The Subject and Power

— Foucault, Michel. The Subject and Power.” In Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneu­tics, edited by H. Dreyfus and P. Rabinow, 208-226. The University of Chicago Press, 1983.

This es­say was writ­ten by Michel Foucault in 1982 as an af­ter­word to Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow

  1. Why Study Power? The Question of the Subject” was writ­ten in English by Foucault;
  2. How Is Power Exercised?” was trans­lated from the French by Leslie Sawyer.
Original Publication: Le su­jet et le pou­voir (Gallimard, D&E Vol.4 1982)

Why Study Power? The Question of the Subject

The ideas which I would like to dis­cuss here rep­re­sent nei­ther a the­ory nor a method­ol­ogy. I would like to say, first of all, what has been the goal of my work dur­ing the last twenty years. It has not been to an­a­lyze the phe­nom­ena of power, nor to elab­o­rate the foun­da­tions of such an analy­sis. My ob­jec­tive, in­stead, has been to cre­ate a his­tory of the dif­fer­ent modes by which, in our cul­ture, hu­man be­ings are made sub­jects. My work has dealt with three modes of ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion which trans­form hu­man be­ings into sub­jects. The first is the modes of in­quiry which try to give them­selves the sta­tus of sci­ences; for ex­am­ple, the ob­jec­tiviz­ing of the speak­ing sub­ject in gram­maire générale, philol­ogy, and lin­guis­tics. Or again, in this first mode, the ob­jec­tiviz­ing of the pro­duc­tive sub­ject, the sub­ject who labors, in the analy­sis of wealth and of eco­nom­ics. Or, a third ex­am­ple, the ob­jec­tiviz­ing of the sheer fact of be­ing alive in nat­ural his­tory or bi­ol­ogy. In the sec­ond part of my work, I have stud­ied the ob­jec­tiviz­ing of the sub­ject in what I shall call dividing prac­tices.” The sub­ject is ei­ther di­vided in­side him­self or di­vided from oth­ers. This process ob­jec­tivizes him. Examples are the mad and the sane, the sick and the healthy, the crim­i­nals and the good boys.” Finally, I have sought to study —it is my cur­rent work— the way a hu­man be­ing turns him­self into a sub­ject. For ex­am­ple, I have cho­sen the do­main of sex­u­al­ity —how men have learned to rec­og­nize them­selves as sub­jects of sexuality.” Thus, it is not power but the sub­ject which is the gen­eral theme of my re­search. It is true that I be­came quite in­volved with the ques­tion of power. It soon ap­peared to me that, while the hu­man sub­ject is placed in re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion and of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion, he is equally placed in power re­la­tions which are very com­plex. Now, it seemed to me that eco­nomic his­tory and the­ory pro­vided a good in­stru­ment for re­la­tions of pro­duc­tion and that lin­guis­tics and semi­otics of­fered in­stru­ments for study­ing re­la­tions of sig­ni­fi­ca­tion; but for power re­la­tions we had no tools of study. We had re­course only to ways of think­ing about power based on le­gal mod­els, that is: What le­git­i­mates power? Or, we had re­course to ways of think­ing about power based on in­sti­tu­tional mod­els, that is: What is the state? It was there­fore nec­es­sary to ex­pand the di­men­sions of a de­f­i­n­i­tion of power if one wanted to use this de­f­i­n­i­tion in study­ing the ob­jec­tiviz­ing of the sub­ject. Do we need a the­ory of power? Since a the­ory as­sumes a prior ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion, it can­not be as­serted as a ba­sis for an­a­lyt­i­cal work. But this an­a­lyt­i­cal work can­not pro­ceed with­out an on­go­ing con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. And this con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion im­plies crit­i­cal thought — a con­stant check­ing. The first thing to check is what I shall call the conceptual needs.” I mean that the con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion should not be founded on a the­ory of the ob­ject-the con­cep­tu­al­ized ob­ject is not the sin­gle cri­te­rion of a good con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. We have to know the his­tor­i­cal con­di­tions which mo­ti­vate our con­cep­tu­al­iza­tion. We need a his­tor­i­cal aware­ness of our pre­sent cir­cum­stance. The sec­ond thing to check is the type of re­al­ity with which we are deal­ing.

A writer in a well-known French news­pa­per once ex­pressed his sur­prise: Why is the no­tion of power raised by so many peo­ple to­day? Is it such an im­por­tant sub­ject? Is it so in­de­pen­dent that it can be dis­cussed with­out tak­ing into ac­count other prob­lems?” This writer’s sur­prise amazes me. I feel skep­ti­cal about the as­sump­tion that this ques­tion has been raised for the first time in the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. Anyway, for us it is not only a the­o­ret­i­cal ques­tion but a part of our ex­pe­ri­ence. I’d like to men­tion only two pathological forms” —those two diseases of power”— fas­cism and Stalinism. One of the nu­mer­ous rea­sons why they are, for us, so puz­zling is that in spite of their his­tor­i­cal unique­ness they are not quite orig­i­nal. They used and ex­tended mech­a­nisms al­ready pre­sent in most other so­ci­eties. More than that: in spite of their own in­ter­nal mad­ness, they used to a large ex­tent the ideas and the de­vices of our po­lit­i­cal ra­tio­nal­ity. What we need is a new econ­omy of power re­la­tions —the word economy” be­ing used in its the­o­ret­i­cal and prac­ti­cal sense. To put it in other words: since Kant, the role of phi­los­o­phy is to pre­vent rea­son from go­ing be­yond the lim­its of what is given in ex­pe­ri­ence; but from the same mo­ment —that is, since the de­vel­op­ment of the mod­ern state and the po­lit­i­cal man­age­ment of so­ci­ety— the role of phi­los­o­phy is also to keep watch over the ex­ces­sive pow­ers of po­lit­i­cal ra­tio­nal­ity, which is a rather high ex­pec­ta­tion. Everybody is aware of such ba­nal facts. But the fact that they are ba­nal does not mean they don’t ex­ist. What we have to do with ba­nal facts is to dis­cover —or try to dis­cover— which spe­cific and per­haps orig­i­nal prob­lem is con­nected with them. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween ra­tio­nal­iza­tion and ex­cesses of po­lit­i­cal power is ev­i­dent. And we should not need to wait for bu­reau­cracy or con­cen­tra­tion camps to rec­og­nize the ex­is­tence of such re­la­tions. But the prob­lem is: What to do with such an ev­i­dent fact? Shall we try rea­son? To my mind, noth­ing would be more ster­ile. First, be­cause the field has noth­ing to do with guilt or in­no­cence. Second, be­cause it is sense­less to re­fer to rea­son as the con­trary en­tity to non-rea­son. Last, be­cause such a trial would trap us into play­ing the ar­bi­trary and bor­ing part of ei­ther the ra­tio­nal­ist or the ir­ra­tional­ist. Shall we in­ves­ti­gate this kind of ra­tio­nal­ism which seems to be spe­cific to our mod­ern cul­ture and which orig­i­nates in Aufklärung? I think that was the ap­proach of some of the mem­bers of the Frankfurt School. My pur­pose, how­ever, is not to start a dis­cus­sion of their works, al­though they are most im­por­tant and valu­able. Rather, I would sug­gest an­other way of in­ves­ti­gat­ing the links be­tween ra­tio­nal­iza­tion and power. It may be wise not to take as a whole the ra­tio­nal­iza­tion of so­ci­ety or of cul­ture but to an­a­lyze such a process in sev­eral fields, each with ref­er­ence to a fun­da­men­tal ex­pe­ri­ence: mad­ness, ill­ness, death, crime, sex­u­al­ity, and so forth. I think that the word rationalization” is dan­ger­ous. What we have to do is an­a­lyze spe­cific ra­tio­nal­i­ties rather than al­ways in­voke the progress of ra­tio­nal­iza­tion in gen­eral. Even if the Aufklärung has been a very im­por­tant phase in our his­tory and in the de­vel­op­ment of po­lit­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, I think we have to re­fer to much more re­mote processes if we want to un­der­stand how we have been trapped in our own his­tory. I would like to sug­gest an­other way to go fur­ther to­ward a new econ­omy of power re­la­tions, a way which is more em­pir­i­cal, more di­rectly re­lated to our pre­sent sit­u­a­tion, and which im­plies more re­la­tions be­tween the­ory and prac­tice. It con­sists of tak­ing the forms of re­sis­tance against dif­fer­ent forms of power as a start­ing point. To use an­other metaphor, it con­sists of us­ing this re­sis­tance as a chem­i­cal cat­a­lyst so as to bring to light power re­la­tions, lo­cate their po­si­tion, and find out their point of ap­pli­ca­tion and the meth­ods used. Rather than an­a­lyz­ing power from the point of view of its in­ter­nal ra­tio­nal­ity, it con­sists of an­a­lyz­ing power re­la­tions through the an­tag­o­nism of strate­gies. For ex­am­ple, to find out what our so­ci­ety means by san­ity, per­haps we should in­ves­ti­gate what is hap­pen­ing in the field of in­san­ity. And what we mean by le­gal­ity in the field of il­le­gal­ity. And, in or­der to un­der­stand what power re­la­tions are about, per­haps we should in­ves­ti­gate the forms of re­sis­tance and at­tempts made to dis­so­ci­ate these re­la­tions. As a start­ing point, let us take a se­ries of op­po­si­tions which have de­vel­oped over the last few years: op­po­si­tion to the power of men over women, of par­ents over chil­dren, of psy­chi­a­try over the men­tally ill, of med­i­cine over the pop­u­la­tion, of ad­min­is­tra­tion over the ways peo­ple live. It is not enough to say that these are anti-au­thor­ity strug­gles; we must try to de­fine more pre­cisely what they have in com­mon.

