Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Waller, C.
‘Darker than the Dungeon’: Music, Ambivalence, and the Carceral Subject
(2018) International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, 31 (2), pp. 275-299.

DOI: 10.1007/s11196-018-9558-9

Abstract
Music’s sanctioned role in the day-to-day running of the ‘late-modern’ prison is to ensure wellbeing and compliance of prisoners, with most regimes facilitating access to music through the form of radios, cd’s, and cassette players. As a result, music often comes tied to judgements by the regime about prisoners’ conduct, with incentive systems allowing the regime to confiscate earned possessions under certain conditions. In this way, the role of music in prison is often continuous with the mechanisms of carceral control, with its ‘humanising’ or ‘therapeutic’ effects being defined as a luxury to be earned through good behaviour and critical engagement with one’s moral and psychological treatment. By tracing the history of music during the birth of the modern prison in the nineteenth century, this paper asks how music became incorporated into the discourse and technology of the emerging carceral state. Drawing principally on the work of Michel Foucault, this paper seeks to explore the relationship between music and ‘the self’ as it is applied to carceral subjects. Foucault shows how the expansion of the carceral state at the end of the nineteenth century relied on the production of knowledge about the subject through the application of disciplinary techniques. By exploring the construction of the self through the discourse of music at the end of the eighteenth century and in the published works of carceral reformers at the end of the nineteenth century, this paper seeks to explore the role that music played within this period of carceral expansion. The discussion will focus on the ways in which music acts as a conduit for forms of carceral power through its relationship with the self. © 2018, The Author(s).

Author Keywords
Carceral; Music; Prison; Subject

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