Preliminary Ponderings About (Foucauldian) Power Structures

The very first assigned readings for ‘Power and Society’ are taken from the vast output of philosopher, cultural historian, and literary critic Michel Foucault.  Why Foucault?  The answer is a fairly simple one:  more than any post-modern thinker, it is arguably the work of Foucault that has most profoundly influenced scholarly discussions of the meaning, machinations, and implications of power over the last 30 years.  Foucault addressed power in a number of texts and a number of different ways, offering thoughts of the following kind:  he claimed that “in itself the exercise of power is not violence,” and emphasized that “power is exercised only over free subjects, and only insofar as they are free.”  More importantly for our initial purposes in this class, Foucault noted (in “The Subject and Power”) that “something called Power, with or without a capital letter.  . .  does not exist.  Power only exists when it is put into action.”  In his own unique way, Foucault is acknowledging the ambiguities and difficulties in even basically explaining and comprehending the mysterious forces of power in society.  And it is partially with this kind of idea in mind that I would like students in this class to contribute to the first Blog posting of the term, in which you may feel free to utilize and play with the ideas of Foucault or simply provide us with your own unique perspectives.  This time around, I want you to answer as best you see fit ONE of the following three questions, all of which variously engage with complexities of power as it presses upon us daily:  Can (or should) power be distributed equally, or is it somehow necessary (or inevitable) that certain parties will have more power than others?  How do individuals (or groups) gain power, and what are some of the most common ways they use that power?  Finally, how might certain varieties/structures of power distort individuals’ consciousness of their societal place, their subjective situation in the face of authority?

23 thoughts on “Preliminary Ponderings About (Foucauldian) Power Structures

  1. Power can be gained through numerous ways. For example, one may gain power through popularity/fame or maybe through money. One man who has an impeccable amount of power would be the president of the United States. He conceived his power through politics and gained popularity because of his actions and leadership. He uses his power in an endless amount of ways. The president runs our whole country and he appoints his cabinet, which gives others power too. He’s allowed to make laws, new programs, and he’s the commander of our nation’s military. His powers may be significant, but we have something called checks and balances within congress that allow others to make sure the president doesn’t abuse that power. With that said, power can be found in the smallest of places like a high school football team with their quarterback as their leader to being the president of the United States.

  2. To begin, power could never be spread out equally among all of us individuals without at least one person or group attempting to leap ahead-to have more than the rest of society. It is unfortunate, but our minds are wired to get ahead. It is the matter of how badly does one really want this particular power. Furthermore, this “power” does not have to go as far as wanting to turn our country into a dictatorship; it could be as simple as involving one’s personal life. For example, maybe someone would like that promotion so they know they need to work more than their colleagues to accomplish such. Or maybe one wants to be the start up player on their team, so they know taking practice seriously is what will place them where they want to be. Power is about how we perceive it to be. Power is a strong word, but it does not necessarily have to be used in a deceitful way. We are and have been living in a time where one person is always going to be one step ahead, but under certain circumstances this person being above others may be what that team or that company needs to function correctly. Ask yourself: would society function properly without the use of power? Who would set the line to say what is right from what is wrong? Imagine roughly all 317 million people in American having an equal say. I am imaging straight chaos because every individual is wired with their own beliefs and opinions on particular situations. It is pretty possible that life would take a quick turn for the worst without some sort of higher powers making and enforces particular rules. Our country holds enough balance that people are not out rebelling towards our government, we as a society still have the ability to make choices and decide what we believe in or what politician we would like to see run our country. To connect, look what is happening overseas in Iraq with the extremist group ISIS. Of course, this is only one example, but America has something countries like Iraq do not have, which is structure. The power our country holds as an entirety is what is keeping us intact, keeping us from fighting one another.

  3. People taking power over each other is 100% inevitable. Power is everywhere whether we see it through government, work, or school. Every successful society has/had certain parties that overrule(d) the others. It is human nature to give orders and take orders from others (it’s shown all throughout history). Without certain individuals assuming power there wouldn’t be a society; criminals would have the same amount of power as anyone else. The Roman Empire, for example, is argued to have been the ultimate civilization of mankind. Though it obviously fell, The Romans where the first to create a sustainable government that resembles a democracy today, which is why they were so successful. The Roman Empire, without a powerful group of people to take charge, would be much like the United States without its government today.
    Overall, power should be distributed among all people, just at different levels. There should always be an overruling power in place as long as it can create balance within itself.

