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Michel Foucaults theory of power


Archaeology of Knowledge (first three chapters available on the blackboard) ... By using the word 'archaeology' rather than 'history', I tied to designate this ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Michel Foucaults theory of power

Michel Foucaults theory of power
  • Giovanni Navarria
  • 13/03/2007
  • The Human Sciences
  • Perspectives and Methods

Michel Foucault Philosopher and
  • Birth Oct. 15, 1926 Death June 25, 1984
  • From 1970 to his death Professor of the History
    of Systems of Thought in Paris at the Collège de
    France, giving it the title "The History of
  • Life-long aim Writing the history of the
    present. 1) the identification of the historical
    conditions of the rise of reason in the West 2)
    the analysis of the present moment seeking to
    check how we now stand, vis-à-vis the historical
    foundation of rationality as the spirit of modern
  • Author of detailed histories of Madness,
    Psychology, Medicine, the human sciences, the
    penal system, and Greek and Roman ethics.

Some of his many publications
  • Mental Illness and Psychology
  • Madness and Civilization A History of Insanity
    in the Age of Reason
  • The Birth of the Clinic An Archaeology of
    Medical Perception
  • Death and the Labyrinth the World of Raymond
  • The Order of Things An Archaeology of the Human
  • Archaeology of Knowledge (first three chapters
    available on the blackboard)
  • Discipline and Punish The Birth of the Prison
  • The History of Sexuality (Vol I The Will to
    Knowledge (1976) - Vol II The Use of Pleasure
    (1984) - Vol III The Care of the Self (1984))

Key themes
  • Strong opposition against the humanist concepts
    of self and objectivity. He opposed
  • 1) The idea of an autonomous individual. The
    subject for Foucault is not a rational agent
    thinking and acting under its own self-imposed
    and self-created commands. Rather the subject is
    a product of social structures, epistemes,
  • 2) An objectivist epistemology (theory of
    knowledge). Our meaning, experiences, reason, and
    truths are not simply given to us as stable and
    fixed objects. Rather they are constructed for us
    by the same social structures, the epistemes, and
    discourse that give us our identity.

Archaeology 1
  • Archaeology that is not studying the history of
    ideas per se but focusing on the condition in
    which a subject (e.g the mad, the sick, or ill,
    the delinquent ect.) is constituted as a possible
    object of knowledge.
  • I was using this word to suggest that the kind
    of analysis I was doing was out-of-phase, not in
    terms of time but by virtue of the level at which
    it was situated. Studying the history of ideas,
    as they evolve, is not my problem so much as
    trying to discern beneath them how one or another
    object could take shape as a possible object of
    knowledge. Why for instance did madness become,
    at a given moment, an object of knoweldge
    corresponding to a certain type of knowledge? By
    using the word archaeology rather than
    history, I tied to designate this
    desynchronization between ideas about madness and
    the constitution of madness as an object.

Power Archaeology
  • Power is no longer the conventional power of
    institutions and leaders, but instead the
    capillary modes of power that controls
    individuals and their knowledge, the mechanism by
    which power reaches into to the very grain of
    individuals, touches their bodies and inserts
    itself into their actions and attitudes, their
    discourses, learning processes and everyday
    lives. (Power/Knowledge, p. 30) It is in
    discourse that power is both manifest and hardest
    to identify. Discourse is where everything that
    relates to power and knowledge, including his own
    work, is buried.

Archaeology Discontinuities 1
  • Foucaults work is archaeological because sets
    out to find out the discontinuities in the
    history of thought. In fact beneath the great
    continuities of thought one is now trying to
    detect the incidence of interruptions these
    show that the history of a concept is not wholly
    and entirely that of is progressive refinement,
    its continuously increasing rationality, its
    abstraction gradient, but that of its various
    fields of constitution and validity that of its
    successive rules of use, that of the many
    theoretical contexts in which it developed and

Archaeology Discontinuity 2
  • Such an analysis of discontinuous discourse does
    not belong to the traditional history of ideas or
    of science
  • ... it is rather an enquiry whose aim is to
    rediscover on what basis knowledge and theory
    became possible within what space of order
    knowledge is constituted... Such an enterprise is
    not so much a history, in the traditional meaning
    of the word, as an "archaeology" (Order,

Madness and psychiatry
  • Madness, for example, he examines the emergence
    at the beginning of the nineteenth century of the
    discourse called psychiatry. He discovers that
    what made this discipline possible at the time it
    appeared was a whole set of relations between
    hospitalization, internment, the conditions and
    procedures of social exclusion, the rules of
    jurisprudence, the norms of industrial labour and
    bourgeois morality, in short, a whole group of
    exterior relations that characterized for this
    discursive practice the formation of its
    statements. The discursive formation whose
    existence is mapped by the psychiatric discipline
    went well beyond the bounds of psychiatry. The
    subject of madness in the seventeenth and
    eighteenth centuries, what he calls the Classical
    period, in no way constituted autonomous

From Archaeology to Genealogy
  • The problem with the archaeological method is
    that if on one hand allows the comparison of
    different discursive formations of different
    periods, that is to say it helps suggesting the
    contingency intrinsic in a given way of thinking
    by simply showing that different ages had thought
    differently, on the other hand this method cannot
    satisfy the will of the historian to know more
    about the causes that produce the transition from
    one way of thinking to an other. Hence Foucault
    opted to study not the archaeology of knowledge
    but the Genealogy of it.