  1. They are transversal” strug­gles; that is, they are not lim­ited to one coun­try. Of course, they de­velop more eas­ily and to a greater ex­tent in cer­tain coun­tries, but they are not con­fined to a par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal or eco­nomic form of gov­ern­ment.
  2. The aim of these strug­gles is the power ef­fects as such. For ex­am­ple, the med­ical pro­fes­sion is not crit­i­cized pri­mar­ily be­cause it is a profit-mak­ing con­cern but be­cause it ex­er­cises an un­con­trolled power over peo­ple’s bod­ies, their health, and their life and death.
  3. These are immediate” strug­gles for two rea­sons. In such strug­gles peo­ple crit­i­cize in­stances of power which are the clos­est to them, those which ex­er­cise their ac­tion on in­di­vid­u­als. They do not look for the chief en­emy” but for the im­me­di­ate en­emy. Nor do they ex­pect to find a so­lu­tion to their prob­lem at a fu­ture date (that is, lib­er­a­tions, rev­o­lu­tions, end of class strug­gle). In com­par­i­son with a the­o­ret­i­cal scale of ex­pla­na­tions or a rev­o­lu­tion­ary or­der which po­lar­izes the his­to­rian, they are an­ar­chis­tic strug­gles. But these are not their most orig­i­nal points. The fol­low­ing seem to me to be more spe­cific.
  4. They are strug­gles which ques­tion the sta­tus of the in­di­vid­ual: on the one hand, they as­sert the right to be dif­fer­ent, and they un­der­line every­thing which makes in­di­vid­u­als truly in­di­vid­ual. On the other hand, they at­tack every­thing which sep­a­rates the in­di­vid­ual, breaks his links with oth­ers, splits up com­mu­nity life, forces the in­di­vid­ual back on him­self, and ties him to his own iden­tity in a con­strain­ing way. These strug­gles are not ex­actly for or against the individual” but rather they are strug­gles against the government of in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion.”
  5. They are an op­po­si­tion to the ef­fects of power which are linked with knowl­edge, com­pe­tence, and qual­i­fi­ca­tion: strug­gles against the priv­i­leges of knowl­edge. But they are also an op­po­si­tion against se­crecy, de­for­ma­tion, and mys­ti­fy­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tions im­posed on peo­ple. There is noth­ing scientistic” in this (that is, a dog­matic be­lief in the value of sci­en­tific knowl­edge), but nei­ther is it a skep­ti­cal or rel­a­tivis­tic re­fusal of all ver­i­fied truth. What is ques­tioned is the way in which knowl­edge cir­cu­lates and func­tions, its re­la­tions to power. In short, the régime du savoir.
  6. Finally, all these pre­sent strug­gles re­volve around the ques­tion: Who are we? They are a re­fusal of these ab­strac­tions, of eco­nomic and ide­o­log­i­cal state vi­o­lence, which ig­nore who we are in­di­vid­u­ally, and also a re­fusal of a sci­en­tific or ad­min­is­tra­tive in­qui­si­tion which de­ter­mines who one is.

