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Foucault and Microphysics of Power


In his theory of power, Foucault opposes the classical Marxist conception and the theories of natural right. There is no self or subject who has power, just as there is no single (state) power alone. Foucault proposes a strategic model of power. Power should not be seen as continuous or stable in individual or collective hands, but power must be thought of as a production of strategies of conflict between forces. Nietzsche speaks of the multiplicity of power relations and their diversity, so that they do not stem from one single self. Authority is a relationship of powers that it forms a system and a chain, or an interruption and separation. It is rooted in all social and symbolic relationships. The power is not imposed from above, but comes from under, not in the bilateral relations between the rulers and the governed, but rather in the relations of power embodied in the mechanisms of production within the family, small groups, and within institutions, and in the whole social body:

"Power comes from below, and therefore no bilateral and no conflict between those who are dominant and rooted in the relations of power, and no bilateral from the top to the base."

Power is always a special and temporary form of the conflict of what is repeated, and the recurrent conflict in a permanent way does not allow for the stability of power. There is a relentless, permanent and continuous war for power, and it is subject to changing conditions, changing strategies, power relations, and the relationship is constantly changing. The center of authority or the authority of the center, it is scattered and spread everywhere, and within the whole social body. In this sense, power is not disciplined to the limits of "political", it transcends its borders.

Modernism is constantly creating new forms of power that differ from the framework of the Marxist conception of the state. The state does not monopolize power as it is common and as classic theories of power suggest.

The focus of the Marxist theory of power on the state is incapable of interpreting the microphysics of power. This microscopic concept of power can not be addressed from the perspective of a central apparatus embodied in the state. Foucault also seeks to form and reproduce complex structures of power based on the strategic model whereby social relations of power are understood within a process through which power is generated everywhere, such as a network in a decentralized system. The Authority has no center, and it is not embodied in a political apparatus, and specifically in the state apparatus. It is spread throughout the social body, unstable and it is transformed from one place to another. I do not claim that the state is not important, what I want to say, is that power relations necessarily exceeds the borders of the state. First and foremost, because the State, in view of the presence of all its apparatuses, is far from being able to fill whole of power relations. Second, because the State can only function by relying on others, that is, on existing power relations. The state is a superstructure that interferes with all chains of power networks inhabiting the body, nationality, family, knowledge, technology and so on. Foucault opposes the reductionist and static perceptions of power.

Microphysics of Power:

This microphysics means that power is microscopic and penetrates strategic relationships within the struggles of daily life. Microphysics gives power to a pluralistic and diverse nature, in the sense of an infinite number of points of confrontation and instability, each of which bears the risks of conflict and determines the temporal nature of power relations. Microphysics of power are not subject to the logic of "all or nothing": they are not subject to surveillance or control of apparatuses or institutions, and are only measured by their effects (Ses effets). There is a permanent war for power. Every power is in a permanent test, and in a constant test of its continuation in the focus of another force. Power relations can only be settled for a while by what Foucault calls "Institutionalisation".

The conflict, or the power relations between two parties, is not resolved by consensus or through discussion and debate, or so-called communication according to Habermas, but by the superiority of one object over the other, ie, the realization of one's purposes at the expense of the other.

How can the Authority be institutionalized when it lacks legitimacy, or at least is not the subject of consensus? Foucault's postmodernist thought in his autobiography of power as a manifestation of modernity shows that it is dominated by power, power, superiority, and control, and surveillance and punishment (Surveiller et punir). This prompted the generation of Dulloz to regard Foucault as a Nietzschean regarding his analysis and dismantling of the mechanisms of power. It denies legal norms and ethical trends, removes them from the sphere of power because of its inability to regulate relations between members of society, and considers them merely illusions, but only masks and masks hidden strategic relations.

The authourity according to Foucault and Nietzsche alike sometimes uses illusion or ideology and deception, sometimes invoking violence, once resorting to physical force and again using computerized deception to subdue the desires opposing their purposes. In this connection we can draw a parallel between Foucault and Adorno. Under complex repressive strategies, power operates in modern societies in a way that allows opposing forces to be subordinated. There is no room for consensus or mutual recognition of the common values ​​of opposing forces.

In Foucault's view, power carries a negative energy that denies all what opposes it, and does not permit anything but what it allows. It contain repressive technologies and indirect ways of negating vital needs. The Authority exercises its suppression by inciting the devout people to greater productivity, efficiency and profitability.

Power, knowledge, body and value

These are the pillars of modern techniques of power: surveillance, guarding and ultimately punishment. It urges production more than oppression, and thus it is subject to both value and body and knowledge to its command. Power creates standards of conduct by observing, enforcing obligations and developing habits. It determines the correct and satisfactory. The Authority also aims to adapt the bodies so that the latter does not deviate from the production of standards of conduct. The body is that region (not in the topographical or toopian sense) that strengthens the expression of life, and to it the modern techniques of power are directed towards silencing them and forcing them to remain silent. Need to power, in order to install itself, devote control to observation, not the cultural forms of thought, but also the forms of body expressions.

