Foucault - Power/Knowledge

Topics: Prison, Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish Pages: 6 (2383 words) Published: January 22, 2012
Foucault’s theorisation of the power/knowledge relationship

Foucault in theorizing the relationship between power and knowledge basically focused on how power operated in the institutions and in its techniques. The point is how power was supported by knowledge in the functioning of institutions of punishment. “He places the body at the centre of the struggles between different formations of power/knowledge. The techniques of regulation are applied to the body” (Wheterell et al., 2001: 78) Power is the ability to control others or one’s entity. Accordingly it can be defined as a kind of strength or as an authority. There are various theorisations about the meaning of this term in sociology thus it would be hard to give a comprehensive definition. Is power a relationship? What kind of outcome does it produce? Can it modify behaviour and can it reduce the power of others? (Waters, 1994: 217) All of these questions can be answered in a different way. The point might be over whom and upon what can this power be exercised. Foucault frequently uses power and knowledge together in the phrase power/knowledge. He claims these two are inseparable. A general expression exists which conjoins the two into “knowledge is power.” Foucault reverses the logic of this expression in arguing that possession of knowledge does not give one power but gaining power means having knowledge at the same time as “knowledge is already deeply invested with power” thus it is better to agree on “power is knowledge”. (Appelrouth and Edles, 2008: 643) Knowledge can be expounded as the awareness of some fact or as a skill that the individual achieved or inherited. In Foucault’s interpretation both idea turned up in the analysis of the “Panopticon” and the “plague stricken town”. Being aware of the events happened somewhere is knowledge and this knowledge gives power to those whom got to know about that events although this knowledge could not have been acquired in the lack of power as there would not have been any opportunity to get into a position which allows the observation to get to know something. That is the basis of Foucault’s idea about knowledge and power as oneness and the reason for why is important to think other about the “power is knowledge” and “knowledge is power” correspondence. Discipline and Punish (1975) is Foucault’s best genealogical investigation. (Appelrouth and Edles, 2008: 643) At the beginning he describes a public torture which was a totally accepted from of punishment in the 18th century. Dramatically introduces the whole process without attitudinizing as those days public execution was a common event, the illustrated torture was as real as he presents it. As norms and attitudes changed in latter centuries public tortures has become not popular anymore, people were sentenced to go to prison where a completely different penalty system has been running. Foucault describes typical activities and every day life of the inmates. The point of these two presentations is to show that the changes of methods of punishment correlate with cultural and social changes in the all-time society. (Appelrouth and Edles, 2008: 648) In the second part he “draws a parallel between the aggressive mechanism used by plague-stricken cities in the late seventeenth century and Bentham’s Panopticon which was intended to be the model for the perfectly rational and efficient prison.” (Appelrouth and Edles, 2008: 648) The point of these comparisons is to reveal how knowledge developed and how this development influenced the society. As knowledge grows and becomes deeper the new understanding of the social and physical world “generates new locations for the application of power”. (Appelrouth and Edles, 2008: 646) Foucault describes two old mechanisms which was widely used, the public execution as an old form of punishment and the actions against plague that emerged in a town. A new type of punishment became popular which aims to punish the soul not the...

Bibliography: Appelrouth, Scott and Laura Desfor Edles. 2007. Classical and contemporary sociological theory: text and readings. Pine Forge Press: 641-665.
Calhoun, Craig J., Joseph Gerteis and James Moody. 2007. Contemporary sociological theory. Wiley-Blackwell: 209-216.
Foucault, Michel. 1995. Discipline & punish. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.  
Waters, Malcolm. 1994. Modern sociological theory. SAGE: 217-233.
Wetherell, Margaret, Stephanie Taylor, Simeon Yates. 2001. Discourse theory and practice: a reader. SAGE.
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