To sum up, the main ob­jec­tive of these strug­gles is to at­tack not so much such or such” an in­sti­tu­tion of power, or group, or elite, or class but rather a tech­nique, a form of power. This form of power ap­plies it­self to im­me­di­ate every­day life which cat­e­go­rizes the in­di­vid­ual, marks him by his own in­di­vid­u­al­ity, at­taches him to his own iden­tity, im­poses a law of truth on him which he must rec­og­nize and which oth­ers have to rec­og­nize in him. It is a form of power which makes in­di­vid­u­als sub­jects. There are two mean­ings of the word subject”: sub­ject to some­one else by con­trol and de­pen­dence; and tied to his own iden­tity by a con­science or self-knowl­edge. Both mean­ings sug­gest a form of power which sub­ju­gates and makes sub­ject to. Generally, it can be said that there are three types of strug­gles: ei­ther against forms of dom­i­na­tion (ethnic, so­cial, and re­li­gious); against forms of ex­ploita­tion which sep­a­rate in­di­vid­u­als from what they pro­duce; or against that which ties the in­di­vid­ual to him­self and sub­mits him to oth­ers in this way (struggles against sub­jec­tion, against forms of sub­jec­tiv­ity and sub­mis­sion). I think that in his­tory you can find a lot of ex­am­ples of these three kinds of so­cial strug­gles, ei­ther iso­lated from each other or mixed to­gether. But even when they are mixed, one of them, most of the time, pre­vails. For in­stance, in the feu­dal so­ci­eties, the strug­gles against the forms of eth­nic or so­cial dom­i­na­tion were preva­lent, even though eco­nomic ex­ploita­tion could have been very im­por­tant among the re­volt’s causes. In the nine­teenth cen­tury, the strug­gle against ex­ploita­tion came into the fore­ground. And nowa­days, the strug­gle against the forms of sub­jec­tion —against the sub­mis­sion of sub­jec­tiv­ity —is be­com­ing more and more im­por­tant, even though the strug­gles against forms of dom­i­na­tion and ex­ploita­tion have not dis­ap­peared. Quite the con­trary. I sus­pect that it is not the first time that our so­ci­ety has been con­fronted with this kind of strug­gle. All those move­ments which took place in the fif­teenth and six­teenth cen­turies and which had the Reformation as their main ex­pres­sion and re­sult should be an­a­lyzed as a great cri­sis of the Western ex­pe­ri­ence of sub­jec­tiv­ity and a re­volt against the kind of re­li­gious and moral power which gave form, dur­ing the Middle Ages, to this sub­jec­tiv­ity. The need to take a di­rect part in spir­i­tual life, in the work of sal­va­tion, in the truth which lies in the Book —all that was a strug­gle for a new sub­jec­tiv­ity. I know what ob­jec­tions can be made. We can say that all types of sub­jec­tion are de­rived phe­nom­ena, that they are merely the con­se­quences of other eco­nomic and so­cial processes: forces of pro­duc­tion, class strug­gle, and ide­o­log­i­cal struc­tures which de­ter­mine the form of sub­jec­tiv­ity. It is cer­tain that the mech­a­nisms of sub­jec­tion can­not be stud­ied out­side their re­la­tion to the mech­a­nisms of ex­ploita­tion and dom­i­na­tion. But they do not merely con­sti­tute the terminal” of more fun­da­men­tal mech­a­nisms. They en­ter­tain com­plex and cir­cu­lar re­la­tions with other forms. The rea­son this kind of strug­gle tends to pre­vail in our so­ci­ety is due to the fact that, since the six­teenth cen­tury, a new po­lit­i­cal form of power has been con­tin­u­ously de­vel­op­ing. This new po­lit­i­cal struc­ture, as every­body knows, is the state. But most of the time, the state is en­vi­sioned as a kind of po­lit­i­cal power which ig­nores in­di­vid­u­als, look­ing only at the in­ter­ests of the to­tal­ity or, I should say, of a class or a group among the cit­i­zens. That’s quite true. But I’d like to un­der­line the fact that the state’s power (and that’s one of the rea­sons for its strength) is both an in­di­vid­u­al­iz­ing and a to­tal­iz­ing form of power. Never, I think, in the his­tory of hu­man so­ci­eties —even in the old Chinese so­ci­ety— has there been such a tricky com­bi­na­tion in the same po­lit­i­cal struc­tures of in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion tech­niques and of to­tal­iza­tion pro­ce­dures. This is due to the fact that the mod­ern Western state has in­te­grated in a new po­lit­i­cal shape an old power tech­nique which orig­i­nated in Christian in­sti­tu­tions. We can call this power tech­nique the pas­toral power. First of all, a few words about this pas­toral power. It has of­ten been said that Christianity brought into be­ing a code of ethics fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from that of the an­cient world. Less em­pha­sis is usu­ally placed on the fact that it pro­posed and spread new power re­la­tions through­out the an­cient world. Christianity is the only re­li­gion which has or­ga­nized it­self as a church. And as such, it pos­tu­lates in prin­ci­ple that cer­tain in­di­vid­u­als can, by their re­li­gious qual­ity, serve oth­ers not as princes, mag­is­trates, prophets, for­tune-tellers, bene­fac­tors, ed­u­ca­tion­al­ists, and so on but as pas­tors. However, this word des­ig­nates a very spe­cial form of power.

  1. It is a form of power whose ul­ti­mate aim is to as­sure in­di­vid­ual sal­va­tion in the next world.
  2. Pastoral power is not merely a form of power which com­mands; it must also be pre­pared to sac­ri­fice it­self for the life and sal­va­tion of the flock. Therefore, it is dif­fer­ent from royal power, which de­mands a sac­ri­fice from its sub­jects to save the throne.
  3. It is a form of power which does not look af­ter just the whole com­mu­nity but each in­di­vid­ual in par­tic­u­lar, dur­ing his en­tire life.
  4. Finally, this form of power can­not be ex­er­cised with­out know­ing the in­side of peo­ple’s minds, with­out ex­plor­ing their souls, with­out mak­ing them re­veal their in­ner­most se­crets. It im­plies a knowl­edge of the con­science and an abil­ity to di­rect it.

This form of power is sal­va­tion ori­ented (as op­posed to po­lit­i­cal power). It is obla­tive (as op­posed to the prin­ci­ple of sov­er­eignty); it is in­di­vid­u­al­iz­ing (as op­posed to le­gal power); it is co­ex­ten­sive and con­tin­u­ous with life; it is linked with a pro­duc­tion of truth —the truth of the in­di­vid­ual him­self. But all this is part of his­tory, you will say; the pas­torate has, if not dis­ap­peared, at least lost the main part of its ef­fi­ciency. This is true, but I think we should dis­tin­guish be­tween two as­pects of pas­toral power —between the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion, which has ceased or at least lost its vi­tal­ity since the eigh­teenth cen­tury, and its func­tion, which has spread and mul­ti­plied out­side the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal in­sti­tu­tion. An im­por­tant phe­nom­e­non took place around the eigh­teenth cen­tury —it was a new dis­tri­b­u­tion, a new or­ga­ni­za­tion of this kind of in­di­vid­u­al­iz­ing power. I don’t think that we should con­sider the modern state” as an en­tity which was de­vel­oped above in­di­vid­u­als, ig­nor­ing what they are and even their very ex­is­tence, but, on the con­trary, as a very so­phis­ti­cated struc­ture, in which in­di­vid­u­als can be in­te­grated, un­der one con­di­tion: that this in­di­vid­u­al­ity would be shaped in a new form and sub­mit­ted to a set of very spe­cific pat­terns. In a way, we can see the state as a mod­ern ma­trix of in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion or a new form of pas­toral power. A few more words about this new pas­toral power.

  1. We may ob­serve a change in its ob­jec­tive. It was no longer a ques­tion of lead­ing peo­ple to their sal­va­tion in the next world but rather en­sur­ing it in this world. And in this con­text, the word salvation” takes on dif­fer­ent mean­ings: health, well-be­ing (that is, suf­fi­cient wealth, stan­dard of liv­ing), se­cu­rity, pro­tec­tion against ac­ci­dents. A se­ries of worldly” aims took the place of the re­li­gious aims of the tra­di­tional pas­torate, all the more eas­ily be­cause the lat­ter, for var­i­ous rea­sons, had fol­lowed in an ac­ces­sory way a cer­tain num­ber of these aims; we only have to think of the role of med­i­cine and its wel­fare func­tion as­sured for a long time by the Catholic and Protestant churches.
  2. Concurrently the of­fi­cials of pas­toral power in­creased. Sometimes this form of power was ex­erted by state ap­pa­ra­tus or, in any case, by a pub­lic in­sti­tu­tion such as the po­lice. (We should not for­get that in the eigh­teenth cen­tury the po­lice force was not in­vented only for main­tain­ing law and or­der, nor for as­sist­ing gov­ern­ments in their strug­gle against their en­e­mies, but for as­sur­ing ur­ban sup­plies, hy­giene, health, and stan­dards con­sid­ered nec­es­sary for hand­i­crafts and com­merce.) Sometimes the power was ex­er­cised by pri­vate ven­tures, wel­fare so­ci­eties, bene­fac­tors, and gen­er­ally by phil­an­thropists. But an­cient in­sti­tu­tions, for ex­am­ple the fam­ily, were also mo­bi­lized at this time to take on pas­toral func­tions. It was also ex­er­cised by com­plex struc­tures such as med­i­cine, which in­cluded pri­vate ini­tia­tives with the sale of ser­vices on mar­ket econ­omy prin­ci­ples, but which also in­cluded pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions such as hos­pi­tals.
  3. Finally, the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of the aims and agents of pas­toral power fo­cused the de­vel­op­ment of knowl­edge of man around two roles: one, glob­al­iz­ing and quan­ti­ta­tive, con­cern­ing the pop­u­la­tion; the other, an­a­lyt­i­cal, con­cern­ing the in­di­vid­ual.

