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also elaborate how he uses these concepts to explain how modern society is controlled. Firstly, this paper will begin with the concept of knowledge and link it up with the concept of power as Foucault understands them. On the second part, the evolvement of power which has a reciprocal relationship will be elaborated to explain how modern society is controlled before concluding with a suggestion that the views of this author go a long way to explaining some of the power relations in present times.
Foucault (2001) in his book Power/Knowledge and to some extent his other books Truth and Power and Two Lectures both of 2002 began his concept of Knowledge and argues that knowledge begins with the “return of knowledge or the insurrection of subjugated knowledges” (2001: 70). In this concept of knowledge according to Foucault, there are two types of knowledges encompassing erudition or historical knowledge which existed and still exist but were disguised by intellectuals as if those knowledges are theirs by giving them different meanings. The second type of knowledge is naïve knowledge, disqualified or unpopular knowledge only acclaimed as true or popular knowledges by hierarchy of knowledge by sciences (Foucault, 2001). These two types of knowledges can be explained in today’s society in which one can have some brilliant ideas to solve a problem in the society but this idea will not be listened to because the person is not educated and therefore is regarded as not qualified to offer suggestions and the ideas should not be listened to. Secondly, science has rendered anything unorthodox to be poison with regard to medicine. There are sicknesses that are not cured with modern medicine which can be cured with a holistic approach but because second opinion does
2 not matter in modern sciences, the traditional healers and forklore medicines are relegated to the background because they are not in the hierarchy of modern medicine (Gilbert et al., 2002).
Foucault (2001) idea of subjugated knowledge was concerned with the “historical knowledge of struggles” (p. 71) in areas of erudition and suggested the use of genealogy to unearth these knowledges. According to him, the focus should not be on big abstract and theoretical questions of what is power and where does it come from? But, he discovers power as coming from microphysics level which is politics of everyday life. This micro-physics level has to do with concrete and material questions and not Grand theory of Gramsci or Chodorrow’s theory of patriarchy but the fact that power is never fixed and stable. Accordingly,
…genealogy should be seen as a kind of attempt to emancipate historical knowledges from that subjugation, to render them, that is capable of opposition and struggle against the coercion of a theoretical, unitary, formal and scientific discourse (Foucault, 2001: 71 and 2002).
More explanation of this micro-physics level will be discussed in concept of power in page four of this paper. Meanwhile, knowledge becomes a means to catogorise society; define norms, value and laws according to Foucault thereby producing power relations. Foucault pointed out the relationship between power and knowledge by saying that
“…power produces knowledge (and not simply by encouraging it because it serves power or by applying it because it is useful); that power and knowledge directly imply one another: that there is no power relation without the correlation constituting of field of knowledge nor knowledge that does not presuppose and constituted as the same time power relations [1995: 27 and 2002].
3 Foucault is of the assertion from the above quote that knowledge produces power and power produces knowledge with both reciprocating each other. So goes the popular saying that “knowledge is power”. This concept of power is discussed in details below starting with the evolvement of power overtime in its modern form. In this paragraph, Foucault talks about power being source of sovereignty and control by leaders in earlier stage of power as a concept. Power was used as a repressive means to control and rule people with individual’s body targeted for punishment by means of torture. Torture was used to get confessions from “patients” (Foucault, 1995, p. 23) and also used as means of killing offenders through different gradual process. He uses the word “patients” to describe law breakers with the society institutionalized into hospital, prisons and mental institutions. More about institutions will be discussed in page four of this paper.
Laws were so repressive that a mere suspect can lose his life while being interrogated just to force confession out from the suspect irrespective of his innocence. It is very ironic that one is forced to make confession over a crime one did not commit. Power was very negative on people’s lives as the case was because it did not stop people from committing crimes. Tortures and executioners apply the laws to extreme on orders from the leader. This system takes a long time, resources and energy to administer. For example, instead of passing judgments on people and kill them on one single process when found guilty, the leader will prefer to look into the case for a long period of time before doing a public execution. Executions were done as a spectacular events and galleries (Foucault, 1995).
4 On the last stage of evolvement of power, it becomes a means to normalise or change people for the better. Though people still have to be disciplined but offenders are rehabilitated through fines and imprisonment. At this stage, the soul was targeted and judges gave more interpretation to laws and also introduced different sentencing in hierarchical order. In this wise, punishment for stealing for instance should not be same for murder or manslaughter. Also in another example, a madman who committed a crime is better off taking to a mental institution to receive cure rather than going to prison because he did not commit the crime with a reasonable mind (Foucault, 1995). Having gone through the evolvement of power, it is very important that the methodology through which power is used in controlling modern society is discussed. This will be done in the next paragraph as much with little information provided by Foucault himself in this regard.
