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Foucault: "Two Lectures"

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 5 months ago

 

 

Tim & Dan & Michel

 

 

 

Foucault begins this largely impenetrable lecture by describing two 'limits.' On the one hand are the limits of the 'rights' that set the formal rules regarding power, and, on the other hand, the limits of the truth--or perhaps knowledge--about power as it acts in the world. Foucault describes this as a triangle of power, right, and truth.

 

Foucault discusses power as it related to the rights of the monarchy or sovereign, describing how Roman Law and the developing codes and laws in the West bolstered and supported the notion of the absolute power of the king. Then, Foucault describes how his interest lay in looking at power, not from the perspective of the sovereign, but as it related to the relationships between subjects withing the 'social organism'--by which one supposes he means, society. After describing five 'methodological precautions' Foucault summarizes by suggesting that research should not be directed toward sovereignty and state mechanisms, but toward how power is used as a tool of domination by individual subjects.

 

Finally, Foucault describes how power changed, beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries from a means of gathering wealth for the sovereign through reappropriation or taxation, to a means of taking from subjects their time and labor in the interest of production. The truths or knowledge about power from this perspective form the foundation of industrial capitalism. The right of sovereignty and a mechanism of discipline make up the arena in which power is exercised. This arena is really developed by the bourgoisie. This created the development of a democratisation of sovereignty, especially through the mechanism of disciplinary coercion. He further describes how this might have been made palatable to subjects as democracies and representative forms of government came into being. The sovereign, in this new paradigm, was supposedly the collective group of citizens who made up those democracies and from which representatives were chosen. In exchange for this, the new power understanding required that a system of laws and norms be established to coerce productive behavior from those same citizens.

 

 

Behavior: What is the relationship of individuals' behavior to the exercise of power? What role does behavior play?

 

Power is used by and on individuals as part of the normal give and take within society. Power is not necessarily possessed by an individual, but is there in the codes and norms to be used by individuals, when properly positioned. Foucault suggests that power is used to coerce individuals to produce behaviors best suited to the perpetuation and health of a productive society--e.g. a capitalist economy. When power is deployed in aid of these objectives, the existing truths about power are reinforced. The behaviors that lend themselves to production ore reinforced, while the mechanisms of disipline respond to those behaviors that limit production, and thereby reduce the wealth and resources of the bourgoisie.

 

 

Decision making and control: Who makes decisions and who has control? How do decision making and control function in the exercise of power?

 

Decisions might be made, in the formal sense, by duly elected legislatures or other bodies. Decisions are also made, however, by each individual in society as they interact with other subjects. Again, one senses that Foucault is suggesting that even individual decisions are coercive in nature, and intended to achieve some desired outcome on the part of the individual deploying power.

 

 

Conflict: What is the status of conflict, and what is its role in the exercise of power?

 

Foucault appears to suggest that conflict is often worked out by appeal to formal rules and codes. This, of course, implies that those who are conflicted are also willing to subject themselves to the kinds of truths that are produced by those rules and codes. In other words--as Foucault is prone to say, with little subsequent amplification--those in conflict with one another will have to be satisfied with the remedy provided for in the law. If you want, for instance, to pluck out the eye if your neighbor (here in the United States in the early days of the 21st century) who has--for whatever reason--knocked out yours, you will not be satisfied with the results. But, having been acculturated to the truths and knowledge produced regarding power in this particular society, you are less likely to expect that result. This is an example of power producing truths and knowledge.

 

 

Interests: How are individuals' interests advanced? Protected?

 

The interests of individuals are advanced as they work with the system, using their knowledge about power to position themselves, persuade others, and manage conflicts in their favor. This might involve, for instance, one recognizing that the law provides a forms of formal legal remedy for a certain situation, and then deploying the power available in that law in one's interest. In this instance, one might not be appealing to the power of the monarch, as one might have done in medieval times. Rather, one is appealing to the power that the collective has invested formal laws and codes with, and asserting their 'right' to do so. In much the same way, a plaintive or opposing party might easily appeal to that same set of formal rules in order to protect their interests. The system of law that has developed over time to protect the interests of the sovereignty continues to reinforce the dominant power structure, even as the oppressed turn to that system of lawto protect them, as well. When individual interests are worked out this way--within the 'system'--Foucault would likely suggest that this is one of ways in which subjects are dominated.

 

Moral orientation: What are the normative goals that the exercise of power aims to achieve?

 

 

Speaking of modern Western society, Foucault would say that the normative goals are those of the bourgeoisie--or perhaps those who control/own the means of production in society. The goal might be said to be the protection of a status quo that perpetuates the dominance of the wealthy and middle classes.

