Monday, February 27, 2017

Michel Foucault - "The Subject and Power": Opposing Power and Subjection - Summary (part 2)

(This is part 2 of the summary, if you haven't done so, read part one of the summary first)

Michel Foucault's "The Subject and Power" describes the manner in which power relations determine subjects. In order to track these power relations he examines different strategies of resisting power. Foucault lists a few such struggles of his time like women resisting men's power, children resisting parents, patients resisting the medical establishment etc. and holds that they all share a few features.

1. They are not limited to one country or one political system.

2. Resistance is not directed at entire power fields but rather at the manner in which power is wielded within the field. For example, criticism of modern medicine does not denounce its profit driven motivation but rather the way it treats people while seeking profit.

3. These struggles are "immediate" in that that engage close by phenomena and not core issues, not the central enemy but the most adjacent one.

4. The struggles do not peruse and utopic future of some sort, which makes them according to Foucault anarchistic in nature.

5. These struggles question the statues of the individual. On the one hand they advocate for the right to be different and on the other they protest separation between people which binds them to binary identities (like the distinction between homo- and heterosexuals which drives them apart).

6. These struggles oppose knowledge and skills. On the one hand they protest the tyranny of knowledge (like with doctors and patients) and on the other hand the criticize the distortion or concealment of reality (a legacy from Marx's concept of ideology).

7. Finally, Foucault holds that all these struggles revolve around the question: who are we? they protest the state's administrative notion of "population" or "groups" and demand recognition as individuals.

The essential quality of all these struggles, says Foucault, is that they do not oppose a group or institution but rather a mode or "technique" of power. This mode is characterized by operating in the realm of daily life. It classifies individuals into categories, ties them to their identities, forces them to be recognized and the recognize themselves in accordance to a law of truth. Power, for Foucault, turns individuals into subjects (very similar to what Louis Althusser says).

According to Foucault in "The Subject and Power" you can distinguish three types of politic struggles: struggles against modes of control (e.g. religious, social etc.), struggles against forms of exploitations which separate people from the product of their labor (like the socialist/Marxist struggle) and struggles against different types of subordination which bring individuals under the power of others while creating subjectivity (what he calls "subjection").  Foucault holds that all these forms of opposition are prevalent throughout history but that the latter one is becoming the dominant mode of our time.

Foucault attributes this to the development of a new form of political power that appears in the 16th century. This mode of power is manifested in the state but it originates in a technique of power wielded by the Church. While the state is often viewed as favoring the interest of the whole over the individual, Foucault says it both "individualizes" and "totalizes" at the same time. That is, the state both groups people together and separates them from one another. Through this they grant them individuality which is in fact opposite to independent autonomy since it is determined from outside.
For Foucault this technique of power is based on what he calls "Pastoral power", which is a topic worthy of its own post, which will be part three of our summary of Foucault's "The Subject and Power".

Knowledge is power, get some: