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Disciplining a minority could be motivated to validate an authority.

Philosopher Michel Foucault (1926 – 1984) in his book Discipline and Punish described punishment of offenders as changing from brutality done before a mob, which was both a deterrent and demonstration of tyrannical rule. Treatment of prisoners by brutal public spectacle was replaced by Bentham’s panopticon design (one was built at Port Arthur in 1858) which applied principles of surveillance, normalisation and evaluation to correction. Prisoners were subjected to silent, lonely psychological torture. Foucault’s thesis is that discipline methods reflected the wishes of the mob to be firmly ruled, but is that still true today?

Punishment has fewer adherents today and the public may be less vindictive. Is today’s treatment of prisoners sufficiently humane to discipline them for more positive roles? Hopefully suspended sentences, non-custodial detention, bonds, education, counselling, kindness and other methods are being used for more empathetic treatment. On the other hand, refusal by the majority to respect Indigenous people, by moving Australia Day from January 26th, also known as Invasion Day, to a less provocative day, could indicate little kindness in the general public. Disciplining of people humanely into the Australian culture may not be a reality for many years.

My novel The Grass is Always Browner is speculative fiction about Australia’s distant future.


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