Re: power

> I am a fourth year student with a question about Foucault. I am
> trying to come to a conclusion as to why Foucault was so interested in
> power. Can anybody out there help me out? I am just beginning to see how
> magical his works are but am having trouble with the origins of his
> interest surrounding this topic.
> Thank you, Rich Clark
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
> Richard Clark
> Carleton University, Ottawa Can
> email rtclark@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
> ----------------------------------------------------------------------
Hello Richard. I am a fourth year graduate student writing a
dissertation concerning Foucault's views on power and subjectivity, among otherthings. I too am quite interested in Foucault's interest in power. Foucault
cared so much about power, because power (discourses, tactics, techniques,
practices, truths, forces, prohibitions, pleasures, etc.) is that which
constructs(constitutes) subjects (human beings in their thoughts, desires,
identities, behaviors and so forth). Power, for Foucualt, is an
extraordinarily general phenomena. In the 'subject and power', Foucualt
defines power as anything that governs, conditions, influences, or constructs the subject. As you can see power is everywhere for Foucualt, hence it is
unavoidable. We
cannot live in social settings without being influenced in some way. Foucault,in his works, such as 'Discipline and Punish', is most concerned with those
forms of rational, normalizing, disciplinary power found in schools, factories,
hospitals, scientific practices, psychiatric practices,government institutions. His concern is that such power attempts to transform human beings, that is,
it attempts, through insidious and meticulous practices, to create "better", more efficient, more obdeident, more docile, more ethical, more "human", human beings. For Foucualt, such a reality in liberal society is quite contrary
to its depiction as the bastion of freedom and individuality, since human
beings are constantly denied the freedom to express their individuality, their
desires, their pleasures, their freedom. Liberal society goes to great
lengths to detect, study, isolate, and correct all that is perceived as
abnormal, irrational,pathological, deviant. That is, all that it perceives to be less than fully rational (human), Liberal society is based on the
belief that human beings express their humanity, and thus, their freedom,
through the use of reason. With reason comes knowledge of reality, with
knowledge comes the control of nature for the progress of humanity, as well as the self-control of the individual through moral laws of reason. As such,
liberal society views rational society as the best of all possible worlds, as
the highest expression of humanity. Foucualt argues that such a belief in the
powers of reason, and its universality as moral legislator, led to the
development of, among other things, the 'human sciences', where Man, his
actions, his behaviors, his psychology, his biology, became an object of
study. Liberal society believes that knowledge must be used for progress. The
purpose of knowledge is to aid human beings in the control of nature. As such,
the knowledge gained from the human sciences was put into action, in the
belief that such scientific practice would result in better societies and
better, more efficient, more obedient, more predictable, more rational
human beings. Foucualt views such scientific techniques, designed to transform
human beings into something "better", as examples of the intolerable forms of
power aimed at human beings in liberal societies. All power subjectifies, but
Foucualt is most concerned about those forms of power which have as their
reason for being the transformation of human beings. Whereas liberalism views such transformation as a good thing, Foucualt views such power as dominating,
in that it strips human beings of their indivudiality, particularly those
historically marginalized groups such as homosexuals, people of color, women,
the insane, children (in their sexuality)....Foucault realized that to talk
about subjectification (construction of human beings) required a view of power,
where power had to be more than negative, it also had to produce the very
subjectivities by which we are defined as human beings.


Greg Coolidge
University of Calif., Riverside


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