What do you mean - power?

This debate on Foucault's definition of power is fascinating to
me; I think that one of the impediments to a consensus is that it's being
kept at too theoretical a level.
Power is of course one of M.F.'s central concerns - but when I
think of it in relation to his work, I think of his discussion of it in
"Discipline and Punish", in which he brilliantly analyses Jeremy Bentham's
concept of the Panopticon. I guess everyone will know about this
distopian penal facility in which the prisoners are housed in a sort of
architectural ring that describes a cental watchtower. This to me is the
focus of Foucault's interest in power: not just its constructive or
creative effects, which are surely epiphenomenal - but the abuses in its
wrong-minded application by humans against humans.
In the panoptical model, the prisoner paces his cell, which is
open to the watchtower and backlit by a rear window (no place to hide,
social transgression not hidden in darkness, but rather accentuated by the
light of day.) He is unable to ascertain whether or not he is being
watched at any specific time, and so he *internalizes* the power that is
being wielded against him, and regulates his own behaviour, for fear of
the consequences of rebellion.
Yes, the prisoner may be a murderer or a rapist, but I think that
M.F. doesn't concern himself overly with the moral justification of the
uses of power; he's more interested in its manifestations. Perhaps if we
apply his theory of power to his more concrete illustrations of that
force, we can at least define our terms, and know what it is we're
disagreeing about.

Greg McSweeney
Dept. of English
Concordia University
Montreal, Canada



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