And this im­plies that power of a pas­toral type, which over cen­turies —for more than a mil­len­nium— had been linked to a de­fined re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tion, sud­denly spread out into the whole so­cial body; it found sup­port in a mul­ti­tude of in­sti­tu­tions. And, in­stead of a pas­toral power and a po­lit­i­cal power, more or less linked to each other, more or less ri­val, there was an in­di­vid­u­al­iz­ing tactic” which char­ac­ter­ized a se­ries of pow­ers: those of the fam­ily, med­i­cine, psy­chi­a­try, ed­u­ca­tion, and em­ploy­ers.

At the end of the eigh­teenth cen­tury, Kant wrote, in a German news­pa­per —theBerliner Monatschrift— a short text. The ti­tle was Was heisst Aufklärung?” It was for a long time, and it is still, con­sid­ered a work of rel­a­tively small im­por­tance. But I can’t help find­ing it very in­ter­est­ing and puz­zling be­cause it was the first time a philoso­pher pro­posed as a philo­soph­i­cal task to in­ves­ti­gate not only the meta­phys­i­cal sys­tem or the foun­da­tions of sci­en­tific knowl­edge but a his­tor­i­cal event —a re­cent, even a con­tem­po­rary event. When in 1784 Kant asked, Was heisst Aufklärung?”, he meant, What’s go­ing on just now? What’s hap­pen­ing to us? What is this world, this pe­riod, this pre­cise mo­ment in which we are liv­ing? Or in other words: What are we? as Aufklärer, as part of the Enlightenment? Compare this with the Cartesian ques­tion: Who am I? I, as a unique but uni­ver­sal and un­his­tor­i­cal sub­ject? I, for Descartes, is every­one, any­where at any mo­ment. But Kant asks some­thing else: What are we? in a very pre­cise mo­ment of his­tory. Kant’s ques­tion ap­pears as an analy­sis of both us and our pre­sent. I think that this as­pect of phi­los­o­phy took on more and more im­por­tance. Hegel, Nietzsche… The other as­pect of universal phi­los­o­phy” did­n’t dis­ap­pear. But the task of phi­los­o­phy as a crit­i­cal analy­sis of our world is some­thing which is more and more im­por­tant. Maybe the most cer­tain of all philo­soph­i­cal prob­lems is the prob­lem of the pre­sent time and of what we are in this very mo­ment. Maybe the tar­get nowa­days is not to dis­cover what we are but to refuse what we are. We have to imag­ine and to build up what we could be to get rid of this kind of po­lit­i­cal double bind,” which is the si­mul­ta­ne­ous in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion and to­tal­iza­tion of mod­ern power struc­tures. The con­clu­sion would be that the po­lit­i­cal, eth­i­cal, so­cial, philo­soph­i­cal prob­lem of our days is not to try to lib­er­ate the in­di­vid­ual from the state and from the state’s in­sti­tu­tions but to lib­er­ate us both from the state and from the type of in­di­vid­u­al­iza­tion which is linked to the state. We have to pro­mote new forms of sub­jec­tiv­ity through the re­fusal of this kind of in­di­vid­u­al­ity which has been im­posed on us for sev­eral cen­turies.

How Is Power Exercised?

For some peo­ple, ask­ing ques­tions about the how” of power would limit them to de­scrib­ing its ef­fects with­out ever re­lat­ing those ef­fects ei­ther to causes or to a ba­sic na­ture. It would make this power a mys­te­ri­ous sub­stance which they might hes­i­tate to in­ter­ro­gate in it­self, no doubt be­cause they would pre­fer not to call it into ques­tion. By pro­ceed­ing this way, which is never ex­plic­itly jus­ti­fied, they seem to sus­pect the pres­ence of a kind of fa­tal­ism. But does not their very dis­trust in­di­cate a pre­sup­po­si­tion that power is some­thing which ex­ists with three dis­tinct qual­i­ties: its ori­gin, its ba­sic na­ture, and its man­i­fes­ta­tions? If, for the time be­ing, I grant a cer­tain priv­i­leged po­si­tion to the ques­tion of how,” it is not be­cause I would wish to elim­i­nate the ques­tions of what” and why.” Rather, it is that I wish to pre­sent these ques­tions in a dif­fer­ent way: bet­ter still, to know if it is le­git­i­mate to imag­ine a power which unites in it­self a what, a why, and a how. To put it bluntly, I would say that to be­gin the analy­sis with a how” is to sug­gest that power as such does not ex­ist. At the very least it is to ask one­self what con­tents one has in mind when us­ing this all-em­brac­ing and reify­ing term; it is to sus­pect that an ex­tremely com­plex con­fig­u­ra­tion of re­al­i­ties is al­lowed to es­cape when one treads end­lessly in the dou­ble ques­tion: What is power? and Where does power come from? The lit­tle ques­tion, What hap­pens?, al­though flat and em­pir­i­cal, once scru­ti­nized is seen to avoid ac­cus­ing a meta­physics or an on­tol­ogy of power of be­ing fraud­u­lent; rather, it at­tempts a crit­i­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the the­mat­ics of power.

1. How” not in the sense of How does it man­i­fest it­self?” but By what means is it ex­er­cised?” and What hap­pens when in­di­vid­u­als ex­ert (as they say) power over oth­ers?”

