appears to be a product rather than a source of power. The influential position of priests in early agrarian societies. the organization of knowledge brings forth power differences. the two have become merged into one. which served as a source of power for them. Sources of power are no wells springing up in favorable places and empowering a person if he or she drinks from the water. A medieval castle lord has power over his retinue obviously not because he is physically stronger than all his dependents together. and in Dutch and German translations of Foucault it often is rendered as a verb. used in singular). The notion of ‘‘sources of power’’ is closely connected with the definition of power as an aspect of all human relationships. Foucault distinguishes between savoir and connaissance. This applies equally to peaceful or violent social relationships.’’ Savoir. as in his well-known expression of ‘‘powerknowledge’’ (pouvoir-savoir. In his writings. was due in large part to their expertise in timing: They knew exactly when the seeds ought to be sown. the level of sensibility prevailing in society at large served as a source of power for a specific group. Finally. however. we easily recognize that the former’s power surplus rests in large part on their monopoly on bearing arms. every source of power is a function of specific social relationships. In Surveiller et punir and other works. In the example just given. and contrast it with the peasantry. Linguistic peculiarities further complicate the matter. or. which Arpád Szakolczai (1998: 78) translates as ‘‘knowledge’’ and ‘‘knowledge-content. it derives from the way people’s lives are organized. to put it differently. we might translate savoir and connais- . This process of emancipation of prisoners is likely to have occurred in other countries as well. According to Elias’s sociological analysis. With this in mind. sources of a quite different type can be operative. however.

’’ Specific types of knowledge are the end result. is also originally a verb. However. we may consider the rise of penitentiaries again: Preexisting structures of knowing and enabling were a condition for the emergence of these institutions.’’ respectively. the classification of criminals. Z. Foucault’s preoccupation with the theme of power was greatest during the mid-1970s. The first emphasizes its omnipresence. but it still suffers from one-sidedness. B. we might distinguish an infinite number of groups with power: A. C. This interpretation is concordant with a key sentence from Surveiller et punir: ‘‘[It is] power-knowing. replacing it with ‘‘truth’’ and ‘‘the subject’’ (cf. one also knows something and vice versa. Later in life he tended to deny that power was the central concern in his work. This explains why scholars disagree about the question of who the power holders were in the narrative of Surveiller et punir. Power. which determine the possible forms and domains of knowledge’’ (Foucault 1975: 32). Nevertheless. which subsequently produced knowledge about. of course.’’ it is important to realize this. in a top-down process. the very period in which he published Surveiller et punir. We can imagine them to confront. Who stood to gain from the discipline exerted on convicts. etc. Szakolczai 1998: 77– 82. Foucault is first of all a theoretician of power. among other things. Pouvoir. it is difficult to determine with precision to what extent his views diverge from Elias’s notion of control over the means of orientation as one possible source of power.Punishment. Because of the uncertainty in which Foucault leaves us concerning the exact relationship between power and knowledge. Then we can take pouvoir-savoir to mean simply ‘‘if one is able to do something. that Elias’s notions of the two-sidedness of power and its relational character are largely absent from Foucault’s work.7 Applying this to criminal justice history. We can say with certainty. the state. 238–39). who profited from the existence of panoptic prisons? Major candidates are the bourgeoisie. for many criminal justice historians. [and] the processes and the struggles which traverse it and by which it is constituted. and so on. It is so difficult to decide between these three because the book implicitly contains two different concepts of power. and History: Foucault and Elias 629 sance as ‘‘knowing’’ and ‘‘knowledge. on the other hand. an equally large number of objects of discipline: X. Y. the quoted sentence still rules out the possibility that knowledge—or control over the means of orientation—can be a source of power. and professional groups. Although it would be too awkward perhaps to translate the word as ‘‘can’’ or ‘‘being able to. Within the frame- . According to this concept.

