'A Punishment More Bitter Than Death'

Dirck Coornhert's Boeven-tucht and the Rise of Discipline

in Theoria
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Dirck Coornhert (1522-90) was a Dutch humanist whose seminal 1587 book, Boeven-tucht, redefined issues of poverty, charity, development and crime. A transitionary document, Boeven-tucht lies on the cusp of what Michel Foucault called the 'great confinement', which took place between about 1600 and 1750 and which was the common response by local and national authorities to the social disorder concomitant upon population expansion, a widening gap between rich and poor, religious discord and war. Inspired by Boeventucht, the Amsterdam Rasphuis and Spinhuis were the European prototypes of houses of correction which sprang up all over Europe, intended to apply 'a punishment more bitter than death' to all 'criminal idlers'. This introduction to the first-ever English translation of Boeven-tucht situates Coornhert's text in the space between unmediated absolutist sovereignty and full-blown modern discipline, when disciplinary techniques were as yet only gradually emerging from the monasteries and lay fraternities in which they had been incubated, and before they spread into all facets of modern society.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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