Foucault sees panopticism as an ideal model of power and overall center of functioning of power in which the subject is visible and supervised. The observer is not seen by the subject who is reminiscent to the observer becoming omnipresent. In this vein, power is exercised as position and source of knowledge regarded as “epistemologico- juridical formation” (Foucault, 1995, p. 23) which is evolution of knowledge and law. This knowledge further categorises people, sets norms for the society and the subjects are meant to follow the laid down rules (Foucault, 1995). In this wise, society is categorised into mental institutions, military institutions, prisons and hospitals (as earlier mentioned in page three of this paper. from which a madman, a “patient” and a condemned person must be kept and observed through panopticon (Foucault, 2001 and 2002).
5 Through this mechanism of panopticon according to Foucault, society is observed and subjects are turned into objects thereby displacing sovereignty. Therefore, sovereignty in this context refers to displacement and appropriation on the part of power not of time and labour but of goods and wealth which is on micro-physics level as earlier mentioned in page two of this essay. It is a strategy which focuses on human bodies and its productions which mean power is not macro, not restricted to political institutions but operates in multi-dimensional way from above and from below. Also, he pointed out that power is not a property or possession of a certain class or state but that everybody is in the house of power and institutions of power. The leader is not in control but still within power (Foucault, 2001 and 2002).
According to Foucault (2001), this is new type of power which is inventions of bourgeois society, with power becoming disciplinary. It is very efficient, effective, cheap and hierarchical. To elaborate on this, he maintains that this era of power is significant and reflects on the economy and superstructures in three different ways. Firstly, “to obtain the exercise of power at the lowest possible cost (economically, by the low expenditure it involves; politically, by its discretion its low exteriorization, its relative invisibility, by the little resistance it arouse)” (Foucault, 1995, p. 218). Secondly, power fulfills maximum utility in this era and thirdly, it connects growth in economy of power with the positive outcome of various institutions such as military and education within which power is exercised (Foucault, 1995 and 2002).
In this way, peoples’ sovereignty is infringed upon. So, a right of sovereignty and mechanism of discipline becomes heterogeneous and source of conflict in modern society. Right of sovereignty is usurped by this new mechanism of power leading to “society of normalisation” (2001: 71) as
6 individuals are no agents or center of conscience but internalise surveillance. Foucault (1995) maintains that even when subjects are not observed, they feel like they are being observed because they have internalised these structures into their psyche. Consciously or unconsciously, the society continue to reproduce decorum as expected knowing that not maintaining the status quo is punished as deterrence to future offences. Thus, panopticon “…sees constantly and recocgnises immediately actors alone and individuals are constantly visible (1995: 200). The society becomes structuralised and there is no possibility for people to go beyond power even as their sovereignty is being infringed upon. The only means left for people to seek redressed is through the magistrate and appeal courts which do not always give them the satisfaction and the society results in search for an “anti-disciplinary” form of power which also liberates one from principle of sovereignty (2001: 75 and 2002).
More importantly, the most crucial point for Foucault is examination of power which is the combination of surveillance and normalisation. If the surveillance and control fail to normalise the people, then power is seen to have been abused and misappropriated. This is why he maintained that individuals constitute in power relations. This is because if the individuals refuse to cooperate with the leader, there will be anomie in the society. Though the leader is within house of power and is the observer but he is also being observed through his action and decision. With the help of democracy, the leader can be changed if he is not living up to expectations. So, the micro-physics of power underlie democracy (Foucault, 1995).
Critically, Foucault claims to be a post-structaralist and non-Marxist but talks about bourgeoisie and structures. His assertion that power is a strategy which focuses on human bodies and its
7 productions which mean power is not macro makes him a Marxists. Secondly, he talks about “soul” in which he says “…soul…is not born in sin and subject to punishment, but is born rather out of methods of punishment, supervision and constraint (1995: 29). It is very clear that he acknowledges superstructure as playing a deeper role and leaves individuals little or no option but to comply with power and live a dogmatic live. He did not give room for agency because the individuals only internalised surveillance. Foucault also talked about panopticon as means of surveillance but did not describe mechanism of power or how it is exercised in details (Foucault, 1995).
In conclusion, Foucault argument is premised on the fact that social power is ultimately created through individuals internalising discipline and this internalisation is through knowledge. However, this writer is of the view that the modern society has continued to use different systems of power (in this case internalisation though knowledge) to govern the society. Seisure of power still take place in some society by military whereas some societies are enjoying democracy. Democracy however is being interpreted differently in different countries and it is safe to say that different system of power is still an on going process and therefore there is no one particular system generally acceptable. What is good for America may not be good for Iran with regards to systems of power/relations and any attempt to enforce changes drastically in places like Iran will result in the type of anomie that is going on in Iraq.
Foucault. M. 2001. ‘Power /Knowledge’ in Seidman. S. and Alexander. J.C (eds) The New Sociological Theory Reader. London: Routledge.
Foucault. M. 2002. ‘Truth and Power’ in Calhoun. C., et al. (eds) Contemporary Sociological Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.
Foucault. M. 2002. ‘Two Lectures’ in Calhoun. C., et al. (eds) Contemporary Sociological Theory. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gilbert. L., Selikow. T.A & Walker. L. 2002. Society, Health and Disease: An Introductory Reader for Health Professionals. Braamfontein: Ravan Press.
Michele Foucault. 1995. Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
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