As far as this power is con­cerned, it is first nec­es­sary to dis­tin­guish that which is ex­erted over things and gives the abil­ity to mod­ify, use, con­sume, or de­stroy them —a power which stems from ap­ti­tudes di­rectly in­her­ent in the body or re­layed by ex­ter­nal in­stru­ments. Let us say that here it is a ques­tion of capacity.” On the other hand, what char­ac­ter­izes the power we are an­a­lyz­ing is that it brings into play re­la­tions be­tween in­di­vid­u­als (or be­tween groups). For let us not de­ceive our­selves; if we speak of the struc­tures or the mech­a­nisms of power, it is only in­so­far as we sup­pose that cer­tain per­sons ex­er­cise power over oth­ers. The term power” des­ig­nates re­la­tion­ships be­tween part­ners (and by that I am not think­ing of a zero-sum game but sim­ply, and for the mo­ment stay­ing in the most gen­eral terms, of an en­sem­ble of ac­tions which in­duce oth­ers and fol­low from one an­other). It is nec­es­sary also to dis­tin­guish power re­la­tions from re­la­tion­ships of com­mu­ni­ca­tion which trans­mit in­for­ma­tion by means of a lan­guage, a sys­tem of signs, or any other sym­bolic medium. No doubt com­mu­ni­cat­ing is al­ways a cer­tain way of act­ing upon an­other per­son or per­sons. But the pro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion of el­e­ments of mean­ing can have as their ob­jec­tive or as their con­se­quence cer­tain re­sults in the realm of power; the lat­ter are not sim­ply an as­pect of the for­mer. Whether or not they pass through sys­tems of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, power re­la­tions have a spe­cific na­ture. Power re­la­tions, re­la­tion­ships of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and ob­jec­tive ca­pac­i­ties should not there­fore be con­fused. This is not to say that there is a ques­tion of three sep­a­rate do­mains. Nor that there is on one hand the held of things, of per­fected tech­nique, work, and the trans­for­ma­tion of the real; on the other that of signs, com­mu­ni­ca­tion, rec­i­proc­ity, and the pro­duc­tion of mean­ing; and fi­nally, that of the dom­i­na­tion of the means of con­straint, of in­equal­ity, and the ac­tion of men upon other men. It is a ques­tion of three types of re­la­tion­ships which in fact al­ways over­lap one an­other, sup­port one an­other rec­i­p­ro­cally, and use each other mu­tu­ally as means to an end. The ap­pli­ca­tion of ob­jec­tive ca­pac­i­ties in their most el­e­men­tary forms im­plies re­la­tion­ships of com­mu­ni­ca­tion (whether in the form of pre­vi­ously ac­quired in­for­ma­tion or of shared work); it is tied also to power re­la­tions (whether they con­sist of oblig­a­tory tasks, of ges­tures im­posed by tra­di­tion or ap­pren­tice­ship, of sub­di­vi­sions and the more or less oblig­a­tory dis­tri­b­u­tion of la­bor). Relationships of com­mu­ni­ca­tion im­ply fi­nal­ized ac­tiv­i­ties (even if only the cor­rect putting into op­er­a­tion of el­e­ments of mean­ing) and, by virtue of mod­i­fy­ing the held of in­for­ma­tion be­tween part­ners, pro­duce ef­fects of power. They can scarcely be dis­so­ci­ated from ac­tiv­i­ties brought to their fi­nal term, be they those which per­mit the ex­er­cise of this power (such as train­ing tech­niques, processes of dom­i­na­tion, the means by which obe­di­ence is ob­tained) or those, which in or­der to de­velop their po­ten­tial, call upon re­la­tions of power (the di­vi­sion of la­bor and the hi­er­ar­chy of tasks). Of course, the co­or­di­na­tion be­tween these three types of re­la­tion­ships is nei­ther uni­form nor con­stant. In a given so­ci­ety there is no gen­eral type of equi­lib­rium be­tween fi­nal­ized ac­tiv­i­ties, sys­tems of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and power re­la­tions. Rather, there are di­verse forms, di­verse places, di­verse cir­cum­stances or oc­ca­sions in which these in­ter-re­la­tion­ships es­tab­lish them­selves ac­cord­ing to a spe­cific model. But there are also blocks” in which the ad­just­ment of abil­i­ties, the re­sources of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and power re­la­tions con­sti­tute reg­u­lated and con­certed sys­tems. Take, for ex­am­ple, an ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tion: the dis­posal of its space, the metic­u­lous reg­u­la­tions which gov­ern its in­ter­nal life, the dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties which are or­ga­nized there, the di­verse per­sons who live there or meet one an­other, each with his own func­tion, his well-de­fined char­ac­ter —all these things con­sti­tute a block of ca­pac­ity-com­mu­ni­ca­tion-power. The ac­tiv­ity which en­sures ap­pren­tice­ship and the ac­qui­si­tion of ap­ti­tudes or types of be­hav­ior is de­vel­oped there by means of a whole en­sem­ble of reg­u­lated com­mu­ni­ca­tions (lessons, ques­tions and an­swers, or­ders, ex­hor­ta­tions, coded signs of obe­di­ence, dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion marks of the value” of each per­son and of the lev­els of knowl­edge) and by the means of a whole se­ries of power processes (enclosure, sur­veil­lance, re­ward and pun­ish­ment, the pyra­mi­dal hi­er­ar­chy). These blocks, in which the putting into op­er­a­tion of tech­ni­cal ca­pac­i­ties, the game of com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and the re­la­tion­ships of power are ad­justed to one an­other ac­cord­ing to con­sid­ered for­mu­lae, con­sti­tute what one might call, en­larg­ing a lit­tle the sense of the word, disciplines.” The em­pir­i­cal analy­sis of cer­tain dis­ci­plines as they have been his­tor­i­cally con­sti­tuted pre­sents for this very rea­son a cer­tain in­ter­est. This is so be­cause the dis­ci­plines show, first, ac­cord­ing to ar­ti­fi­cially clear and de­canted sys­tems, the man­ner in which sys­tems of ob­jec­tive fi­nal­ity and sys­tems of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and power can be welded to­gether. They also dis­play dif­fer­ent mod­els of ar­tic­u­la­tion, some­times giv­ing pre­em­i­nence to power re­la­tions and obe­di­ence (as in those dis­ci­plines of a monas­tic or pen­i­ten­tial type), some­times to fi­nal­ize ac­tiv­i­ties (as in the dis­ci­plines of work­shops or hos­pi­tals), some­times to re­la­tion­ships of com­mu­ni­ca­tion (as in the dis­ci­plines of ap­pren­tice­ship), some­times also to a sat­u­ra­tion of the three types of re­la­tion­ship (as per­haps in mil­i­tary dis­ci­pline, where a plethora of signs in­di­cates, to the point of re­dun­dancy, tightly knit power re­la­tions cal­cu­lated with care to pro­duce a cer­tain num­ber of tech­ni­cal ef­fects). What is to be un­der­stood by the dis­ci­plin­ing of so­ci­eties in Europe since the eigh­teenth cen­tury is not, of course, that the in­di­vid­u­als who are part of them be­come more and more obe­di­ent, nor that they set about as­sem­bling in bar­racks, schools, or pris­ons; rather, that an in­creas­ingly bet­ter in­vig­i­lated process of ad­just­ment has been sought af­ter —more and more ra­tio­nal and eco­nomic —between pro­duc­tive ac­tiv­i­ties, re­sources of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and the play of power re­la­tions. To ap­proach the theme of power by an analy­sis of how” is there­fore to in­tro­duce sev­eral crit­i­cal shifts in re­la­tion to the sup­po­si­tion of a fun­da­men­tal power. It is to give one­self as the ob­ject of analy­sis power re­la­tions and not power it­self —power re­la­tions which are dis­tinct from ob­jec­tive abil­i­ties as well as from re­la­tions of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. This is as much as say­ing that power re­la­tions can be grasped in the di­ver­sity of their log­i­cal se­quence, their abil­i­ties, and their in­ter­re­la­tion­ships.

