I find myself musing over Foucault a lot. Can't say that I'm completely versed on all of his works, though I have read Discipline and Punish. Can't say that I've read all commentaries that proliferate from his works, though I have read quite a few.

 

A thought occurred to me yesterday, and I'd like some input on it.

 

My understanding is that Foucault's conception of power is that it is:

          1. penetrative rather than coercive--it is internalized rather than enforced externally

          2. enabling rather than restrictive--it doesn't prohibit but rather shapes choices

 

So, we internalize, not so much a choice, but rather a limiting set of options; that is, we come to see an either-or scenario, in which the fuller spectrum of possibilities are sloughed off in favor of discrete limited choices.

 

It seems to me that the distilling of possible orientations (take the word how you will), practices and ideological elements into a limited and discrete system helps to galvanize consensus. As I read it, Foucault is saying that any such system will tend toward imbalance, with consensus on all poles, but more likely a majority at one pole that will define the norm (could we extemporize and call it orthodoxy?). This imbalance would then mark the underlying structures of inequalities that manifest as power and resistance.

 

Am I on the right track in reading a commentary on consensus in Foucault's theories?

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Replies to This Discussion

I'm no expert on Foucault (for want of time), but I do find him tremendously stimulating, and your reading strikes me as insightful, especially in going beyond the penetrative and enabling conception of power towards its potential implications regarding options and consensus. I think you're talking about the kind of discursive hegemony that Chomsky is so concerned about regarding the political economy of the mass media for example. I know I look first to Foucault when thinking about discourse, and Gramsci for hegemony.
I'm not familiar with Poulantzas. Can you tell me a little about him and recommend a first reading?

Thanks!

NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
Error of spelling

I meant Nikos Poulantzas who died so early in 1979 in Paris suiciding
J.M.,

I discovered Michel Foucault while pursuing my master’s in medical anthropology and my whole world changed. I became obsessed with his writings and spent four years of my life reading nothing but Foucault. Although, I do not consider myself an expert on Foucault, I have read close to one hundred books concerning his work (books by Foucault himself, collaborative works, works by other authors, interviews and short films). Last year, I was asked by the anthropology department of a California university to write a series of essays on Foucault for a graduate seminar class to assist students in understanding his work. I wrote four different essays. Of course, I covered the area of his concepts on power. If you are interested, I can provide these essays to you and hope that they will assist you in your pursuit of understanding one of the most important intellects of the 20th century.
Foucault's ideas about power are hard to define and comprehend. One reason for this is the common interpretation of power (when we think of power, we think in terms of that which serves some sort of control). But to understand Foucauldian power, we must think in terms of power made from a system of complex relations. Moreover, misinterpretation of Foucault's notion of power is common due to the traditional concept of power as some form of coercion, prohibition or domination. In order to understand Foucault more clearly, it is necessary to realize that he is attempting to elucidate a vastly complex system of actions regulating behavior. For Foucault, power is neither something one (or a given group) possesses nor the capacity for authoritarian control or domination.

If you prefer, I can provide you with a list of almost one hundred sources that you can choose from to read about Foucault and his concepts of power/knowledge.

tchau...
Neil,

I would love anything that you are willing to share.

I'd be very interested in the articles.

More thoughts later.

Neil Turner said:
Foucault's ideas about power are hard to define and comprehend. One reason for this is the common interpretation of power (when we think of power, we think in terms of that which serves some sort of control). But to understand Foucauldian power, we must think in terms of power made from a system of complex relations. Moreover, misinterpretation of Foucault's notion of power is common due to the traditional concept of power as some form of coercion, prohibition or domination. In order to understand Foucault more clearly, it is necessary to realize that he is attempting to elucidate a vastly complex system of actions regulating behavior. For Foucault, power is neither something one (or a given group) possesses nor the capacity for authoritarian control or domination.

If you prefer, I can provide you with a list of almost one hundred sources that you can choose from to read about Foucault and his concepts of power/knowledge.

tchau...
J.M.,

In the Wiki archive, under self-archived publications, Neil Turner, Papers: Understanding Foucault, you will find a link to the first essay with a list of almost one hundred publications on Foucault. Boa sorte...(good luck in Portuguese).

tchau...

