i think as in general there are limits to etymological exegesis in this case
as well. I think Foucault uses 'power' in strictly terminological sense, and
differentiates it from 'force' as he differentiates between two kinds of
knowledges: viz, savoir and connaissance. These two terms and distinction
between them is also terminological and cannot be arrived through purely
etymological analysis [btw Andrew savoir is both verb and noun in French).
According to Foucault Savoir (knowledge)"is the process through which the
subject finds himself modified by what he knows, or rather by the labour
performed in order to know. It iw what permits the modification of the
subject and the construction of the object" (RM: 69-70). In this sense
savoir can be roughly taken as synonym to historical a priori or the
historical field within which any particular knowledge becomes possible.
Connaisance (A knowledge) on the other hand "is the process which permits
the multiplication of knowable objects, the development of their
intelligibility, the understanding of their rationality, while the subject
doing the investigation always remains the same" (ibid: 70). In this sense
connaisance can be roughly taken to be synonymous to particular historical
knowledges formed within a given historical field of the possibility of
[more precise differentiation is to be found in AK p. ?]
About Foucault's notion of power few points are to be noted:
first power in Foucault's conception belongs to a specific type of relation,
that is relation of self to other where 'other' is also self not an
According to Foucault power ?is the mode of action on the action of others?
in the sense that its purpose is ?to structure the field of possible actions
of others?. Thus Foucault defines power as structuring of the (possible)
actions of others (in this respect pouvoir as verb is a relevant
point)[Hence viewed, power relations must form an integral part of any
society and thus ?there can be no society without power relations?]. Now
this act of structuring the actions of others require several conditions and
one crucial conditions is that "power is exercised over free subjects, and
only in so far as they are free" [Subject and Power (in Dreyfus and
Rabinow): 221]. Power relations in this conception are productive relations
and not merely the relations of deduction. Similarly Foucault clearly
differentiates power from capabilities, and force etc. because they are
essentially 'onesided' concepts.
Now a short note on power knowledge relation. In my opinion this problem of
power knowledge should be situated within the context of Focuault's overall
historical relational ontology.
Foucault mentions three fundamental relations that we come across in human
societies. Knowledge relations, which Foucault term as ?relations of control
over thing? (which includes truth relations). Power relations, or what
Foucault calls ?relations of action upon actions of others? (including state
and institutional relations). Ethical relations or the relation between self
and self, ?relations with oneself?. These relations do not exist separate
from each other but are necessarily connected to and enmeshed in each other:
?there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field
of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at
the same time power relations? (DP: 27). The ?control over things is
mediated by relations with others; and relations with others in turn always
entail relations with oneself, and vice versa? (FR: 48).
Foucualt's point was essentially to investigate how in modern societies
these three types of relation intersect in the way in which modern subject,
modern soul is produced (constituted) [Stuart Elden in his mapping of the
present provides excellent analysis of this point].
Sorry for being too dense but that is what I could say at this point.
p.s. I responded to this invitation not because I possess higher skills in
French (my french is very rudimentary) but because i think concpetual
analysis is only very tenously linked to etymology, at least in the case of
Foucault. May be in the interpretation of Derrida it is more essential.
----Original Message Follows----
From: Andrew Brokos <androobrokos@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: power/knowledge
Date: Sun, 28 Jul 2002 16:48:29 -0400
>Does anyone "know" what the words for "power" and "knowledge" are in
It's interesting that they aren't the words that Foucault uses. I'm sure
there are others who can answer this better than I can, I've only had four
years of French and never read Foucault in French, but Foucault does not
generally use the nouns "connaissance" and "puissance" which would translate
literally to knowledge and power, but rather the infinitive form
"pouvoir/savoir" which translates literally as "to be able to/to know". This
is a big source of confusion for those whose first encounter with Foucault
is in English (as mine was) because what Foucault (or perhaps his
translators?) means by power is not exactly the same as the common American
usage, such as in the cliche "knowledge is power".
It is significant that Foucault uses "pouvoir" (to be able) because for him
power (and knowledge) delimit a field of possibilites. Certain things become
problems, or become possible objects of knowledge, at certain times as the
result of the very particular play of power (among other things). For
example, the "criminal" did not become a possible object of knowledge, in
terms of his motivations, his perversions, his moral corruption, his
reformability, etc. until after (or perhaps simultaneously with) a
reconfiguration of the justice system to defend "society" rather than cancel
affronts to the sovereign.
I invite those more knowledgable than I to correct my French or my
explanation of Foucault.
>>From: Phil Ryan <philip_ryan@xxxxxxxxxxx>
>>Subject: Re: power/knowledge
>>Date: Sat, 27 Jul 2002 09:34:48 -0400
>>John Patrick wrote:
>> > his basic
>> > premise seems quite basic to me. The common expression "knowledge is
>> > seems to summarize his position.There doesn't seem to be anything
>> > revolutionary about that.
>>As that great American philosopher, W.J. Clinton, once put it, it depends
>>"what the meaning of 'is' is"
>>We regularly use the verb in English, without having to think about what
>>duty it does, how many shades of meaning it holds.
>>For ex, we say that "2+2 is 4" and, conversely, "4 is 2+2"
>>But "is" does not always entail this reversibility
>>For example: Those who make the statement
>>"Knowledge is power"
>>are rarely willing to turn it around to say
>>"Power is knowledge"
>>One of the things that makes Foucault interesting for many of us is that
>>willing to turn the phrase around. Foucault emphatically rejected the
>>that he had simply identified knowledge with power, so it's better to
>>claims as something like:
>>knowledge <generates> power [ho-hum]
>>power generates knowledge [more interesting, I think]
>>One of the themes running through Discipline and Punish, to take one
>>how the prison and analogous institutions served to generate knowledge
>>human beings. Foucault would often suggest that the whole "human
>>informed by the knowledge flowing from such relations of power.
>>It's a striking thesis, for me at least, and is worth playing with, and
>>to different contexts to see how fruitful it is.
>>Hope that that "is" helpful.
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