Re: what is power?

I recently joined this list and have been following the discussion on power.
I've been looking for a point to jump in, so here goes...

The responses over the past few days have been insightful. However, with
regards to Foucault's notion of power it is important to recall that he is
not giving a theory of power. Instead, he wants to "create a history of the
different modes by which, in our culture, human beings are made subjects."
(Dreyfus, Rabinow, p.208)

Going back to Karen's questions on 7/31:

>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?

In order to understand his notion of power and its developmentin the 70s I
think it is necessary to see why the term became central around 1970.
Foucault's books prior to D&P (particularly The Order of Things and The
Archaeology of Knowledge, but also the earlier books on madness and the
medical perception) were characterized by his notion of the autonomy of
discourse: that language structures and rules govern all discursive
formations, including subjectivity. For instance, in OT, 19th c human
sciences such as linguistics, biology and political economy, develop
corresponding subjective formations: the speaking subject, the living
subject, and the laboring subject. Each is found within its specific
discursive field; each is formed by that field; and each acts as a function
of the governing rules of that field. Each subject is a product of that
field. Here Foucault wants to make a distinction between the formation of a
discursive field of knowledge (savoir) and the particular truth statements
that function at particular points within that field (connaissances). He
divides the autonomy of discourse (which operates in the background) from the
particular points where truth statements function. The problem with
archaeology is that if every person or subject is but a function of some
background practice of which he/she is incapable of determining its rules,
then how is it that Foucault himself has access to such rules? Where does he
stand relative to the discourses he describes as autonomous? On his theory,
he too must be a subject of some background autonomous discourse, incapable
of determining rules. In order to free himself from this dilemma, without
abandoning his previous work, he needed the notion of something else,
something which functions in the background as if autonomous, but is also
produced or modified in many ways by the actions of the subjects it once
produced. This is when he began to speak of power. Unlike the
archaeological Foucault who speaks of a theory of discourse which governs
everything, he does not make such mistakes following his Nietzschean turn.

Some of the good essays from this period aret the ones on Nietzsche and the
discussion with Deleuze on intellectuals and power, both included in
Language, Counter-memory, Practice from Cornell, ed. Donald Bouchard. Also
of interest is the "Discourse on Language" included as an appendix to the

I'm interested in any responses.

Sean H.


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