J. M. Wright said:
Neil,

I would love anything that you are willing to share.

I'd be very interested in the articles.

More thoughts later.

Neil Turner said:
Foucault's ideas about power are hard to define and comprehend. One reason for this is the common interpretation of power (when we think of power, we think in terms of that which serves some sort of control). But to understand Foucauldian power, we must think in terms of power made from a system of complex relations. Moreover, misinterpretation of Foucault's notion of power is common due to the traditional concept of power as some form of coercion, prohibition or domination. In order to understand Foucault more clearly, it is necessary to realize that he is attempting to elucidate a vastly complex system of actions regulating behavior. For Foucault, power is neither something one (or a given group) possesses nor the capacity for authoritarian control or domination.

If you prefer, I can provide you with a list of almost one hundred sources that you can choose from to read about Foucault and his concepts of power/knowledge.

tchau...
Neil:

Awesome. Looks like a great resource. Thank you.

Piers Lock:

I've come across mentions of Gramscian notions of hegemony. As I understand it, Gramsci was not referring to dominance, but rather to cultural momentum. I'd like to hear more about it. Have you used the concept?

On a more methodological issue, how would one use the concept of Gramscian hegemony (which I'm taking as a critical commentary) and still maintain sensitivity to the interlocutors and the people that you are studying?

Neil Turner said:
J.M.,

In the Wiki archive, under self-archived publications, Neil Turner, Papers: Understanding Foucault, you will find a link to the first essay with a list of almost one hundred publications on Foucault. Boa sorte...(good luck in Portuguese).

tchau...

J. M. Wright said:
Neil,

I would love anything that you are willing to share.

I'd be very interested in the articles.

More thoughts later.

Neil Turner said:
Foucault's ideas about power are hard to define and comprehend. One reason for this is the common interpretation of power (when we think of power, we think in terms of that which serves some sort of control). But to understand Foucauldian power, we must think in terms of power made from a system of complex relations. Moreover, misinterpretation of Foucault's notion of power is common due to the traditional concept of power as some form of coercion, prohibition or domination. In order to understand Foucault more clearly, it is necessary to realize that he is attempting to elucidate a vastly complex system of actions regulating behavior. For Foucault, power is neither something one (or a given group) possesses nor the capacity for authoritarian control or domination.

If you prefer, I can provide you with a list of almost one hundred sources that you can choose from to read about Foucault and his concepts of power/knowledge.

tchau...
J.M.,

I have only done a cursory reading of Gramsci and therefore do not consider myself knowledgeable enough to comment on his concepts. And, no, I have never used any of his concepts in my research.

Please remember, Foucault’s concepts concerning power are inherently different and this is perhaps the reason why they are so confusing to many of us. He is not speaking of any type of “dominance” by a group, faction, class and so on.

I am providing a short extraction from one of the essays that I hope will explain it a little better.

…to understand Foucauldian power, we must think in terms of power made from a system of complex relations; a power that is not exerted by individuals or institutions; a power that serves no extraneous goal and has no open and observable purposes; yet at the same time does not exist as some form of covert domination. 7 When we think in terms of power, naturally we think in terms of one individual or a group of individuals exercising control over another person or group of persons. However, in order to understand Foucault's notion of power, we must probe deeper into the meanings of intents and events and examine how one set of actions modifies another set of actions. In other words, how actions act upon actions. In this way, Foucault's ideas of power are characteristically neutral and relational. For example, in Discipline and Punish and The History of Sexuality, Foucault discusses disciplinary techniques and apparatus that are used in behavior conditioning and subject defining. But, he does not merely show the imposition of disciplines, he also shows how power shapes behavior in both the public and private spaces. It is action upon actions that causes individuals to act as their own self-inflicted "panopticons." 8