Eun-Young Kim criticizes Foucault’s concept of power and opposes it to that of Elias. Power’’ himself (we must imagine him as a man.630 Social Science History work of this concept. however. In a similar vein. it has a will and a life of its own. . . Power is exercised by many people but always in a one-way direction. Foucault severs power from real people. . the second concept prevails.’’ 8 In other words. Foucault rather depicts power as a person or force that individuals are obliged to accommodate. power produces the modern. To conclude. According . . power produces the disciplinary subject that supervises itself. Mr. Herman Franke criticizes Foucault’s choice of words with respect to power even without having considered the latter’s History of Sexuality.’’ I agree with Kim. and everyone thinks it a normal thing. who surrounds it. also a sensualization of power. who pursues him’’ (Foucault 1976b: 61). Mr. Power behaves almost like a rapist: ‘‘[Power] seizes the sexual body by the waist.9 This is suggestive language. . views power as a constitutive factor for the modern subject. except that the word ‘‘relations’’ is inappropriate. because the noun le pouvoir has the male gender). [Power] attracts. Although Foucault. self-confessing subject. It is ‘‘Mr. he conquers the strange things he guards. Foucault. at least to lower the threshold of tolerance for penality. Consequently. . It makes power much more monolithic: Power still is everywhere but now it is a very busy and rapid thing or person. like Elias. according to Kim. No doubt [this implies] . Foucault views individuals as merely the ‘‘connecting elements between power relations. In the case of the prison. as other scholars have noted. Foucault’s personification of power is illustrated most tellingly in a passage from his History of Sexuality. Power punishes constantly. still according to Kim (1995: 89). rejects the homo-clausus model of a self-contained individual independent of others. Foucault (1975: 308) formulates it thus: ‘‘The most important effect. Toward the end of Surveiller et punir. The unveiled pleasure flows back to power. there is no need to answer the question of who the power holders were. In that passage. perhaps. he has gone too far in his attempt to destroy the notion of the centrality of the subject. . but at the same time it becomes an entity or even an actor who does things. Ultimately. . Apparently. Pleasure spreads over power. and in the case of sexuality. of the carceral system and its extension beyond the realm of legal imprisonment is that it makes the power to punish appear natural and legitimate. too.

but then the power of prisoners. so that actual numbers of imprisoned beggars remained low. But there was no sudden transformation. For example. and History: Foucault and Elias 631 to Franke (1995: 294). Partly as a consequence of this. Because power is a two-sided aspect of all social relationships. who met at successive international conferences during the nineteenth century. A powerful (in Elias’s sense) coalition of philanthropists and administrators. and the penal system continued to change after 1840. which was one factor in the demise of solitary confinement. on beggars in particular. Power really existed. no person or group has such a huge surplus of power as to be able to completely determine the course of historical change. finally. omnipresent and all-pervading force: power. This coalition was successful for a while. but the apparatus of law enforcement was still limited and weak. People have to comply with the wishes and desires of that power. banishment and physical punishment stayed on the scene for another 200 years or so. plans. By contrast. still according to Franke.Punishment. the massive increase in incarceration rates in the United States in recent years can be analyzed in terms of shifting balances of power. These are only a few examples. In a similar vein. by the early seventeenth century urban and territorial authorities in several parts of Europe were already eager to impose imprisonment. he might have brought about the presumed sudden transformation of the penal system. . Elias acknowledges that social developments have a relative autonomy from the aims. Franke adds. and wishes of the people involved in them. Foucault’s work has the effect of ‘‘reducing individuals and groups to instruments of a willful. This terminology. promoted the solitary confinement of criminals. whose sufferings became known to the outside world. makes Foucault’s analysis akin to that of structuralfunctionalism: Actors have to accommodate the strategies of a social system that strives to perpetuate itself. it is easy to see how Elias’s rejection of both a personification and a reification of power reinforces the thesis that the evolution of criminal justice from a dominance of physical punishment to a reliance on incarceration took place over a longer period of time and in a less linear fashion than Foucault would suggest. Power. Significantly. If Foucault’s Mr. At this point. slightly increased.They even do so unconsciously’’ (see also Franke 1990: 763). Foucault never poses the question why some social processes proceeded more or less as influential people had imagined them while other processes did not proceed that way at all.

