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Butler And Foucault: A Revision Of Power

1430 words - 6 pages

Both Foucault and Butler claim that sexuality is not what makes us who we are, that it is simply a social construct. In addition, they both believe that by submitting to the mechanisms of power and categorizing ourselves sexually, we are giving impetus to our own subjugation. While they hold similar beliefs in many ways, and much of Judith Butler's work is building upon work done by Michael Foucault, Judith Butler does diverge from Foucault's ideas. The reason Butler revises Foucault is that his concept of biopower leaves no room for resistance to power. For Foucault, a shift in the 17th century from a top-down monarchial model of power which focused on the individual gave way to a political technology for controlling entire populations. This system of diverse techniques of control, called Biopower, is made up of every regulatory mechanism in our society. One regulatory mechanism that Foucault shows particular concern over is social categorization. Judith Butler agrees with Foucault over the dangers of categorization, particularly when it comes to gender. Butler interprets Foucault through notions of repression and social norms, ignoring concepts of technology which form a crucial part of Foucault's thinking. Foucault and Butler truly begin to diverge in thinking when Foucault makes the claim that power in modern societies is in essence a creative force, while Butler believes that power is a repressive force. This is where we see Judith Butler make a revision of Foucault's work, this revision is based on Foucault's understanding of modern power as utilized rather than possessed, flowing through the collective body of society. For Judith Butler, this model of power as circulating rather than emanating from the top down leaves no room for resisting that power. If individuals are simply compliant bodies shaped by power, then it becomes difficult to imagine resistance to power.
Foucault believed that from the 17th century on, the growth and care of the populace became the chief concern of the state. As this happened new mechanisms of power emerged which focused on the administration and management of living. Foucault spells out the genesis of this political technology and its use for social control: "One of the great innovations in the techniques of power in the eighteenth century was the emergence of “population” as an economic and political problem: population as wealth, population as manpower or labour capacity, population balanced between its own growth and the resources it commanded. Governments perceived that they were not dealing simply with subjects, or even with a “people,” but with a “population,” with its specific phenomena and its peculiar variables." (298/25) This is where we begin to see Foucault's concept of Biopower come into play. One of the central themes of Foucault's writing, he defines biopower as "[T]he forms of power, the channels it takes, and the discourses it permeates in order to reach the most tenuous and individual...

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