Post-modernism Today

A Brief Introduction



Previous Chapter  Contents  Next Chapter


On Power


Discourse theorists, basing themselves on the approach of Michel Foucault, discover power as universal and immutable, reducing resistance only to the local level. They consider knowledge, even of Power, is always partial. Affilations can only be shifting and multiple, to speak of a stable subject positions is to chase the chimera of the ‘myth of origins’. Thus history without systemic origins, human subjects or collective sites is nothing but a history of all-encompassing power. And this power is wielded by none and so cannot be resisted because there is nothing outside the fabrication of power. Therefore resistance can only be provisional, personal, local, micro level. Foucault and his followers have put forward explanations of the workings of power almost totally within the domain of the subjective. Such theorists see power as negotiated between individuals and leave them at the mercy of ‘power’ and in this way, our attention is taken away from any possibility of collective political resistance. Those theorists brush aside the question of class and refuse to give weight to or evaluate different elements of Power. For the discourse theorists Power is diffuse and is nowhere, rejecting any formulation of specific strategies and tactics for change. Marxism discards such subjective theory and considers that power is centered in the external material world, rather than simply in people’s head. So, the complete elimination of its internalized form will be impossible until power inequalities within society are first removed.

Foucault began his theoretical journey foregrounding the infinitude of micro-powers and how they are "invested, re-aligned and integrated" into a globalizing strategy of the state. He then shifted after some years to the privileged role of the state as the point of strategic codification of the multitude of power relations and the apparatus in which ‘social hegemony’ is formulated. Regarding their respective dilemmas, Foucault by his emphasis on ‘social surplus’ and dispersion of micro powers remaining intact virtually fails to produce any consistent interpretation of structural domination. Some critics find that such dilemmas ultimately led Foucault to sharply turn to personal ethics at the end of his life. Then emancipation is presented as a process of self-formation of the subject [Michel Foucault, The Final Foucault, James Bernauer and D. Rasmussen (eds), Cambridge, The MIT Press, 1988]. This shift in attention to the self-formation is dismissed by Marxists as pure and simple idealism. Marxism also teaches us about the ideological power and the way of overcoming the oppressive ideological power in the process of social transformation. Marxism does not deny multiple elements of powers but holds the central focus on the ownership of means of production as the main source of power. Simultaneously it considers that the power of ownership goes far beyond mere economic control. The discourse theory not only befogs the questions of state and the ownership of means of production, it casts a black pall of power scenario making any real resistance impossible.


Previous Chapter  Contents  Next Chapter





Home  |  Current Issue Archives  |  Revolutionary Publications  |  Links  |  Subscription