Applied to the history of punishment. who claimed that this theory served to uphold racism (Evans 1996: 880–99. notably that of Richard Evans. Evans dismisses both Foucault and Elias without developing an alternative theory of his own. Based on this acknowledgment. the conclusion of this essay is that Foucault and Elias converge on some points while they diverge on others. on the other hand. I also thank the par- . 15 years earlier. the fact that. for their comments. takes the opposite route: A study of the development of executions and incarceration increases our understanding of the nature of civilizing processes. that these people generate processes that are beyond their control as individuals. they contrast markedly with some recent works in the history of punishment. Earlier versions were presented as a lecture at the criminology department of the University of Oslo in October 1998 and at a Ph. Elias’s view of historical explanation centers around the interdependence of several broad processes over the long term. on the one hand. however. He believes he can discredit the former’s scholarly work with gossip about his personal life. seminar of the University of Warsaw in May 1999. In this. They look for explanations at a relatively high level of generalization. this view of historical explanation focuses on the interwovenness of penal change and change in other social fields. comes closer to balancing. Elias’s and my approach. Mary Gibson. we always have to do with people of flesh and blood and. When we examine the work of Foucault and Elias in greater detail. I am grateful to the session participants. rather. Indeed. in my view. Instead of having the civilizing process ‘‘explain’’ the transformation of punishment. They converge to the extent that they both acknowledge the omnipresence of power and prefer large historical explorations. neither does Gatrell [1994] have a theory of his own). in the human sciences. we find them diverging in their approach to the study of longterm change and their methods of sociological-historical explanation. Notes This article elaborates on a paper presented at the Social Science History Association meeting in Pittsburgh in October 2000. in particular to the discussant. and he dismisses the latter’s theory of civilization by repeating the blunt and unfounded statements of a few others.D. Elias’s approach.632 Social Science History Conclusion Summed up in one sentence.

V. .’’ Journal of Modern History 69: 661–95. 4 Additionally he claimed that his own. Brieler. Peter (2002) Verderbnis und Entartung: Eine Geschichte der Kriminologie des 19. Behrens. .Punishment. Finally. aussi sensualisation du pouvoir. . Il [le pouvoir] attire. . U. c’est qu’il parvient à rendre naturel et légitime le pouvoir de punir. which Norval Morris and he edited.N. 5 In fairness it should be added that Rothman later recognized this. but he feared that the knife had been poisoned. but influential circles at court believed in a conspiracy. Jahrhunderts als Diskurs und Praxis. qui déterminent les formes et les domaines possibles de la connaissance. since he included a chapter on these early modern institutions in The Oxford History of the Prison (1995). il extrait ces étrangetés sur lesquelles il veille. 2 The king suffered only a light wound. Le plaisir découvert reflue vers le pouvoir qui le cerne. Critical Thought Series.’’ 9 ‘‘Il [le pouvoir] prend à bras-le-corps le corps sexuel. Million was also condemned to death but benefited from a presidential pardon. 6 This cheap German edition identifies the essay as a lecture at the Collège de France in 1973.: Scolar. I am indebted to three anonymous readers for this journal. Paris: S. . (1992) Critical Essays on Michel Foucault. . Ulrich (1998) ‘‘Foucault’s geschichte.P.: 16–40.’’ Geschichte und Gesellschaft 24: 248–82. 1978 analysis was a little more nuanced than that of his two colleagues. à abaisser du moins le seuil de tolérance à la pénalité. 3 Messages on the Elias-I e-mail list. Burke. was published in 1998. from Robert van Krieken (9 November 2000) and Arpád Szakolczai (13 November 2000). ed. References herein to Foucault as ‘‘the French philosopher’’ are used simply to avoid repeating his name too often. I was unable to trace the French original. . . Cf. . by another translator. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht. 1. Marc Léopold Benjamin (1963 [1928]) ‘‘Pour une histoire comparée des sociétés Européennes. 1797–1802. and History: Foucault and Elias 633 ticipants in those meetings for their remarks. 2.’’ in Mélanges historiques. Brown. Aldershot. les processus et les luttes qui le traversent et dont il est constitué. 7 ‘‘[C’est] le pouvoir-savoir.E. Ulrich (1999) ‘‘Sozialdisziplinierung als konzeption der frühneuzeitforschung. .E. . . Damiens had probably no intention of killing him. Lavisse 1909: 244–45. Power. Le plaisir diffuse sur le pouvoir qui le traque.K. Bloch. (1997) ‘‘From organic society to security state: The war on brigandage in France. A French edition. Howard G. sans doute .’’ References Becker. Vol. No.’’ Historische Mitteilungen 12: 35–68. 1 Weidmann’s attorney vainly tried an insanity defense. Peter.’’ 8 ‘‘L’effet le plus important peut-être du système carcéral et de son extension bien audelà de l’emprisonnement légal.

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