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18 August 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

Foucault v Rikers Island

Discipline and Punish debunked

By Seher Hussain

Is the New York prison Rikers Island the perfect testing ground for Michel Foucault’s critiques of incarceration? The City Journal believes so, and investigates whether the celebrated French philosopher’s ideas stand up to the razor-wired reality of 14,000 inmates.
Foucault argued that visual surveillance stole a prisoner’s autonomy and crushed his soul. The City Journal discovers that, actually, direct supervision is a necessary technique in controlling the chaos and corruption of a large-scale jail. Oppressive or obligatory – you decide.

For more of a Foucault fix, see his debate with Noam Chomsky (below). And read Matthew Taunton’s piece for the NS on the perils of surveillance.

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