Engaging Foucault’s critics

1. Preamble

Perhaps the single most important outcome of the trajectory that runs through Follett to Foucault on the axis of positive power is to shift attention away from an over-concentration on power as a negative and zero-sum phenomenon. At the out- set of this book we discussed how analysis of power in terms of outcomes was not such a good idea. What is an outcome shifts with the here-and-now from which it is viewed. It also shifts in its meaning depending on who is doing the viewing, and the relevancies they hold. These relevancies themselves are an effect of existing power circuits. It is for this reason that the circuits of power framework is so use- ful: it enables us to concentrate on process rather than become too bogged down in questions such as ‘Who won?’

Traditions die hard. Thinking of power in terms of both causal mechanisms and essential interests has become a veritable tradition in power analysis. We shall now address some of the major criticisms that have been made of Foucault’s reconsti- tution of some of these key and associated terms. It is a difficult task because of the extent and dispersion of Foucault’s formulations of power as well as Foucault’s recognition of the futility of searching for the ‘correct’ interpretation or the ‘real’ meaning of his (or any author’s) words. We will deliberately confine our analysis to a focus on power; this is not to say that we are unaware of the broader criticisms that have been made of his overall body of work from philosophy, social and liter- ary theory, and so on.

There have been many critiques – if only because the impact of Foucault’s work across diverse fields of knowledge has been considerable. In addition, he became something of a celebrity intellectual, in common with any number of other Parisian intellectuals before him, and the fame of his scholarship, as well as, occa- sionally, the notoriety attached to his private life, attracted attention much as a brilliant stadium light attracts moths (Eribon 1991; Miller 1993). He burned brightly, although his luminescence was extinguished in 1984, when he died of AIDS. Still, even more than 20 years later, his work remains influential and, as we shall see in later chapters, has had a considerable impact on ‘critical’ and ‘discourse’ scholarship on power. Here, however, we concentrate on some of his critics.

2. