Freedom and Choice in Power Relations

I have just completed teaching a general introductory course on
Foucault at undergraduate level (it's a course on social theory),
and throughout I have been troubled by certain phenomenological
elements in Foucault's analysis of power relations (I avoided the use
of the term 'power', given what Foucault says about it in, for
example, The Final Foucault (p.11) and in The History of Sexuality,
Vol. 1, p.92). This prompted me to revisit Sartre's famous
propositions in Being and Nothingness (p.554-56), and to discuss
concepts of FREEDOM, CHOICE, AND RESPONSIBILITY alongside Foucault's
notion of power relations. In my lectures I found myself interpreting
Foucault's power relations in Sartrean terms. I found myself arguing
that within the social field of power relations we are "condemned to
be free", we are free subjects who participate in multiple subject-
positions. I had surprised myself because I had never thought that
Sartre and Foucault were compatible. This is made worse by what
Foucault says: "there cannot be relations of power unless the subjects
are free" (The Final Foucault, p. 12). He repeates this in Subject
and Power, the Critical Inquiry version, p. 790: "When one defines the
exercise of power as a mode of action upon the actions of others ...
one includes an important element: freedom. Power (relations) are
exercised only over (through/with) free subjects, and only insofar as
they are free. By (freedom) we mean individuals (subjects in subject-
positions) ... who are faced with a field of possibilities in which
several ways of behaving, several reactions and diverse comportments,
may be realized". But freedom implies choice (power relations do not
happen to us, are not a form of imposition, a set of external forces
that impinge themselves upon us), thus we choose to enter into power
relations with others, and over a variety of interests and
activities. We are free in asfar as we have choices, the "field of
possibilities". And in participating in power relations I therefore
assume responsibility for myself, for my body, which is the surface,
the site of inscription by power relations, a "volume in perpetual
disintegration". Now here is Sartre: "what happens to me happens
through me, and I can neither affect myself with it nor revolt
against it nor resign myself to it. ... everything which happens to
me is mine" (p.554). Sartre goes on to argue for the centrality of
responsibility among human beings. What troubles me is this
compatibility between Foucault and Sartre which I had never thought
was possible, given what Foucault says about Sartre's project and
phenomenology. I found myself asking whether Foucault's notion of
power relations is not phenomenological ("power relations are both
intentional and nonsubjective ... they are imbued, through and
through, with calculations: there is no power that is exercise
without a series of aims and objectives" [HS, Vol.1, p.94-5]). True,
human beings have been transformed into subjects and exist in power
relations as subject-positions, but what about notions of
calculation, intentionality, choice, strategies, tactics, freedom?
I do not think these are autonomous and have independent origins, and
even if they emerge within power relations, we must explain their
occurence in terms of some of "relative autonomy". If it is possible,
as my lectures were arguing, to interprete Foucault's power relations
phenomenological, is itn't time we re-examine Foucault's relations to
phenomenology? But what would this mean, in terms of the question
of Foucault's "originality"? What remains of Foucault's
Nietzscheanism? Anyway, I hope you find these thoughts useful, and I
would appreciate any comments and suggestions, as I grapple with the
question of Foucault and Sartre.




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