The concept of "body" in Foucault's mind is the pole of the molar. It bears the connotation of how to live and the way of life. It reduces the expressions of life that are connected to its basic functions: on the one hand as a machine, engine or movement; on the other hand, it represents the organic functions of reproduction and pain. Of power to the extent of its ability to adapt the body and tame its regions and functions:

"This is the main idea that led Foucault to play a fundamental role in his theory of power to the behavior of the human body rather than cognitive or not."

The Critique of power, Axel Honneth, p 167.

Modernity has developed methods, techniques and procedures to monitor, adapt and tame the body. It does not merely monitor it, but goes beyond it to impose and produce the typical physical behaviors it wants by normalizing its signals, stereotyping its incentives, and molding its movements. That is what he explains in his book "Discipline and Punish" It lends bodies to automatic and rotary behavior for mere fulfillment. The human body is not seen as a physical and psychological unit, but as a mechanical mechanism. Like the Frankfurt School, Foucault sees the taming of the body as the title of modernity in Europe.

In modern times, power is not the control of the body's motivations and movements, but also the control of life, death and procreation according to very complex techniques that extend even to observing the biological behavior of the population.

Michel Foucault outlines strategies that interfere with the organization of organic life under the name of bio-politics.

Clearly, beginning in the 17th century, this control of life evolved in two basic forms that were not contradictory. On the contrary, they were even more polarized to this development and linked to a series of intermediate relations:

One of these poles is centered on the body as a machine: its training, the increase of its abilities and its negation of its forces and its integration in the pattern of efficiency and economic control. All this is guaranteed by the means of authority that encourage observation. It is a kind of political anatomy of the human body.

The second pole, which is later formed, is dominated by the characteristics of the body, the body associated with the techniques of life, which is the basis of biological processes: reproduction, life, death, health and age, with different conditions that can intervene. Organized Intervention and Surveillance: It is a human-biomedicine.

Techniques applied to bodies are subject to the results of scientific development in order to adapt the body to life's processes. In other words, the techniques of observing, taming and adapting the body are held hostage by the progress of "knowledge of man". This leads to the third idea: the concept of knowledge.

Knowledge lead Foucault to discourse analysis, which is a means of determining reality. Knowledge is an essential element of power relations. The old perception of knowledge outside of power relations, their stances, their aims and their purpose must be abandoned. In contrast to this perception: knowledge is a product of power, both knowledge and power call one another. Knowledge establishes the ground for power, power assumes power relations.

Modern science responds to the demands of modernity, by which it can invade reality, harness nature, man and body, build power and hegemony (Foucault can be compared herewith Adorno). Science and knowledge are not neutral tools and objective tools that can be harnessed to social control. Modern science itself is an authority and a key element in the strategy of conflict, and even those who believe that they can use it for their ends are themselves caught in the trap of that strategy. There is a strong relationship between scientific choice and the strategy of power. Hence Foucault's fierce criticism of humanism: Psychology, mental medicine, pedagogy and criminology, all of which establish strategies for manipulating minds and taming the body. In this sense, modernity is steeped in techniques and methods of knowledge that are generally integrated into the strategies of power, and the modernity of science and politics in the control of man.


Foucault's system of knowledge or system of discourse inevitably necessitates the establishment of forms of man-made techniques: sociology, mental medicine, psychology and pedagogy. All this translates into practices that tend to tame the bodies and to the administrative control of behavior. The more developed it is possible to control all aspects of human life: demography, politics and economy.

Even political apparatuses are not excluded from the modern techniques of power. In other words, it is impossible to monopolize power by the state as Marxism sees it. Foucault rejects the Altusir perspective, which reduces power in the ideological and repressive apparatuses of the state. The concept of power in Foucault transcends the political field of the state; it is implemented throughout the society, What he thinks is a monopoly on politics. It is everywhere and nowhere (Partout et nulle part), with no center, no limbs and no grip on everything. It is a process without subject (Processus sans sujet). It is not an individual, collective or historical act. Even the concept of class as a historical actor , It is an effect of institutions: family, prison, clinic and factory.

Foucault's theory of power conflicts with modern and contemporary political theories and investigates every possibility of establishing authority on the basis of legality through consensus, discussion, or on any basis of contract. Nothing can limit power strategies or limit power relations. Here we can oppose Foucault with Habermas or Rawls, who turn to a pragmatic and normative theory of power.

It is not possible to remove the conflict from the society, nor to deviate from its strategies of authority; even institutionalization does not succeed in stopping its ambitions towards greater control and domination. The authority is an accessory to domination, control, guardianship, punishment, intimidation and obedience.

© 2018 Oussema Ben Romdhane