Re: What is Power?

Karen! This is one of the nicest groups on the net!

John's already given you a pretty good answer, and I'm only an amateur, but
htis is the way I see it.

Power operates at two levels (conceptually, in "reality " the levels
probably merge and interact in ways I can't even think about).

At the local level we have relationships between (among? does Foucault
distinguish the diad from the triad? cf Simmel, game theory) people. Each
person is trying to achieve something (gain advantage) and some sort of
measure of their success (objective? subjective?) describes the power
outcome. That is, power is a way we think about relationships - we say X
was more powerful in that relationshipship, but this does not mean X "has"
power, before or after. So someone might benefit, but the game might
change next time. Why?
Because the outcome depends on how the power acts (behaviours, symbols)
displayed in this relationship interact with all other relationships. This
unbounded network of power relationships is Power (with a capital, though
Foucault wouldn't admit it). This might sound a bit "structuralist" but as
long as we don't think of Power as having fixed rules or syntax (it makes
itself up as it goes along) it's not structuralist in the usual sense.

Dreyfus says (Foucault - p187) "power is intentional (and non-subjective)
at the local level" (help! I don't follow the non-subjective bit) and gives
my favourite Foucault quote: "They don't know what what they do does."

So individuals benefit more or less randomly from Power, which is a more or
less independent process.

I don't know how much time Foucault spent in bureaucracies (eg
universities) but there you can see this happening all the time. Perhaps
someone will campaign to be Dean (a clear intention) but in the process
will spread discontent which "causes" the demise of the department (and
hence their prospects for advancement). So here the beneficiary may be
another department which was not directly involved in the original "small
p" power relationships.

Personally, I think of this as being conceptually similar to biological
evolution, but then maybe I'm just short of concepts.

Does that help?


Jim Underwood
Department of Information Systems phone +612 330 1831
University of Technology, Sydney fax +612 330 1807
PO Box 123,
BROADWAY 2007 e-mail: jim@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx


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