  4. For some, power is easily obtainable. For the upper class, people might have an easier time gaining power because many resources are available to them. For example, back in the ancient times, the rich and wealthy were usually at the top of society. They always dressed in there best, they cleaned up nicely, and they had almost absolute power over everyone below them. The king/queen or whoever was in charge, allowed others to have some of his/her power so to speak. The decisions were strictly made by the most powerful. Most of the power gained was used to dictate a city or town. It was used to set boundaries and to keep order.
    Another example is Hitler and his fight for power in the Holocaust. As horrid as this topic could be, it proves a point. Hitler came into Germany with no one on his side. He was very power hungry. He then convinced the people of Germany to do what he said for things in return. By doing this he quickly gained power of the people. Hitler then used this power for the wrong reasons. He used it for evil so to speak.

  5. Power is something that can be distributed equally among every individual. Although the likelihood of that ever happening is slim. No matter what society does one person, or group of persons, will hold more power than others. It is something that can be looked at in a negative way, but also positively. Some people should not have more power than others, for the reason that they will use it in a negative and harmful way. Throughout history there has been instances where power fell into the hands of people who used it in a negative way. There were also people who used it for good. Unfortunately we cannot tell if someone is going to use the power to manipulate or deceive people. Society is incapable of evenly distributing power. Society needs to have someone with more power in order to run successfully. Our society depends on having a leader with more power than those following. It is inevitable that one person or a group will obtain more power than others at some point. When it happens, society will stand idly by to see how that person will handle the power. Power should be distributed evenly, unfortunately it will never happen.

  6. Power is like money, not everyone has a lot but some people have it all. In our society the biggest form of power is money. Money is a perfect analogy to describe how power exists. Without the Low class, there would be no middle class, and there would be no upper class. Without a supreme power there would be no distinction between levels of power in our society. I believe it is somehow necessary that certain parties have more power than others; and that power can never be distributed equally because it is constantly changing everyday. Money and Power cannot be distributed equally because they would cease to exist. There are no wealthy people without poor people, just like there is no monarchy without peasants to control. Marxism is an extreme example of levels of power and how one cannot exist without the other. In conclusion power cannot be distributed equally because it is necessary that certain parties have more power than others.

  7. Power in society can be distributed equally and can not be equally distributed. By this I mean you can have two situations where the first system power is equally distributed and the second system power is not. If power were equally distributed we would be living in the perfect world where everyone was equal. If you look back in time John Locke once said, “All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions”. If system one lives by that rule there would be no problems, but people would only be content with their lives. Power has an effect on the way society runs. In system two power can be given to just one person and life could be ruined forever. History would change. An example of this is Hitler. He took the power that the people gave to him and used it against the world. As you can see both of these systems are corrupt. I do not believe power should be distributed equally because then we would end up in a society like the book ‘The Giver’ and that would make humankind fade in personality. Life should be exciting and joyful not the same. It is necessary for a well-run society to have certain parties have more power than others, but it is not okay to have a dictatorship. If everyone got the same information our society would go into chaos and be destroyed. Society needs rules to function and needs higher parties to hold the power needed to keep the society from falling.

  8. Everyone likes to believe that we are all equal in all aspects, including power but in reality equality is just a myth. Yes, we are all under the same rights, laws and are given similar opportunities but there will always be something that pulls you above another. No one can fight the standards of power; which excludes equality. It’s inevitable; one will always be more powerful than another. This is proven by history; the role of any government has always emplaced a group or individual to control others, making them more powerful. Presidents, monarchs, prime ministers, and chancellors are all positions that provide an immense amount power to an individual. Even in lower positions, like captain, director or manager; they are still people who are classified as in charge and must be obeyed by their “subjects”. Similar to most philosophers, I do believe power can never be equally distributed. We live in a fight to the top society, which proves that nothing is truly equal; so why would power be.

  9. How do individuals or groups gain power? People have many ways of gaining power. On a major scale power can be gained by buying companies. For example, recently Apple bought Beats by Dr. Dre. Now Apple can do better in a market of headphones with their new acquisition. On a more simple scale a nation can gain more power by taking land from another nation. One way they use this power is by going to war. Whatever side has the more “powerful” army will win, and “to the victor goes the spoils”. Another example is an individual with a car versus an individual without a car. The person with a car has the power to drive anywhere he pleases, has the opportunity to get a better paying job, and doesn’t need to depend on public transportation.

