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Explain Foucault’s conception of power, with reference to one or more of his historical studies.

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Introduction

Explain Foucault's conception of power, with reference to one or more of his historical studies. Foucault has become somewhat of a radical figure within sociology, radical in the sense that he has raised subjects regarding the 'human sciences' collectively and in the process has questioned the full intentions of sociology as a discipline. Foucault has a unique style of studying society and because of this tends to approach the more mainstream theories of history, power and knowledge from a 180-degree angle. It can be seen that throughout his works Foucault has tried to improve upon some of his ideas, moving from his archaeological approach to knowledge to genealogies of power and knowledge. Further shifts within his work occurred in his later volumes of The History of Sexuality where he concedes his argument regarding 'subjects as constructs' was perhaps a little one-sided. What makes Foucault's conception of power so distinct is the way in which he confronts the past theories of power and knowledge, wanting to go beyond structuralism and interpretive approaches like phenomenology (McHoul & Grace, 1993), he draws upon an anti-enlightenment tradition when rejecting modernity and as such rejects both reason and progress (Best & Kellner, 1991). ...read more.

Middle

which focused on power as a force of repression and exclusion which masked and concealed the real truths within society (McHoul & Grace, 1993). Foucault believed that sexuality was a product of power but that the power was never repressive of sexuality (Sarup, 1993) and thought that power produced reality, domains of objects and rituals of truth, more basically Foucault thought that power makes individuals the way they are and makes them act in particular ways. For Foucault, power is distributed throughout society, woven into all aspects (Best & Kellner, 1991) and can appear in differing forms for example legal, administrative, economic and military forms (McHoul & Grace, 1993). As such he studied more local forms of power relations looking at various institutions like hospitals, prisons and companies. By examining these more local forms of struggle Foucault was able to theorize about wider society and suggests that these local relations of force sustain major domination. Unlike Marx who based his theory on one class controlling power to oppress another class, Foucault believed that power was not a commodity which could be the property of an individual or group (Sarup, 1993). ...read more.

Conclusion

Foucault believed that the human sciences constructed the human as a subject and as such in Foucault's view humans were constructed by particular bodies of knowledge and therefore by power. The human sciences were able to transform power in society because they increasingly invented new forms of knowledge and as such regulated the human subject and this is why Foucault believed that and individuals 'identity' is historically specific. By evaluating the key aspects of The History of Sexuality this essay has examined only a fraction of Foucault's argument on power. Foucault's book Discipline and Punish focuses more on the idea of surveillance and self-regulation and his historical study of sexuality only really touches upon these aspects. To conclude it is clear that Foucault's conception of power is a critique of structuralism and hermeneutic approaches and as such Foucault has provided a new dimension to the debate regarding the relationship between power and knowledge. Foucault is suggesting that the 'human sciences' play a key role in the extension of power, purely because they suggest new forms of knowledge. For Foucault knowledge is very significant within his conception of power and it is in this way that his theories can be applied to wider debates within sociology and in particular post-structuralism. ...read more.

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