 

If Foucault wants researchers to look at how power is used as a tool of domination by individual subjects, then I think he would have supported the work Bacharach and Baratz did as it looks at a form of power that can dominate in unconscious ways. Tim and Dan note that, “the right of sovereignty and a mechanism of discipline make up the arena in which power is exercised,” which Bacharach and Baratz would agree with given the restrictive nature of power that they describe. The restrictive force of power which prevents an individual from making a decision or putting forth an issue for decision demonstrates the disciplined of which Foucault speaks. Further, the power of which they speak is not tied to an individual and is not measurable; it is a much more subjective entity, which is more like Foucault’s vision of power. I see many similarities between the texts. (-Heather)

 

Talcott Parsons speaks to the consensus view of power as having to do with the ability to get things done. The social relationship between groups of people is important for power to operate. Parsons speaks to coercive and consensual nature of power. As Tim and Dan note "Foucault suggests that power is used to coerce individuals to produce behaviors best suited to the perpetuation and health of a productive society--e.g. a capitalist economy. Parsons may agree if those who have the power are influenced by those who supported them in getting it to advance their own agendas. (John)

 

Foucault sees power as endemic in social life. I believe this has much in common with Bacharach and Baratz's concept of the second face of power. Foucault discusses how individuals use their knowledge about power to position themselves, persuade others, and manage conflicts in their favor. When done in a less than open manner, this sounds very similiar to descriptions in the Bacharach and Baratz article describing the "dynamics of nondecision-making" (Bacharach and Baratz, 1962, p.952). While Foucault discusses power at more of a microlevel than Bacharach and Baratz, both have "unmeasurable elements". (-Karen)

 

 

There are some similarities between Foucalt and Parsons. To quote Dan Johnson, the word “impenetrable” comes to mind. Still, we will offer what we can. Whereas Foucalt pushes a perspective on power that urges us to look at the smallest possible level – the micro level, Parsons engages us on a larger stage – the macro level – where social groups, or collectivities, interact with each other to create power exchanges. Both theorists see power not as a specific thing, but as a fluid essence that circulates between people and situations. Foucalt sees power as floating from the bottom to the top, not the other way around. And, while Parsons believes in the hierarchical order of society, he too offers that those on the bottom can exercise power and impact change by changing the priorities of society, and thus changing the agenda of those in charge. And did I mention that both guys were “impenetrable?” Bring back Rawls. (Ty)

 

Tim and Dan wrote, “Power is not necessarily possessed by an individual, but is there in the codes and norms to be used by individuals, when properly positioned. Foucault suggests that power is used to coerce individuals to produce behaviors best suited to the perpetuation and health of a productive society--e.g. a capitalist economy.” Dahl would disagree with this statement in that individuals possess power and the level of power they possess is determined by the various positions they hold in society. Dahl would agree in the second part of the statement in that power can most definitely be used as a coercive measure to ensure one is obtaining the outcome desired. Dahl also seemed very interested in comparing power among individuals and was interested in determining an equation that can be used to determine ones power. (Mike)

 

Wolfinger would agree with Foucault’s view of power as relationships. Foucault viewed decisions as coercive in nature and meant to achieve some desired outcome on the part of the individual deploying power. The issue with nondecisions can be seen through the lens of Foucault as a means of coercion in order to conform to the norms of the society. Foucault probably would agree with the concept of nondecisions but would view them as a means of coercion in achieving a desired outcome. He would not necessarily be concerned with the measurement of the power or lack there of but would analyze the inaction as a way of not producing a “truth” or possibly invalidating knowledge in order to keep in line with societal norms. (Cindy)

 

Dahl believes that "Power is defined in terms of a relation between people and is expressed in a simple symbolic notation. Power is then placed into a statement of power comparability or thte realtive degree of power held by two or more persons." ( Dahl, p201)  Above it states taht Foucault views power as not being held by individuals but also through rules and codes.  This seems to counter what Dahl belief is as it relates to power and relations. ( Amy)

 

I think that Bachrach and Baratz would agree with Foucault in that power is not necessarily possessed by an individual and that power is often used to maintain the status quo.  However, it seems from the summary that Foucault thinks that power and the exercise thereof must be on some conscious level, whereas I'm not sure Bachrach and Baratz would agree.  Bachrach and Baratz also believe that power is "out there" but that it is there regardless of whether the individual or groups who are using the power are conscious of it.  (Sarah)

 

I think that Wolfinger would agree with Foucault in that power should be examined more from the stance of who benefits from the power, rather than who has the power.  Both Wolfinger and Foucault both seem to have this similar bottom-up stance from which they observe power.  I believe that both of these theorists would agree that power is widespread, and should be understood and deconstructed in ways which will examine this attribute. (Kathy)

 

Foucalt has a view of power that Dahl would strongly disagree with.  Foucalt talks about power as being coercive in nature and does not speak to what Dahl believes is the relation between what he terms as actors.  He can provide quantitatively, reasons for why this relations exist and how the power is exerted between the two actors.  To only focus on the coercive side of power makes the assumption that all power stems from this reasoning, (Louis)

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