  10. I believe power can never truly be distributed equally. When we look at every structured system of government there has ever been, there has always been one supreme leader or a group of supreme leaders. Democracies, monarchies, republics of the people, or theocracies have always had one figure they subject themselves to. We can go as far back as thousands of years to find the earliest shamanic tribes creating deities out of man to create order and give themselves someone to look to in times of trouble. We say the tribes of southern and northern America were savages, yet they created government systems similar to our most sophisticated of monarchies at the time without even hearing about the creeds of the standard European divine ruler. Order pops up all over the world because people crave it, and to fulfill our natural want for protection from danger by aligning ourselves with the biggest stick, to allude to Roosevelt.
    Even in the case of Peoples’ Republics there has always been a supreme ruler. The government system that promises to free its people from oppression and give the laborers new life actually puts them all under one supreme ruler and his cabinet of close advisers. And when we look at extreme capitalism, which promises to make its people equal by removing the restrains of government, someone always snaps up the poor and manages to exert power over them too. It is a never ending vicious cycle that is forever implanted in our brains as a cultural meme that won’t die.

  11. I believe a leader gains power by both popularity and money. An example of a leader that gained power by popularity was Adolf Hitler. At first, Hitler was sought out as someone who seemed delusional with the ideas he was presenting to the public and barely had any supporters. The Beer Hall Putsch was Hitler’s first and failed attempt to seize Munich, Bavaria with about two thousand followers. Although his first attempt was a failure and he was arrested, Hitler finally became more publicly known which is one thing he desired and after serving nine months in jail, Hitler came out as a very famous role model to most of the population in Germany which is the reason why he quick transitioned from someone with a scarce amount of followers to all of Germany following his lead. In conclusion, a leader gains power by fame and popularity and without this key aspect they won’t be able to be a powerful and successful leader.

  12. In the article “The Subject and Power” by Foucault we learned that power is used in multiple ways, and is gained in various ways. We learned that power can be gained by status, we learned that you have to desire power if you truly want it, you can have power such as in wealth, and as in your knowledge, and how you use it on people. That’s where we learn that power is used in multiple ways. For example, medicine has power over our human body. It has the ability to say if we are healthy or not, if we live or die. You have a parent’s power over a child. In life, the parents have the hierarchy of what the child does, how the child acts and behaves. If the child is disobedient then there’s punishment for that child. A man has power in strength over a women. Furthermore, men have power in society and how women are looked as inferior to men. In this case it is just given to men. That’s what I believe, because women have done many great things in history when it came to making discoveries and when it came to war, but men are still looked as superior. You have religious power and how it controls a person mentally, and affects the conscious of those who believe in that religion. This practice of power makes people become obedient, because of the fear of not making it to “heaven.” Power is not always used by choice, but, because it’s necessary, sometimes it’s by choice, and sometimes the power is abused.

  13. Power should not and could not be distributed equally because people would misuse their power and find new ways to raise their power over others. Either a group would find a way to “take” the power from another or they would form a larger party that would misuse the power and form the rest of the society to be as the larger party sees fit. Another outcome of power being equally distributed is that nothing would be able to get done if the parties involved disagreed. They would continually shut down the ideas of the other party if it were a rival party. Then there would be no progress made and there would be no advances for the good of the society. This would push the society backwards and it would end up collapsing or being taken over by a stronger nation. Power can never be handled perfectly and there will always be a power struggle between parties. There is no possible way that power can distributed and have all parties involved come out with a fair amount.

  14. Unfortunately, true equality is not possible. Throughout human history it has been proven time and again that in order for a society to prosper, it needs leaders. This is where the distribution of power becomes an issue. There have been attempts (such as communism) to create a state in which all people are truly “equal”. However, it was once again proven that while it may seem feasible in theory, equal power is simply not possible in the real world. There will always be a “lower” working class and a “higher” ruling class. Humanity is not perfect and in reality never will be as a whole. History has shown that in order for a nation to remain stable and prosperous, there will always need to be a more powerful group (politically, economically, or physically) to keep things in order.Power has been a powerful and critical force since the beginning of civilized society and will likely continue to be for ages to come. Therefore, the question should not be how all parties can be equal, but rather how power should be distributed equally throughout said parties.