  • "Let us give the term 'genealogy' to the union of
    erudite knowledge and local memories which allows
    us to establish a historical knowledge of
    struggles and to make use of this knowledge
    tactically today (Genealogy and social Criticism,

Archaeology and Genealogy
  • Whereas archaeology Studies the practices of
    language (in a strict sense), genealogy uncovers
    the creation of objects through institutional
    practices (Dreyfus Rabinow, p.104). Whereas the
    archeological historian claims to write from a
    neutral, disinterested perspective, the
    Nietzschean or Foucaultian genealogist admits the
    political and polemical interests motivating the
    writing of the history (Hoy, 1986, p.6-7).

Discipline Punish
  • 1st Genealogical work
  • History of disciplinary power it analyses
    changes in the external control associated with
    the negative aspect of power, whereas his later
    history of sexuality analyses changes in the
    internal controls associated with the positive
    aspects of power.
  • DP traces changes in the nature of power as
    repression. From the widespread of public torture
    in the middle of 18th century to the allegedly
    rational and gentler reforms of the enlightenment
    of imprisoning criminals, thus creating a more
    effective vehicle of social control. Ultimately a
    model for the control on an entire society.

Foucault Power (1)
  • F. identifies the strategies of power with the
    networks, the mechanism, and all those
    techniques by which a decision could not but be
    taken in the way it was. Within the context of
    disciplinary power, disciplinary technologies are
    meant to help disciplining individuals. In fact,
    disciplinary power aims at producing an army of
    docile people whose role is to strengthen the
    social system and to help it running as smooth as
    possible. (Foucault, 1980)

Foucault Discipline
  • Indicates a type of power, a modality for its
    exercise, comprising a whole set of instruments,
    techniques, procedures, targets it is a
    'physics' or an 'anatomy' of power, a technology.

Panopticon The prison is the instrument through
which modern discipline has replaced pre-modern
sovereignty (i.e. kings, judges) as the
fundamental power relation
Example - Examination
  • The practice of examination - for example of
    students in school or of patients in hospitals
    it combines hierarchical observation with
    normative judgment. It is a prime example of what
    Foucault refers to as Power/knowledge, since it
    combines into a unified whole the deployment of
    force and the establishment of truth. It both
    elicits the truth of the subjects under
    examination (in fact it tells what a students
    know or what is the status of health of a
    patient), and at the same time controls their
    behavior (by forcing the student to study what is
    prescribed, or the patient to follow a certain
    treatment to be cured.)

  • Foucault's archaeology seeks to uncover - the
    episteme of the past
  • By episteme, we mean... the total set of
    relations that unite, at a given period, the
    discursive practices that give rise to
    epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly
    formalized systems the way in which, in each of
    these discursive formations, the transitions to
    epistemologization, scientificity, and
    formalization are situated and operate the
    distribution of these thresholds, which may
    coincide, be subordinated to one another, or be
    separated by shifts in time the lateral
    relations that may exist between epistemological
    figures or sciences in so far as they belong to
    neighbouring, but distinct, discursive practices.
    The episteme is not a form of knowledge
    (connaissance) or type of rationality which,
    crossing the boundaries of the most varied
    sciences, manifests the sovereign unity of a
    subject, a spirit, or a period it is the
    totality of relations that can be discovered, for
    a given period, between the sciences when one
    analyses them at the level of discursive
    regularities (Archaeology 191)

Foucault - Governmentality
  • Foucault uses the term governmentality to
    indicate the complex tactics, procedures and
    apparatuses that attempt to control and influence
    the conduct of individuals by using truth,
    knowledge, and political economy, rather than
    violence in other words, the art of governing by
    fostering willing compliance in subjects, rather
    than achieving legitimacy through the help of
    brute force.

Mitchell Dean - Governmentality
  • Government as the conduct of conduct 
    "Government is any more or less calculated and
    rational activity, undertaken by a multiplicity
    of authorities and agencies, employing a variety
    of techniques and forms of knowledge, that seeks
    to shape conduct by working through our desires,
    aspirations, interests and beliefs, for definite
    but shifting ends and with a diverse set of
    relatively unpredictable consequences, effects
    and outcomes." (Dean, 1999, p.11)

  • The End

  • the fact that within the space of a few years a
    culture sometimes ceases to think as it had been
    thinking up till then and begins to think other
    things in a new way (Order of Things, p.50). 
    Establishing discontinuities is not an easy task
    even for history in general. And it is certainly
    even less so for the history of thought. We may
    wish to draw a dividing-line but any limit we
    set may perhaps be no more than an arbitrary
    division made in a constantly mobile whole. We
    may wish to mark off a period but have we the
    right to establish symmetrical breaks at two
    points in time in order to give an appearance of
    continuity and unity to the system we place
    between them? (Order of things, p.50)

  • The concept of an episteme is insuficient and
    dispositif fills in the gap.  An episteme is
    researched through the analysis of discourse
    (text), but there are practices (institutions,
    architectural arrangments, regulations, laws,
    administrative measures, scientific statements,
    philosphic propositions, morality, philanthropy)
    in addition to discourse which we may use to do a
    genealogical analysis of some particular
    situation (Dreyfus and Rabinow, p.121).  These
    practices form an intensified surveillance and
    control mechanism (Darier, 589), creating policy
    which polices and disciplines and which leads to
    resistance among certain groups.  
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