2. What con­sti­tutes the spe­cific na­ture of power?

The ex­er­cise of power is not sim­ply a re­la­tion­ship be­tween part­ners, in­di­vid­ual or col­lec­tive; it is a way in which cer­tain ac­tions mod­ify oth­ers. Which is to say, of course, that some­thing called Power, with or with­out a cap­i­tal let­ter, which is as­sumed to ex­ist uni­ver­sally in a con­cen­trated or dif­fused form, does not ex­ist. Power ex­ists only when it is put into ac­tion, even if, of course, it is in­te­grated into a dis­parate field of pos­si­bil­i­ties brought to bear upon per­ma­nent struc­tures. This also means that power is not a func­tion of con­sent. In it­self it is not a re­nun­ci­a­tion of free­dom, a trans­fer­ence of rights, the power of each and all del­e­gated to a few (which does not pre­vent the pos­si­bil­ity that con­sent may be a con­di­tion for the ex­is­tence or the main­te­nance of power); the re­la­tion­ship of power can be the re­sult of a prior or per­ma­nent con­sent, but it is not by na­ture the man­i­fes­ta­tion of a con­sen­sus. Is this to say that one must seek the char­ac­ter proper to power re­la­tions in the vi­o­lence which must have been its prim­i­tive form, its per­ma­nent se­cret, and its last re­source, that which in the fi­nal analy­sis ap­pears as its real na­ture when it is forced to throw aside its mask and to show it­self as it re­ally is? In ef­fect, what de­fines a re­la­tion­ship of power is that it is a mode of ac­tion which does not act di­rectly and im­me­di­ately on oth­ers. Instead, it acts upon their ac­tions: an ac­tion upon an ac­tion, on ex­ist­ing ac­tions or on those which may arise in the pre­sent or the fu­ture. A re­la­tion­ship of vi­o­lence acts upon a body or upon things; it forces, it bends, it breaks on the wheel, it de­stroys, or it closes the door on all pos­si­bil­i­ties. Its op­po­site pole can only be pas­siv­ity, and if it comes up against any re­sis­tance, it has no other op­tion but to try to min­i­mize it. On the other hand, a power re­la­tion­ship can only be ar­tic­u­lated on the ba­sis of two el­e­ments which are each in­dis­pens­able if it is re­ally to be a power re­la­tion­ship: that the other” (the one over whom power is ex­er­cised) be thor­oughly rec­og­nized and main­tained to the very end as a per­son who acts; and that, faced with a re­la­tion­ship of power, a whole held of re­sponses, re­ac­tions, re­sults, and pos­si­ble in­ven­tions may open up. Obviously the bring­ing into play of power re­la­tions does not ex­clude the use of vi­o­lence any more than it does the ob­tain­ing of con­sent; no doubt the ex­er­cise of power can never do with­out one or the other, of­ten both at the same time. But even though con­sen­sus and vi­o­lence are the in­stru­ments or the re­sults, they do not con­sti­tute the prin­ci­ple or the ba­sic na­ture of power. The ex­er­cise of power can pro­duce as much ac­cep­tance as may be wished for: it can pile up the dead and shel­ter it­self be­hind what­ever threats it can imag­ine. In it­self the ex­er­cise of power is not vi­o­lence; nor is it a con­sent which, im­plic­itly, is re­new­able. It is a to­tal struc­ture of ac­tions brought to bear upon pos­si­ble ac­tions; it in­cites, it in­duces, it se­duces, it makes eas­ier or more dif­fi­cult; in the ex­treme it con­strains or for­bids ab­solutely; it is nev­er­the­less al­ways a way of act­ing upon an act­ing sub­ject or act­ing sub­jects by virtue of their act­ing or be­ing ca­pa­ble of ac­tion. A set of ac­tions upon other ac­tions. Perhaps the equiv­o­cal na­ture of the term conduct” is one of the best aids for com­ing to terms with the speci­ficity of power re­la­tions. For to conduct” is at the same time to lead” oth­ers (according to mech­a­nisms of co­er­cion which are, to vary­ing de­grees, strict) and a way of be­hav­ing within a more or less open held of pos­si­bil­i­ties. The ex­er­cise of power con­sists in guid­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of con­duct and putting in or­der the pos­si­ble out­come. Basically power is less a con­fronta­tion be­tween two ad­ver­saries or the link­ing of one to the other than a ques­tion of gov­ern­ment. This word must be al­lowed the very broad mean­ing which it had in the six­teenth cen­tury. Government” did not re­fer only to po­lit­i­cal struc­tures or to the man­age­ment of states; rather, it des­ig­nated the way in which the con­duct of in­di­vid­u­als or of groups might be di­rected: the gov­ern­ment of chil­dren, of souls, of com­mu­ni­ties, of fam­i­lies, of the sick. It did not only cover the le­git­i­mately con­sti­tuted forms of po­lit­i­cal or eco­nomic sub­jec­tion but also modes of ac­tion, more or less con­sid­ered or cal­cu­lated, which were des­tined to act upon the pos­si­bil­i­ties of ac­tion of other peo­ple. To gov­ern, in this sense, is to struc­ture the pos­si­ble held of ac­tion of oth­ers. The re­la­tion­ship proper to power would not, there­fore, be sought on the side of vi­o­lence or of strug­gle, nor on that of vol­un­tary link­ing (all of which can, at best, only be the in­stru­ments of power), but rather in the area of the sin­gu­lar mode of ac­tion, nei­ther war­like nor ju­ridi­cal, which is gov­ern­ment. When one de­fines the ex­er­cise of power as a mode of ac­tion upon the ac­tions of oth­ers, when one char­ac­ter­izes these ac­tions by the gov­ern­ment of men by other men —in the broad­est sense of the term— in­cludes an im­por­tant el­e­ment: free­dom. Power is ex­er­cised only over free sub­jects, and only in­so­far as they are free. By this we mean in­di­vid­ual or col­lec­tive sub­jects who are faced with a held of pos­si­bil­i­ties in which sev­eral ways of be­hav­ing, sev­eral re­ac­tions and di­verse com­port­ments, may be re­al­ized. Where the de­ter­min­ing fac­tors sat­u­rate the whole, there is no re­la­tion­ship of power; slav­ery is not a power re­la­tion­ship when man is in chains. (In this case it is a ques­tion of a phys­i­cal re­la­tion­ship of con­straint.) Consequently, there is no face-to-face con­fronta­tion of power and free­dom, which are mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive (freedom dis­ap­pears every­where power is ex­er­cised), but a much more com­pli­cated in­ter­play. In this game free­dom may well ap­pear as the con­di­tion for the ex­er­cise of power (at the same time its pre­con­di­tion, since free­dom must ex­ist for power to be ex­erted, and also its per­ma­nent sup­port, since with­out the pos­si­bil­ity of re­cal­ci­trance, power would be equiv­a­lent to a phys­i­cal de­ter­mi­na­tion). The re­la­tion­ship be­tween power and free­dom’s re­fusal to sub­mit can­not, there­fore, be sep­a­rated. The cru­cial prob­lem of power is not that of vol­un­tary servi­tude (how could we seek to be slaves?). At the very heart of the power re­la­tion­ship, and con­stantly pro­vok­ing it, are the re­cal­ci­trance of the will and the in­tran­si­gence of free­dom. Rather than speak­ing of an es­sen­tial free­dom, it would be bet­ter to speak of an agonism” of a re­la­tion­ship which is at the same time rec­i­p­ro­cal in­ci­ta­tion and strug­gle, less of a face-to-face con­fronta­tion which par­a­lyzes both sides than a per­ma­nent provo­ca­tion.

How is one to an­a­lyze the power re­la­tion­ship?