  15. When it comes down to it, power can never, nor will ever, be distributed equally amongst individuals. A certain party is always going to be more powerful than others and that’s exactly how it needs to be. If this wasn’t the case, there would be a lot more chaos in today’s society. For example, people love taking advantage of things. Just imagine if that “thing,” was power and it was distributed equally. There would be more harm done than good. Giving certain parties more power over others helps a society stay together in a systematic way. For instance, the government having power over us, keeps people from doing menacing acts. If the government did not have that power, their would be an abundance of violence and other such things leading to a dystopia. All in all, everyone obtains some kind of power no matter how small, but it is a necessity for certain people to have more power than others.

  16. Many simply say that power can never be distributed equally without really ever explaining why that is so. The thing is power very well could be distributed equally it is now just a matter of discussing why it isn’t so in our society today and why it should never be in the future. Everything should have a balance yes, however, when it comes to power balance cannot exist. I’d like to go back to Hearn’s introduction and theories on power. He presents an idea which suggests that if power were to ever really be balanced that it would disappear. I must say that i agree with this idea. If we were to think about our society being transformed to where everyone had an equal amount of power nothing would change and society would not move forward. Hearn presents the ideas of “power to” and “power over”; they relate perfectly to the debate on the balance of power. Many people believe that power should be equally distributed to solve the threatening issue of “power over”. History has proof of dictators and the negative effects they have on a society, but history also has proof of great leaders who also had a vast source of power. This power was not a “power over” but a “power to” . Great individuals have changed the world simply by influencing others to picture the change they envisioned as becoming real. This type of “power to” is absolutely necessary to society. Take Martin Luther King Jr. for example, he had the “power to” influence others and showed them that they also had a power to do something and make a difference. He gained even more power in his followers, ones who believed in equality and a better tomorrow. “Power to” and “power over” come hand in hand. one we fear, and one we need to exist. Power can never be balanced because we need certain groups and people to have the power to help the world progress. Besides we all crave power it is a part of human nature to look for some sort of strength in ourselves and call it the “power to” or to follow a leader who we deep to have “power over” us. It is inevitable.

  17. Individuals can gain power in many ways. The most common way for an individual to gain power is that they need to be liked, and appeal to their audience. Some of the most well-known authority figures in history and in current day did not just gain power over night, they first became a friend and liked by society and then gradually gained the trust that they needed to rule. Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin; all figures who held such power that everyone would listen to what they would say. They all gained power by promising to do better in the community and that they were on the people’s side. The community of people they ruled looked up to these men and trusted that they knew better than anyone on how to rule. Some of the more common ways that their power was used was to get people to follow instructions. To not question motives and to agree with the authority they were given. Power is often used to tell society what to think and how to act, what is right and what is wrong. When someone has control over and is trusted by many people, it is very easy for the authority figure to abuse and misuse their power, to get their followers to believe in whatever they say.

  18. In a perfect world power would be able to be distributed evenly, but in a society where we constantly want better things for ourselves or to become more influential over others it cannot be our reality. Our government strives to make us believe that we live in a balanced society. But the reality is we have many systems in place to keep balance but it is inevitable that the President does hold more power. We live in a society where people are constantly striving to become more powerful than others whether you are looking for a promotion in your job or becoming captain of your sports team all of those responsibilities come with more power over people. If we lived in a society where power was distributed completely evenly I don’t think things could function correctly. People need someone to look for instructions from or to guide them to achieve whatever they are trying to accomplish. Power couldn’t ever been spread evenly if we want a world that wants to advance and give people the opportunity to better themselves.

