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Compare and contrast Karl Marx's and Michel Foucault's analysis of the concept power.

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Introduction

Compare and contrast Karl Marx's and Michel Foucault's analysis of the concept power. Karl Marx was a materialist philosopher who believed that all ideas came out of life, and its conditions not from any divine being or force, like the idealist philosophers believed(Hands,2000.P:11) This led him to present an analysis of power. According to Marx there was an underlying structure that determined social reality, and that must be grasped if social reality was to be understood. In his view the underlying structure was an economic one and its foundation is: natural resources, means of production and means of distribution. This underlying structure is "tantamount to the 'sum total of the relations of production. Furthermore, everything else in society must be built upon that foundation. The 'superstructure' is a 'reflex or a 'sublimate' of that underlying structure."(Harman,1997.P:43) It is essentially an ideological reflection of the forces at work in the socio-economic foundation. For example, a political constitution is just a legalizing of the privileges of the social class that owns the economic foundation of society. The police are heavily armed hired toughs who administer the 'rights' of the ruling class. So called morality is the defence of these advantages. The same with most art, literature, poetry, religion and what passes for science. To elaborate on these points in greater detail one must explore Marx's teleological view of history. Marx argued that "the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles."(Marx. ...read more.

Middle

Power is dynamic, not static as in the Marxist sense. It flows rapidly from one position to the next and is too mobile to be grasped, or be reduced to an economic base. With this constant flow of power people's individual understanding of their own identity changes and because of this Foucault finds an identity based on class hard to accept. Before the Renaissance there was a relative homogeneity and unity of authorised discourses. In short, there were only a few people or institutions who were authorised to, or could, communicate in a public way.-the monarchy, the church, the universities and artists. In addition, most of what was written , spoken and painted to support the status quo that is the authority of the church and monarchy. For any person, or institution, that spoke against the authorised discourses of the day the consequences could be drastic. When 'the Enlightenment' removed the Divine King it set up, in his place, the 'empty space' of democracy; power is fluid because the site of power is empty and potentially anyone can fill 'the Emperor's clothes'. However this also gave power the opportunity to conceal itself. The reason why Mulder, from The 'X Files', can not locate the truth is because no-one can really be sure what it is. Because knowledge and information are shared across government agencies, and there is no one person who is the King who is in the centre and able to explain everything. ...read more.

Conclusion

Foucault laments that while technologies of power, used in prisons, are supposed to produce 'compliant' bodies and behaviour but in reality the opposite happens. Prisons, in fact, function as 'criminal factories.' Prisoners become convinced that they are all the things the system says they are: 'lazy' 'scum' 'useless' etc. So the prisoners are brought together where they can exchange ideas, experiences and contacts. To put it bluntly where they can learn to become effective and efficient criminals and this is re-enforced because the prison system treats them like criminals. Zimbardo's prison experiment with randomly assigned roles of prisoner or guard, illustrates the influence of roles on attitudes and behaviour. One can conclude by saying that Marx presented an economic analysis of power. Power was something that was owned by the dominant class, in society, who owned the means of production. It flowed from the top down and its function was to repress, but because power was static one group could be overthrown by another and thus it could be grasped by the working class when they became a 'class for themselves'. However Focault sees history differently. He emphasises the discontinuties of history. Moreover after the removal of the 'Divine Rule of Kings' there was a change in the idea of the seat of power. Where power no longer flows from the top down but is instead owned by no-one. It can not be seized because it is dynamic that is to say it circulates throughout culture constantly moving from one position to the next. Like Marx Foucault agreed that power is more effectively exercised by hidden coercion's but he felt power was not only repressive but also positive. ...read more.

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