State, society and Culture (Week 7)


Week 7-

Theorising Power and Locating Politics- Who makes policy? 

Reading: Foucault- Governmentality 

Definition of power- where do you locate power?

  • Exercising control
  • Ability to control others?
  • Ability to guide?
  • Power over self?

Is power such negative thing?

  • Taking away the autonomy from person that they need to be guided 
  • constrains ns the individual.
  • Is there anything such as free will?
  • Are we free agents?

Power can be perceived as a bad term due to its connotation to outright control/influence the behaviour of people. The term "authority is often used for power as legitimate by the social structure. Power can be evil or unjust.

Foucault saw power as a structural expression of a "complex strategic situation in a given social setting" that requires both constraint and enablement.

Power (Foucault) 

States that "the exercise of power was conceived as an exercise of sovereignty, the art of government could not be developed in a specific and autonomous manner"

  • Power from below, comes from everywhere 
  • De-centric of the state 
  • Induces desire, pleasure

Power: a multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization.

Here, Foucault is not referring to a group of institutions that ensure the subservience of citizens of a state, a mode of subjugation as a set of rules, or a system of domination in which there are rulers and the ruled.

According to Foucault, power is omnipresent, not because it embraces everything uniformly, but because it comes from everywhere.

Foucault’s propositions on power:

  • Power is exercised from innumerable points, in the interplay of non-egalitarian and mobile relations
  •  Relations of power are immanent in other types of relations
  • Power comes from below – there is no binary opposition between the ruled and the ruler.
  • Where there is power, there is always resistance. Resistance is never exterior to power.
  • One is always inside power. There is a plurality of resistances which exist in the field of power relations.
  •  Discourses can be an effect or instrument of power. But they may also be a point of resistance.
  • Discourse transmits and produces power, but it also undermines and exposes it.


  • Why do we have governments?
  • Ruler-Ruled.
  • Free autonomous beings?
  • How can a balance be maintained- state and free individuals?

Q- Why do we have governments?

  • Control behaviour of citizens- Laws 
  • Protect us from other governments 
  • uphold freedom, liberty and standard
  • Role of governments is to rule, we are being ruled.
  • Liberalism- we are free autonomous beings 
  • Social contract theory- the state is a very powerful institution. 

According to Foucault, in the modern prison system, “the codified power to punish becomes the disciplinary power to observe.”

 The idea with the panopticon or more generally with the disciplines is that, when one knows that one is being watched, one becomes more docile and more “useful.” Thus, discipline is a more efficient instrument of power than repression. 

In his later work, Foucault coined the now influential concept of governmentality. According to Foucault, governmentality is the “art of governing,”…


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