Foucault on power

Karen Kolodenko asks:

OK, you were nice before, but I reckon that's just luck. Try not
to get too exasperated with me for asking this even more basic question
('fraid I'm still having troble with the elementary stuff):

I recall being wowed (in Clinic, Sexuality, and Discipline) by
the concept that power can be dispersed, fragmented, decentralized,
omnipresent and therefore invisible, but I'm pretty shaky with
the specifics. This is obviously not an ends/means kind of deal, but
does anyone BENEFIT from this type of power - according to Foucault?

What is power to Foucault? Is it the same in all his works;
i.e., how did it develop? Are his thoughts about power what constitute the
cornerstone of his philosophy? What is power's exact relationship
with knowledge?

I know an encyclopedia or ten have undoubtedly been written on
above, but can the answers be capsulized in a nutshell?


[end questions from Karen Kolodenko]

First, does anyone benefit from the type of dispersed,
fragmented, decentralized, invisible power that Foucault

I think that, for Foucault, the answer is "yes." Someone does
benefit from the kinds of power Foucault talks about. When a
psychiatrist is able to convince colleagues and the criminal
justice system that his or her theory about the origins of
criminal behavior has merit, that psychiatrist and psychiatry in
general is treated to an enhancement of power and prestige. But
the benefits of power are not always stable. So while sexologists
might benefit from successfully typing certain lifestyle choices
as "homosexual," those individuals labelled "homosexual" might
very well find tools they can themselves use in the discourse on

Second, what is power according to Foucault?

Power according to Foucault is relationship between two or more
entities. Within this relationship, entites struggle and
maneouver for position and advantage. So, for instance, the
factory owner and factory workers confront each other in a field
of power that contains both opportunities and constraints for
both parties. There is no such thing as capital 'P' power; there
are only specific, concrete relational forms that human
interaction takes.

Next, is power the same thing in all of Foucault's works?

My answer would be: Yes.

Next, are Foucault's thoughts on power what constitute the
cornerstone of his philosophy?

Foucault denied it, but I don't see why. Try taking a look at
"The Subject and Power" at the end of the Dreyfus and Rabinow
book (Beyond Poststructuralism and Hermeneutics), if you haven't

Finally, what is power's exact relationship with knowledge?

Knowledge, believe it or not, has primacy in this relationship.
Think back to the psychiatrist with a new theory about criminal
delinquency; think too of Foucault's discussion of the liberators
of the insane, Tuke and Pinel in Madness. Such individuals come
up with a new way of thinking about or classifying discrete
populations. These new ways of thinking are then transformed into
the steel and concrete institutional forms we see around us.
Power is a field within which certain kinds of actions are
allowed, while others are disallowed. That is, power is a term we
give to a set of rules that govern our interaction with one
another. But these rules and the overall game that produces them
must be invented before the field of power can be constructed.
Thus, if there is a chicken and egg problem with knowledge and
power, the solution to the problem is that knowledge comes first.

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