Power, State and Society: Thus Spoke Foucault

In his book Michel Foucault’s Philosophical Approach to Power: A study in Political and Social Philosophy recently published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies, Jordanian researcher Dr. Judeh Mohammed Ibrahim Abu Khass presents the philosophical foundations of Foucault’s particular perspective on power.

On the Concept Of Power

Abu Khass wrote this book (four chapters, 144 pages with references and index) as an introduction to the study of Michel Foucault, with the first chapter “An Introduction to the Study of Michel Foucault” offering a brief biography outlining the stages of development of his character and the social circumstances that contributed to shaping his philosophical perspectives on various societal issues. Abu Khass notes that “Michel Foucault’s philosophy addresses the modern problematic of power manifest in the dualism of society and rights on the one hand, versus state and law on the other,” but that for Foucault, power is something “extremely nebulous, at once visible and invisible since everything around us that we designate with the term “power” or “authority” … does not adequately account for the exercise and function of power.”

Chapter Two, “Establishing the Philosophical Basis of the Concept of Power” Abu Khass discusses the term itself and its development in western political thought, observing two basic tendencies, the first limiting power to the realm of politics and governance, and the second seeing power embedded in broader aspects of human life. Human nature contributed to the concept of power as humanity began an eternal search for authority to submit to and obey, a theological type of authority people saw in nature. The author sees that Nietzsche invented, and Foucault further developed, concepts of truth and power intertwined and interrelated in human life, resulting resulted in a more precise description of the relationship of power to the individual and society firmly taking root.


On the Dialectics of Power

In the third chapter, “Michel Foucault’s Dialectic of Knowledge and Power” Abu Khass discusses Foucault’s “archeological approach” to authority and knowledge and clarifying modes of authoritarian practice and control techniques. Foucault's cognitive archeology is an alternative to the science of the history of ideas as opinions, rather than as an analysis of knowledge: "The history of ideas focuses more on the analysis of errors than on the search for truth.” It searches in representations for an origin or starting point, generating patterns or intellectual production, that then rapidly dissipate. "

In the fourth and last chapter, “Power between State and Society”, the author distinguishes Foucault's philosophical vision of power at the state level, the relationship between power and the state, and his vision of power at the level of authoritarian relations within society. Upending the theory of the social contract and its ideas, which for centuries represented an unchallenged slogan of civil society and modernity, Foucault presented new notions for understanding the relationship between the individual, society and the state.

In concluding the book, Abu Khass identifies rules summarizing Foucault's philosophical perspective on power: (1) power is not the exclusive possession of the state or of any particular class or specific grouping in society; (2) authoritarian relations within society are not established external to political, economic, epistemological or sexual relations but are tied up with and result from them (3) The true source of power lies at the bottom of society’s hierarchical pyramid, not its summit; (4) power is not vested in the authority of the state and its organs in society; rather the state is the product and outcome of the sum total of power relations within society; (5) Where there is power, there must be resistance.

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