Michel Foucault and Power

April 24, 2012

foucault power

If you are looking at a definition of power in Foucault works, we find one, in fact quite simple, but nevertheless likely to upset all our preconceived ideas. According to Foucault, power is a struggle. Indeed, for Foucault the balance of power is combined always in the plural. Precisely because, while the balance of power is necessarily a “power relationship”. One could even say with Foucault that power is always in relation to another, which leads it to have no other object nor any other matter that the force itself. Any force is then a “power”.

Foucault and the definition of Power

In several of his books, including Discipline and Punish, and the desire for knowledge, his reading of the “power” suggests, if we propose an interpretation rather surprising and unusual. First, Foucault examines power in terms of minor processes that identify and invest the body. Four investment by the power of the body are described in Discipline and Punish: the first investment as a piece of space as the second core behaviors third term as internal, and last as the sum of forces. Against all odds, it is no longer, as one would a little too hastily, to study the question of power in terms of big questions about the genesis of the state or the rights of nature. A reading of Foucault, one realizes that all the work of the power to discipline its subjects takes place around a very thin body of political technique: to make submissive, to discipline individuals without their naturally not noticing. We now understand that the level of analysis required by Foucault is simply a “microphysics” of power.

Foucault and the discipline

Foucault also noted an effort by the power to patrol the body and spread them in space. This is to avoid what it costs the least disorder in society. So everyone should be in place according to their rank, function, strengths, etc.. Whether in the factory, schools, barracks, power must control the activity, reaching the interior of the same behavior, playing at the act in its materiality most intimate and must also combine bodies in order to extract maximum utility. This is what we may call the combination of forces. This leads Foucault to study the techniques very meticulous teaching initiated by the government, and its rules very meticulous training of individuals in different strata of society.

This is to standardize the conduct of the body in the workshops, schools, barracks, everywhere, the disciplinary techniques that will ensure that standards are at work what could be called a micropénalité.

Punish the rebellious body, the unruly body. Dissuade him again. In addition, this micropénalité should not be confused with the great state judicial mechanisms, as if there was only one power, state power and political power. Besides a great power, there are ubiquitous in our society a lot of micro-powers, which allows Foucault to distinguish and to oppose the law and the norm. The law is what applies to individuals from outside, mainly in connection with an offense, the standard is what applies to individuals within, as it is for her to reach their interiority same conduct by imposing a fixed curve.


If these micro-powers, which aims to standardize the behavior, are numerous because they are at different levels: whether the powers of certain individuals over others such as parents, teachers , doctors, etc.., certain institutions such as asylums or prisons, or even some speeches. When, for example, political power is repressive, micro-power them, are productive. When political power sought to silence reserving the right to speak, to keep in ignorance, to suppress the pleasures and desires, and carries the threat of death, the micro-powers, however, produce speech and encourage a confession: we must confess to a priest, for example, the teacher, to his superior, the doctor, which can control who is or is not in the standard. The standard does not attempt to enter the individual acts in connection with accurate and timely, it wants to invest its entire existence. While the law in its application while surrounded by a theatrical ritual, the standard is more diffuse, more subtle, more indirect: it is to manage life and seeks to be desired, like: the boss is etymologically the father is speaks of homeland, of God the Father, etc.. “If you do not obey me, I love you more,” this is the formula more or less implicit standard that uses the game of seduction to better enslave. She eventually win the corner of a thousand petty reprimands. We meet all eventually took his trap.

The questioning of knowledge at the heart of Foucault’s theories

And height of astonishment, Foucault points out, the terms of power and knowledge are insidiously related, because the exercise of these powers is essentially based on knowledge. It explains, for example in Discipline and Punish, that’s the prison itself, which makes the concept of delinquency, such as psychiatric power has made the concept of disease. Micropénalité the disciplinary system is supported by a device that broadcasts information and instills those standards; this device up as a state nature of the truths of conduct prescribed by the disciplinary authority.

And micro-powers to be just as binding even more than political power. They are, in any case, more subtle and precise, less visible than political power. But we are so far unable to combat it, give it up? Must be regarded as inevitable that the company can not be anything but a community of men led and supervised? Is it not always possible, however, to think our liberation from the bondage of the various strata of power and its micro-powers?


The care of the self

Foucault, despite his untimely death, will not leave these questions unanswered. In his trilogy about the history of sexuality, including volumes II and III, it will try to attempt to reconcile man with himself, and to avoid the “tyranny” of the standard, d invent against an aesthetic discourse against the power games. No history of sexual behavior and practices, or history of representations of sex by people, this history is to aim to provide a research ethics, focusing on the solution of Greek moral problems posed by sexuality. To organize their thoughts, it is based on tracts of existence, conduct tests, the arts of life, a brief literature called “minor” when the subject is offered in lifestyles, and where s’ develop terms of experience. It shows that, because only free men can dominate others, they must first master themselves. This requires a diet of the pleasures of food first, then sex. But they also need, in the words of Socrates, awareness of self-concern. But what is the care of the self? Of course, it’s attention to oneself. But not in a purely narcissistic. Foucault, unlike modern times, does not commit us to turn our gaze to our ego, to give us a review of our painful imperfections. It refers to the care of the self, in the ancient sense of the term, which is both an attitude combining the philosophical mode, but also on how a social practice. “This is the notion of conversion itself, Foucault wrote in The Hermeneutics of the subject. We need the whole subject turns to himself and devoted himself to himself “The care of the self will therefore not only about themselves (turn its attention to itself) but also to convert to self, retreat in itself, to be happy in the presence of oneself. The care of the self will stick to the art of living, to correct the individual and not just to train. That will be for Foucault to govern ourselves, and even to build his life as a work of art.


Foucault and Modernity

Thus, by reading carefully the issue of micro-powers, news and modernity, it is perhaps not impossible that we can redefine our behavior, rethink the social body, its modes of operation, rethink standardization and “harm” of the standards, and we were in the toolbox of Foucault himself, of the elements to think about a whole new way, the report itself and in relation to other contemporary Western society . For Foucault tells us, finally, “While the theory of political power as an institution usually refers to a legal conception of the subject of law, it seems to me that the analysis of governmentality – that is, say, the analysis of power relations as a set of reversible – must refer to an ethics of the subject defined by the ratio of self to self. This means simply that in the type of analysis I try to offer you for a while, you see: governmentality, power relations, government and other self-report of self to self, while this is a string, a frame, and that’s around these notions, we must, I think, to articulate the question of politics and the question of ethics, “The Hermeneutics of the subject.