One can an­a­lyze such re­la­tion­ships, or rather I should say that it is per­fectly le­git­i­mate to do so, by fo­cus­ing on care­fully de­fined in­sti­tu­tions. The lat­ter con­sti­tute a priv­i­leged point of ob­ser­va­tion, di­ver­si­fied, con­cen­trated, put in or­der, and car­ried through to the high­est point of their ef­fi­cac­ity. It is here that, as a first ap­prox­i­ma­tion, one might ex­pect to see the ap­pear­ance of the form and logic of their el­e­men­tary mech­a­nisms. However, the analy­sis of power re­la­tions as one finds them in cer­tain cir­cum­scribed in­sti­tu­tions pre­sents a cer­tain num­ber of prob­lems. First, the fact that an im­por­tant part of the mech­a­nisms put into op­er­a­tion by an in­sti­tu­tion are de­signed to en­sure its own preser­va­tion brings with it the risk of de­ci­pher­ing func­tions which are es­sen­tially re­pro­duc­tive, es­pe­cially in power re­la­tions be­tween in­sti­tu­tions. Second, in an­a­lyz­ing power re­la­tions from the stand­point of in­sti­tu­tions, one lays one­self open to seek­ing the ex­pla­na­tion and the ori­gin of the for­mer in the lat­ter , that is to say, fi­nally, to ex­plain power to power. Finally, in­so­far as in­sti­tu­tions act es­sen­tially by bring­ing into play two el­e­ments, ex­plicit or tacit reg­u­la­tions and an ap­pa­ra­tus, one risks giv­ing to one or the other an ex­ag­ger­ated priv­i­lege in the re­la­tions of power and hence to see in the lat­ter only mod­u­la­tions of the law and of co­er­cion. This does not deny the im­por­tance of in­sti­tu­tions on the es­tab­lish­ment of power re­la­tions. Instead, I wish to sug­gest that one must an­a­lyze in­sti­tu­tions from the stand­point of power re­la­tions, rather than vice versa, and that the fun­da­men­tal point of an­chor­age of the re­la­tion­ships, even if they are em­bod­ied and crys­tal­lized in an in­sti­tu­tion, is to be found out­side the in­sti­tu­tion. Let us come back to the de­f­i­n­i­tion of the ex­er­cise of power as a way in which cer­tain ac­tions may struc­ture the held of other pos­si­ble ac­tions. What, there­fore, would be proper to a re­la­tion­ship of power is that it be a mode of ac­tion upon ac­tions. That is to say, power re­la­tions are rooted deep in the so­cial nexus, not re­con­sti­tuted above” so­ci­ety as a sup­ple­men­tary struc­ture whose rad­i­cal ef­face­ment one could per­haps dream of. In any case, to live in so­ci­ety is to live in such a way that ac­tion upon other ac­tions is pos­si­ble —and in fact on­go­ing. A so­ci­ety with­out power re­la­tions can only be an ab­strac­tion. Which, be it said in pass­ing, makes all the more po­lit­i­cally nec­es­sary the analy­sis of power re­la­tions in a given so­ci­ety, their his­tor­i­cal for­ma­tion, the source of their strength or fragility, the con­di­tions which are nec­es­sary to trans­form some or to abol­ish oth­ers. For to say that there can­not be a so­ci­ety with­out power re­la­tions is not to say ei­ther that those which are es­tab­lished are nec­es­sary or, in any case, that power con­sti­tutes a fa­tal­ity at the heart of so­ci­eties, such that it can­not be un­der­mined. Instead, I would say that the analy­sis, elab­o­ra­tion, and bring­ing into ques­tion of power re­la­tions and the agonism” be­tween power re­la­tions and the in­tran­si­tiv­ity of free­dom is a per­ma­nent po­lit­i­cal task in­her­ent in all so­cial ex­is­tence. The analy­sis of power re­la­tions de­mands that a cer­tain num­ber of points be es­tab­lished con­cretely:

  1. The sys­tem of dif­fer­en­ti­a­tions which per­mits one to act upon the ac­tions of oth­ers: dif­fer­en­ti­a­tions de­ter­mined by the law or by tra­di­tions of sta­tus and priv­i­lege; eco­nomic dif­fer­ences in the ap­pro­pri­a­tion of riches and goods, shifts in the processes of pro­duc­tion, lin­guis­tic or cul­tural dif­fer­ences, dif­fer­ences in know-how and com­pe­tence, and so forth. Every re­la­tion­ship of power puts into op­er­a­tion dif­fer­en­ti­a­tions which are at the same time its con­di­tions and its re­sults.
  2. The types of ob­jec­tives pur­sued by those who act upon the ac­tions of oth­ers: the main­te­nance of priv­i­leges, the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of prof­its, the bring­ing into op­er­a­tion of statu­tary au­thor­ity, the ex­er­cise of a func­tion or of a trade.
  3. The means of bring­ing power re­la­tions into be­ing: ac­cord­ing to whether power is ex­er­cised by the threat of arms, by the ef­fects of the word, by means of eco­nomic dis­par­i­ties, by more or less com­plex means of con­trol, by sys­tems of sur­veil­lance, with or with­out archives, ac­cord­ing to rules which are or are not ex­plicit, fixed or mod­i­fi­able, with or with­out the tech­no­log­i­cal means to put all these things into ac­tion.
  4. Forms of in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion: these may mix tra­di­tional pre­dis­po­si­tions, le­gal struc­tures, phe­nom­ena re­lat­ing to cus­tom or to fash­ion (such as one sees in the in­sti­tu­tion of the fam­ily); they can also take the form of an ap­pa­ra­tus closed in upon it­self, with its spe­cific loci, its own reg­u­la­tions, its hi­er­ar­chi­cal struc­tures which are care­fully de­fined, a rel­a­tive au­ton­omy in its func­tion­ing (such as scholas­tic or mil­i­tary in­sti­tu­tions); they can also form very com­plex sys­tems en­dowed with mul­ti­ple ap­pa­ra­tuses, as in the case of the state, whose func­tion is the tak­ing of every­thing un­der its wing, the bring­ing into be­ing of gen­eral sur­veil­lance, the prin­ci­ple of reg­u­la­tion, and, to a cer­tain ex­tent also, the dis­tri­b­u­tion of all power re­la­tions in a given so­cial en­sem­ble.
  5. The de­grees of ra­tio­nal­iza­tion: the bring­ing into play of power re­la­tions as ac­tion in a held of pos­si­bil­i­ties may be more or less elab­o­rate in re­la­tion to the ef­fec­tive­ness of the in­stru­ments and the cer­tainty of the re­sults (greater or lesser tech­no­log­i­cal re­fine­ments em­ployed in the ex­er­cise of power) or again in pro­por­tion to the pos­si­ble cost (be it the eco­nomic cost of the means brought into op­er­a­tion or the cost in terms of re­ac­tion con­sti­tuted by the re­sis­tance which is en­coun­tered). The ex­er­cise of power is not a naked fact, an in­sti­tu­tional right, nor is it a struc­ture which holds out or is smashed: it is elab­o­rated, trans­formed, or­ga­nized; it en­dows it­self with processes which are more or less ad­justed to the sit­u­a­tion.

One sees why the analy­sis of power re­la­tions within a so­ci­ety can­not be re­duced to the study of a se­ries of in­sti­tu­tions, not even to the study of all those in­sti­tu­tions which would merit the name political.” Power re­la­tions are rooted in the sys­tem of so­cial net­works. This is not to say, how­ever, that there is a pri­mary and fun­da­men­tal prin­ci­ple of power which dom­i­nates so­ci­ety down to the small­est de­tail; but, tak­ing as point of de­par­ture the pos­si­bil­ity of ac­tion upon the ac­tion of oth­ers (which is co­ex­ten­sive with every so­cial re­la­tion­ship), mul­ti­ple forms of in­di­vid­ual dis­par­ity, of ob­jec­tives, of the given ap­pli­ca­tion of power over our­selves or oth­ers, of, in vary­ing de­grees, par­tial or uni­ver­sal in­sti­tu­tion­al­iza­tion, of more or less de­lib­er­ate or­ga­ni­za­tion, one can de­fine dif­fer­ent forms of power. The forms and the spe­cific sit­u­a­tions of the gov­ern­ment of men by one an­other in a given so­ci­ety are mul­ti­ple; they are su­per­im­posed, they cross, im­pose their own lim­its, some­times can­cel one an­other out, some­times re­in­force one an­other. It is cer­tain that in con­tem­po­rary so­ci­eties the state is not sim­ply one of the forms or spe­cific sit­u­a­tions of the ex­er­cise of power —even if it is the most im­por­tant— but that in a cer­tain way all other forms of power re­la­tion must re­fer to it. But this is not be­cause they are de­rived from it; it is rather be­cause power re­la­tions have come more and more un­der state con­trol (although this state con­trol has not taken the same form in ped­a­gog­i­cal, ju­di­cial, eco­nomic, or fam­ily sys­tems). In re­fer­ring here to the re­stricted sense of the word government,” one could say that power re­la­tions have been pro­gres­sively gov­ern­men­tal­ized, that is to say, elab­o­rated, ra­tio­nal­ized, and cen­tral­ized in the form of, or un­der the aus­pices of, state in­sti­tu­tions.

