Power/knowledge in Foucault

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Date: Fri, 9 Dec 94 9:09:15 pdt
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From: Sam Vagenas <nologos@xxxxxxxxxxxx>
Subject: Re: power/knowledge in Foucault
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Your point that Foucault later "regreted" reducing power to truth seems to
imply that there is a change in direction in Foucault's thinking on these
topics. I don't see a change from the interview you note "On Power" from
the essay "Truth and Power" in which you claimed that Foucault was reducing
truth to power. I think the point has always been that knowledge and truth
cannot exist outside the circulation of power.

If anything, there seems to be more emphasis on power later in his career.
Genealogy increasingly became more prominent in Foucault's work, displacing
to some extent his earlier notion of archaeology. I would compare the
analysis in the Order of Things with Discipline and Punishment and the
History and Sexuality (Of course, Foucault never completely rejected

Your suggestion of a "turn" in Foucault made ambiguous the word "reduced."
For example, idealists could look at Foucault's power/knowledge relationship
as a reduction of truth to power, even if truth and power are not one in the
same, as you note. To reduce can mean to attenuate, to lessen; it does not
mean necessarily to be subsumed.
So my question still is:

If there is a genesis of Foucault's thinking on power and truth (knowledge),
when did it occur and why? What is Foucault's "regret?"

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I think that what Foucault regretted was his tendency to reduce
knowledge and truth to power. By "reduce" I mean the stronger
sense of "subsume" that you mention.

Let's take an example. In _Madness and Civilization_ Foucault describes
the development of a kind of knowledge concerning the mad. Previous to
the "modern" period where the mad were conceptually and physically
lumped together with criminals and other "voluntarily irrational"
(because idle and parasitical) groups. The reformers Tuke and Pinel
come along and come up with a new way of thinking about the mad.
The mad now are a special case. They cannot be grouped with
criminals and the willfully unemployed. Certainly the mad suffer from
a deficit of rationality, but it is not of the same, voluntary kind
as other groups.

Now, this kind of knowledge developed by Tuke and Pinel certainly
has power effects of various kinds. To the extent their theories are
adopted by the mental health community, the status of such reformers
is certainly enhanced (to mention just the most mundane link). The mad
also see their position concretely affected by this new knowledge.
Instead of filthy prisons and beatings, they find themselves in clean
and healthy country retreats where they are subjected to all sorts of
pressures that, it is hoped, will moderate or eliminate expressions of
madness. And so yes, power and knowledge are in a "circuit" here. But
it would be a mistake to *reduce* Tuke and Pinel's new kinds of
knowledge concerning the mad to these power effects. Indeed, if
forced into a silly chicken-and-egg argument, I think Foucault would
say that knowledge is the chicken and power is the egg. (From other
angles, and depending on one's "starting point" in the cycle, power
appears as the chicken.)

Where did Tuke and Pinel's new knowledge "come from"? Did some
concretely existing power formation demand it? No. Their new approach
to the mad was an "event." If we make the mistake of reducing (subsuming)
knowledge to power, we'll never understand how the *circuit* of
knowledge and power works; for the *circuit* to function, both
terms of the power-knowledge equation must have independence.
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