The economy of power
I would like to suggest another way to go further
towards a new economy of power relations, a way
which is more empirical, more directly related to our
present situation, and which implies more relations
between theory and practice.
Michel Foucault, 1982
Beyond the repressive hypothesis: Power as power/knowledge
Foucault never attempts any (impossible) definition of power. At best, he gives a definition of
power relations in an essay published in 1982:
The exercise of power is not simply a relationship between partners, individual or collective; it is a way in
which certain actions modify others. Which is to say, of course, that something called Power, with or
without a capital letter, which is assumed to exist universally in a concentrated or diffused form, does not
Therefore, Foucauldian definition of power is drawn in opposition with the « repressive
hypothesis » (Foucault, 1971) which holds that there is a transcendental reason which can be
exercised independently of any power relationship. Precisely because it is transcendental, reason
is then universally compelling. It can limit the political power field and has therefore a role in
opposing domination (ie when political power goes beyond its rights).
Foucault draws the genealogy of this hypothesis advocating two reasons for its appearance in
history(Dreyfus and Rabinow, 1982:130). On a first hand, because of what he calls the
« speaker's benefit », the mere fact that, by advocating such a hypothesis, the speaker places
himself out of power and within truth. However, this is not the main argument of Foucault as he
must recognise that, not as an archaeologist but as a genealogist, he is himself in a field of power
relations. On a second hand, because:
modern power is tolerable on the condition that it masks itselfwhich it has done very effectively. If truth
is outside of and opposed to power, then the speaker's benefit is merely an incidental plus.... [continues]
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