Moreover, misinterpretation of Foucault's notion of power is common due to this traditional concept of power as some form of coercion, prohibition or domination. In order to understand Foucault more clearly, it is necessary to realize that he is attempting to elucidate a vastly complex system of actions regulating behavior. He emphasizes that instances of coercion or domination are only external components of a much larger system of "internal" relations that act as an important mechanism. Misinterpretation occurs in spite of Foucault's description that "power has its principle not so much in a person as in a certain concerted distribution"…"so it is not necessary to use force to constrain the convict to good behavior, the madman to calm, the worker to work, the schoolboy to application, or the patient to the observation of regulations. " 9 Thus, to think of Foucauldian power in terms of traditional concepts of power is to misunderstand his perspective on power and the processes of a vastly more complex system of relations.

Another common misinterpretation is Foucault's idea about the relationship between power and systems of knowledge, that is, what Foucault terms "power/knowledge." We have been able to see what forms power takes in terms of the capacity to develop various technologies, in this case knowledge or disciplines, and the forms of rationality that organize these technologies. Also, it is well known that each of these technologies produce experts that determine the ontology of objective study and whose purpose it is to answer and make determinations for a whole series of questions. In this sense, topics for study have their generality in pre-dating topics of intellectual inquiry and inevitably result in a body of determined practices and discourses which we term disciplines. However, for Foucault, topics of study do not pre-date inquiry and the resultant determination of practices, they are the aftermath. The purpose of intellectual and empirical inquiry whose objective it is to discern the nature of things is inverted into constituting whatever objectivity the relations of power enables and defines as the conditions under which the use of reason is deemed legitimate. In this way, power defines knowledge and confirms the relationship between proficiencies of knowledge and schemes of power. Let us take for example, the field of psychiatry again. Once the psychological subject was reconceived, numerous fields of study developed to report, assess and recommend the content of this practice. As a result, it was the relations of power that established the psychological subject as a field of study and was responsible for the techniques, procedures and discourses capable of investigating it. As difficult as this idea may be, Foucault maintains that it is the relations of power that produces and authorizes our systems of knowledge…


Hope this helps.

tchau…


J. M. Wright said:
Neil:

Awesome. Looks like a great resource. Thank you.

Piers Lock:

I've come across mentions of Gramscian notions of hegemony. As I understand it, Gramsci was not referring to dominance, but rather to cultural momentum. I'd like to hear more about it. Have you used the concept?

On a more methodological issue, how would one use the concept of Gramscian hegemony (which I'm taking as a critical commentary) and still maintain sensitivity to the interlocutors and the people that you are studying?

Neil Turner said:
J.M.,

In the Wiki archive, under self-archived publications, Neil Turner, Papers: Understanding Foucault, you will find a link to the first essay with a list of almost one hundred publications on Foucault. Boa sorte...(good luck in Portuguese).

tchau...

J. M. Wright said:
Neil,

I would love anything that you are willing to share.

I'd be very interested in the articles.

More thoughts later.

Neil Turner said:
Foucault's ideas about power are hard to define and comprehend. One reason for this is the common interpretation of power (when we think of power, we think in terms of that which serves some sort of control). But to understand Foucauldian power, we must think in terms of power made from a system of complex relations. Moreover, misinterpretation of Foucault's notion of power is common due to the traditional concept of power as some form of coercion, prohibition or domination. In order to understand Foucault more clearly, it is necessary to realize that he is attempting to elucidate a vastly complex system of actions regulating behavior. For Foucault, power is neither something one (or a given group) possesses nor the capacity for authoritarian control or domination.

If you prefer, I can provide you with a list of almost one hundred sources that you can choose from to read about Foucault and his concepts of power/knowledge.

tchau...
Thanks Nikos. Looks interesting.

Some of the titles are evocative of readings in the history of the European Union that I have read. Why is there no group dedicated to the Anthropology of Europe and EU Integration?

I understand that there is a group for the Anthropology of Eastern and Central Europe. I guess I should check it out.