Relations of power and re­la­tions of strat­egy.

The word strategy” is cur­rently em­ployed in three ways. First, to des­ig­nate the means em­ployed to at­tain a cer­tain end; it is a ques­tion of ra­tio­nal­ity func­tion­ing to ar­rive at an ob­jec­tive. Second, to des­ig­nate the man­ner in which a part­ner in a cer­tain game acts with re­gard to what he thinks should be the ac­tion of the oth­ers and what he con­sid­ers the oth­ers think to be his own; it is the way in which one seeks to have the ad­van­tage over oth­ers. Third, to des­ig­nate the pro­ce­dures used in a sit­u­a­tion of con­fronta­tion to de­prive the op­po­nent of his means of com­bat and to re­duce him to giv­ing up the strug­gle; it is a ques­tion, there­fore, of the means des­tined to ob­tain vic­tory. These three mean­ings come to­gether in sit­u­a­tions of con­fronta­tion —war or games— where the ob­jec­tive is to act upon an ad­ver­sary in such a man­ner as to ren­der the strug­gle im­pos­si­ble for him. So strat­egy is de­fined by the choice of win­ning so­lu­tions. But it must be borne in mind that this is a very spe­cial type of sit­u­a­tion and that there are oth­ers in which the dis­tinc­tions be­tween the dif­fer­ent senses of the word strategy’~ must be main­tained. Referring to the first sense I have in­di­cated, one may call power strat­egy the to­tal­ity of the means put into op­er­a­tion to im­ple­ment power ef­fec­tively or to main­tain it. One may also speak of a strat­egy proper to power re­la­tions in­so­far as they con­sti­tute modes of ac­tion upon pos­si­ble ac­tion, the ac­tion of oth­ers. One can there­fore in­ter­pret the mech­a­nisms brought into play in power re­la­tions in terms of strate­gies. But most im­por­tant is ob­vi­ously the re­la­tion­ship be­tween power re­la­tions and con­fronta­tion strate­gies. For, if it is true that at the heart of power re­la­tions and as a per­ma­nent con­di­tion of their ex­is­tence there is an in­sub­or­di­na­tion and a cer­tain es­sen­tial ob­sti­nacy on the part of the prin­ci­ples of free­dom, then there is no re­la­tion­ship of power with­out the means of es­cape or pos­si­ble flight. Every power re­la­tion­ship im­plies, at !east in po­ten­tia, a strat­egy of strug­gle, in which the two forces are not su­per-im­posed, do not lose their spe­cific na­ture, or do not fi­nally be­come con­fused. Each con­sti­tutes for the other a kind of per­ma­nent limit, a point of pos­si­ble re­ver­sal. A re­la­tion­ship of con­fronta­tion reaches its term, its fi­nal mo­ment (and the vic­tory of one of the two ad­ver­saries), when sta­ble mech­a­nisms re­place the free play of an­tag­o­nis­tic re­ac­tions. Through such mech­a­nisms one can di­rect, in a fairly con­stant man­ner and with rea­son­able cer­tainty, the con­duct of oth­ers. For a re­la­tion­ship of con­fronta­tion, from the mo­ment it is not a strug­gle to the death, the fix­ing of a power re­la­tion­ship be­comes a tar­get —at one and the same time its ful­fill­ment and its sus­pen­sion. And in re­turn, the strat­egy of strug­gle also con­sti­tutes a fron­tier for the re­la­tion­ship of power, the line at which, in­stead of ma­nip­u­lat­ing and in­duc­ing ac­tions in a cal­cu­lated man­ner, one must be con­tent with re­act­ing to them af­ter the event. It would not be pos­si­ble for power re­la­tions to ex­ist with­out points of in­sub­or­di­na­tion which, by de­f­i­n­i­tion, are means of es­cape. Accordingly, every in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion, every ex­ten­sion of power re­la­tions to make the in­sub­or­di­nate sub­mit can only re­sult in the lim­its of power. The lat­ter reaches its fi­nal term ei­ther in a type of ac­tion which re­duces the other to to­tal im­po­tence (in which case vic­tory over the ad­ver­sary re­places the ex­er­cise of power) or by a con­fronta­tion with those whom one gov­erns and their trans­for­ma­tion into ad­ver­saries. Which is to say that every strat­egy of con­fronta­tion dreams of be­com­ing a re­la­tion­ship of power, and every re­la­tion­ship of power leans to­ward the idea that, if it fol­lows its own line of de­vel­op­ment and comes up against di­rect con­fronta­tion, it may be­come the win­ning strat­egy. In ef­fect, be­tween a re­la­tion­ship of power and a strat­egy of strug­gle there is a rec­i­p­ro­cal ap­peal, a per­pet­ual link­ing and a per­pet­ual re­ver­sal. At every mo­ment the re­la­tion­ship of power may be­come a con­fronta­tion be­tween two ad­ver­saries. Equally, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween ad­ver­saries in so­ci­ety may, at every mo­ment, give place to the putting into op­er­a­tion of mech­a­nisms of power. The con­se­quence of this in­sta­bil­ity is the abil­ity to de­ci­pher the same events and the same trans­for­ma­tions ei­ther from in­side the his­tory of strug­gle or from the stand­point of the power re­la­tion­ships. The in­ter­pre­ta­tions which re­sult will not con­sist of the same el­e­ments of mean­ing or the same links or the same types of in­tel­li­gi­bil­ity, al­though they re­fer to the same his­tor­i­cal fab­ric, and each of the two analy­ses must have ref­er­ence to the other. In fact, it is pre­cisely the dis­par­i­ties be­tween the two read­ings which make vis­i­ble those fun­da­men­tal phe­nom­ena of domination” which are pre­sent in a large num­ber of hu­man so­ci­eties. Domination is in fact a gen­eral struc­ture of power whose ram­i­fi­ca­tions and con­se­quences can some­times be found de­scend­ing to the most re­cal­ci­trant fibers of so­ci­ety. But at the same time it is a strate­gic sit­u­a­tion more or less taken for granted and con­sol­i­dated by means of a long-term con­fronta­tion be­tween ad­ver­saries. It can cer­tainly hap­pen that the fact of dom­i­na­tion may only be the tran­scrip­tion of a mech­a­nism of power re­sult­ing from con­fronta­tion and its con­se­quences (a po­lit­i­cal struc­ture stem­ming from in­va­sion); it may also be that a re­la­tion­ship of strug­gle be­tween two ad­ver­saries is the re­sult of power re­la­tions with the con­flicts and cleav­ages which en­sue. But what makes the dom­i­na­tion of a group, a caste, or a class, to­gether with the re­sis­tance and re­volts which that dom­i­na­tion comes up against, a cen­tral phe­nom­e­non in the his­tory of so­ci­eties is that they man­i­fest in a mas­sive and uni­ver­sal­iz­ing form, at the level of the whole so­cial body, the lock­ing to­gether of power re­la­tions with re­la­tions of strat­egy and the re­sults pro­ceed­ing from their in­ter­ac­tion.