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Foucault and Power

I’m enjoying the orientation to Foucault’s conceptualization of power. He does, indeed, talk about power in a way I find much more satisfying than the discussion put forth by the Frankfurt School and Gramsci in regard to hegemony. As widely stated, his conception of power is more optimistic; that is, power is the ability to make change rather than the fact that a certain group is overpowered by a more advantaged group. Such hegemonic theories which posit that power is all-encompassing never seem to provide an avenue out of such powerless situations. Although I am not far in Foucault, I have hope that his idea that power is motivating and freeing might gets us further to reaching an answer.

Foucault’s assertion that “power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are ‘free’? (139) diverges from other notions of power which seem to capture freedom and eliminate it. For Foucault, however, power implies and allows freedom. He states, “Where the determining factors are exhaustive, there is no relationship of power: slavery is not a power relationship when man [sic] is in chains, only when he [sic] has some possible mobility, even a chance of escape? (139).

Foucault’s conception here makes me think of how Burke distinguishes motion from action. It appears that, for Foucault, freedom is only possible in the realm of action, and to both scholars, the importance of ethics enters the scenario when humans are able to have that freedom (in action) to allow for choice and becoming. The parallels here will be something to watch as I continue to read.

-Meg