Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Source of Power

I think that Foucault’s idea of what power is fails to explain and makes it very difficult to determine how a person becomes what we call “powerful”. One thing that he makes clear is the distinction that we cannot have power, but we can exercise it. So, what I want to focus on is the source of power.

Not source in the sense of, “Where does it come from?” or, “How do we get it?” because, as stated above, we cannot have it and therefore we cannot give it or receive it.

For example, Foucault explains that power is not quantitative, that one person cannot have more power than another. Instead, one person can be better at exercising power than another, and that would make them “more powerful”. In other words, one can exercise it with greater efficiency and less expense than someone else. However, this idea begs the question: how does one come to be in a position to exercise power? For example, someone looking at the way president Bush runs the country and makes decisions or policies, that person could say, “I can do it better or more efficiently”. And even if they are right, even if they can they are still not nearly as “powerful” as the president. Therefore, one is not “powerful” because of the knowledge of how to exercise power better or more efficiently.

We say that we give the president power, but I feel like if that was the case, we could take it away at will, or give it to someone else if we feel like it. It sort of implies that we are more powerful than the president since he is only powerful at our will. And if that is the case, how did we come to be in the position to “give” that power to someone?


Cal said...

I think Foulcault would explain that the president obtains his power through his involvement in networks of subjugations. Foulcault tries to pry the reader away from thinking of power in purely juridical edifice of sovereignty and State apparatuses. I think he tries to explain the way which one gains power is through the surveillance society and the discourse of discipline.

Ai said...

I think that just because one cannot have power does not mean that power can be circulated equally. If one is born into a family or environment where power is more concentrated, the chances of that person having been influenced and reproducing a certain type of power is more likely than one that grows up in poverty or the like. The opportunity to have that power circulate through a person that grows up in aristocracy is higher than one that grows up in poverty.

Paul Bendor-Samuel said...

I think that the problem comes with our trying to fit Foucault’s definition of power in our preconceived notion of “powerful” people, and the idea of people holding “power”. These two definitions are irreconcilable. To make Foucault’s theories of power make sense we need to use the theoretical framework Foucault gives us to analyze it. In this context power as a function should make sense.