  19. According to Foucault, power is not something that is tangible, it is not something that is there to be taken. Foucault argues that power “is never localized here or there, [it is] never in anybody’s hands” (1), instead, it is constantly moving and changing. While people can be ‘in power’ and therefore have the ability to exercise their will over others, it is not possible to ever have power.
    Foucault argues instead that the true power lies not within those who are in power, but instead with those who are being manipulated by the power. “In other words, individuals are the vehicles of power, not its points of application” (1). To make sense of this, think of Hitlers rise to power. If nobody had listened to him and done what he had told him, Hitler would have been powerless, that is, he never would have been able to exercise his will over others. However, people chose to listen to him and to follow him, and therefore, it was they who essentially gave him the power. However, power is not something that is given, Hitler merely stepped up and said “listen to me” and the people chose to. This is one way in which power can manifest itself.
    In his essay regarding the “panopticon”, Foucault speaks of some common ways that power is exercised over people. He begins with a description of the protocol used by towns at the end of the seventeenth century when faced with a plague. In this system, the occupants of the town are restricted to their residences and the entire town is sectioned off and quarantined. Officials go through the town and take note that everyone is where they belong and of all other things, and this information is then passed up a chain of command.
    Foucault next describes Bentham’s Panopticon, a building by which thousands of people can be watched and kept subdued by one guardsman. The principal of the Panopticon is that one never knows when they are being watched, and therefore must assume they are constantly being watched. It is with this ‘big-brother’ mindset that the panopticon functions.
    In both of these examples we seethe main concept of exercising power, that it must be visible. In the seventeenth century, the power was manifested by county clerks coming to check on residences, while in the Panopticon, though the poser is unverifiable, that is, they never know when they are being watched, they know that there is a chance they are, and in this way, the power is exercised over them.

    1)”Two Lectures.” Power / Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. Ed.
    Colin Gordon. Brighton: Harvester, 1980. 78-108.

  20. The distribution of power is never (and should never) be equally distributed. Power resting largely in the hands of an individual or a small group is an inevitable construct of an effective social hierarchy. Even on a scale less than an entire social system, power on an individual level will never be equal. There will always be those who strive to be above the rest, simply because of human nature. Power is a fabricated concept, and it exits only if we believe it exists in a certain thing; whether that thing be a person, an inanimate object, or a fictional character. True democracy, or put more broadly the distribution of power equally among everyone, is only effective in small numbers. In large numbers it is impractical to consider the opinion of every individual. For a large-scale society to move forward and be productive, the time-consuming tasks of leadership are better left to those dedicated to lead. This frees up the other classes of society to become workers, builders, and innovators. In a society like the one we live in, power being delegated to parties that represent the whole is the most effective way to have a comfortable, thriving civilization.

  21. Just like many others before me I personally believe that power can never and should never be disturbed equally. In this society we have been brainwashed to think that one must have power to get themselves ahead. The fight for power is just like game. As we all compete to gain as much power as humanly possible there will be a single person or group that will be on top. There will be a winner in this game that we call life and this is why it is impossible for power to be equal among us all.
    In order for there to be some kind of structure in this world there has to be someone if a higher power. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions about how things should be or how they should run. Therefore if we all had the same amount of power it would be utter chaos trying to incorporate everyone’s input. This is why it is necessary that we have a person or group which has the most power and we must listen to and abide by their rules and regulations. Without it we all would be fighting each other to be heard.

  22. For the question that power should be shared or focused I felt that it would best to think of the way power was treated during history. Most if not all the cases that I first thought of led me to believe that power always seems to focus on one group or individual and they hoarded and controlled the power that enabled them to accomplish whatever goals they had set. When thinking of shared power I could only really think about the ideology behind Communism and their belief in everything being shared. But in reality the USSR they showed the world that even with the people sharing the work and the rewards power still gathered into one extremely powerful dictator. You could argue that America does its sharing of power quite well with the populace directly voting on those who make the decisions in Congress. Essentially this gives people the ability to remove those who make the wrong decisions and install those who make the right ones, not a direct access to power but still a tangible hold on it. But again the reality is that the American people do not in any sense of the word feel powerful with their voting rights and instead feel insignificant. Senate members and representatives still make corrupt dealings and destroy the environment and they will continue to run in office unless something drastic happens. So in conclusion power is not something that can be adequately shared at least as far as history has shown. It will always gravitate to the few rather than the many.

  23. There are many ways that individuals or groups come into power, some being in a harmful manner and some in a beneficial way to society. A very common way to come to power is simply by force; if you invoke fear in others they tend to support your leadership position. Another way is by gaining the support of a large part of society by agreeing with their values and opinions and ensuring that you will enforce their ideals. And some come to power just by inheritance; being next in line to rule. People use their power in various ways, some for the greater good and others with less admirable intentions. Some will use their power to create better economic stability and better lives for their people and others will use it to force their own ideals on others to create their version of the “perfect” society. Certain leaders even wish to oppress a certain group of people they deem to be inferior to the rest of society.

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