Foucault, Power and Knowledge

Michel Foucault, philosophe, 1965 – Credit: Marc Garanger / Aurimages (Photo by MARC GARANGER / Marc Garanger / Aurimages via AFP)

Foucault’s definition of power is simple enough: power is a struggle for powers. Note that the term “power” here is not written in the singular. Indeed, according to 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 connected with another, which leads her to have no other object or any other matter that the force itself. Any force is then already a report, and a “power”.

The power in Foucault’s philosophy

For example, in several of his books, including Discipline and Punish, and The Will to know, his reading of the “power” propose an unusal interpretation. First, Foucault examines the 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 time as Internal, and last as a 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 great 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 fine body of political technique: to make docile, disciplining individuals without their naturally not noticing. We now understand that the level of analysis required by Foucault is simply a “microphysics” of power.


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 his rank, function, strengths, etc.. Whether in the factory, at school, at the 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 various techniques very careful pedagogy initiated by the government, and its rules very meticulous training of individuals in the various strata of society.

This is to standardize the conduct of the body in the workshops, schools, barracks, everywhere, disciplinary techniques that will ensure that standards are at work what can be called a “micro-penalty”.

Chastise the rebellious body, the body unruly. Deter him from 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 is pervasive 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 applicable to the individuals inside, as it is for her to reach their interiority even requiring a curve determined their conduct.

The micro-power

If these micro-powers, which aims to standardize the behaviors are many, because they are at different levels: either the powers of certain individuals over others such as parents, teachers , doctors, etc.., some 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 seeking to silence reserving the right to speak, to keep in ignorance, to suppress the pleasures and desires, and has 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 the life and seeks to be desired, and Love: the boss is etymologically the father is talks about motherland, 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 came to dominate the turning of a thousand petty reprimands. We meet all eventually took his trap.

The knowledge

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

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

The care of the self

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 behavior and sexual practices, or history of representations of sex by the people, this history is to aim to provide a research ethics, focusing on the Greek solution of 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 lifestyle, and where s’ develop terms of experience. It shows that, because only free men can dominate the other, they must first master themselves. This assumption of a dietary food pleasures first, then sex. But they also need, in the words of Socrates, awareness of self-concern. But what is the care of the self? Yes, it is paying attention to oneself. But not in a purely narcissistic. Foucault, in contrast to the present day, 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 the mode of social practice. “This is the concept of conversion itself, Foucault wrote in The Hermeneutics of the subject. We need the whole subject turns to him and dedicated 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. It will be then for Foucault to govern ourselves, and even to build his life as a work of art.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Foucault, Power and Knowledge, February 1, 2022, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, February 1, 2022,

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