NIKOS GOUSGOUNIS said:
FROM WIKIPEDIA :

Major works of Nicos Poulantzas :

Poulantzas, Nicos. Political Power and Social Classes. NLB, 1973 (orig. 1968).
Poulantzas, Nicos. Fascism and Dictatorship: The Third International and the Problem of Fascism. NLB, 1974 (orig. 1970).
Poulantzas, Nicos. Classes in Contemporary Capitalism. NLB, 1975 (orig. 1973).
Poulantzas, Nicos. The Crisis of the Dictatorships: Portugal, Greece, Spain. Humanities Press, 1976.
Poulantzas, Nicos. State, Power, Socialism. NLB, 1978.
Poulantzas, Nicos. The Poulantzas Reader: Marxism, Law and the State, ed. J. Martin. Verso, 2008.

[edit] Further reading
Jessop, Bob. Nicos Poulantzas: Marxist theory and political strategy. Macmillan, 1985.
Levine, Rhonda. Class struggle and the New Deal: industrial labor, industrial capital, and the state. University Press of Kansas, c1988.

[edit] References
^ Stuart Hall, "Nicos Poulantzas: State, Power, Socialism", New Left Review I/119, January-February 1980 [1]
^ "Nicos Poulantzas". The Professor Network. http://www.politicsprofessor.com/politicaltheorists/nicos-poulantza.... Retrieved 20 May 2009.

[edit] External links
Nicos Poulantzas Institute (in Greek and English)
A Trotskyist critique of Poulantzas's theory of the state by Colin Barker, in International Socialism journal
Website on Poulantzas' work and to the book "Reading Poulantzas" (in German
Nikos,

Thanks for the links particularly the professor network. I found an important link between Poulantzas, Gramsci and Paulo Freire. Here in Brasil, Freire was a very important voice. I intend to do a bit of research on this. Again, thanks.

tchau...

Neil -- I'm astonished by the breadth and depth of Foucalt you've seemingly penetrated.  Any chance you'd be willing to share your essays with another Foucalt-novice?

Thanks and best,

Stuart



Neil Turner said:

J.M.,

I discovered Michel Foucault while pursuing my master’s in medical anthropology and my whole world changed. I became obsessed with his writings and spent four years of my life reading nothing but Foucault. Although, I do not consider myself an expert on Foucault, I have read close to one hundred books concerning his work (books by Foucault himself, collaborative works, works by other authors, interviews and short films). Last year, I was asked by the anthropology department of a California university to write a series of essays on Foucault for a graduate seminar class to assist students in understanding his work. I wrote four different essays. Of course, I covered the area of his concepts on power. If you are interested, I can provide these essays to you and hope that they will assist you in your pursuit of understanding one of the most important intellects of the 20th century.

Hi Stuart,

Thank you for the kind words. The essays are comprised from a wide variety of philosophical, historical and literary sources and authors not only the works of Foucault. Their purpose was to provide a foundation for a series of lectures to graduate students. As such, they are organized into four essays/lectures - they are: an introduction, an analysis of Foucault's archaeological and genealogical periods of writing and finally his ideas concerning truth. Those ideas concerning "power/knowledge" are contained in the archaeological period. His "Discipline and Punish" and "The History of Sexuality" series are fine examples of these concepts.  Also, there is "Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings - 1972-1977. Please advise which essays you are interested in viewing...again thanks...tchau.



Stuart Steidle said:

Neil -- I'm astonished by the breadth and depth of Foucalt you've seemingly penetrated.  Any chance you'd be willing to share your essays with another Foucalt-novice?

Thanks and best,

Stuart



Neil Turner said:

J.M.,

I discovered Michel Foucault while pursuing my master’s in medical anthropology and my whole world changed. I became obsessed with his writings and spent four years of my life reading nothing but Foucault. Although, I do not consider myself an expert on Foucault, I have read close to one hundred books concerning his work (books by Foucault himself, collaborative works, works by other authors, interviews and short films). Last year, I was asked by the anthropology department of a California university to write a series of essays on Foucault for a graduate seminar class to assist students in understanding his work. I wrote four different essays. Of course, I covered the area of his concepts on power. If you are interested, I can provide these essays to you and hope that they will assist you in your pursuit of understanding one of the most important intellects of the 20th century.

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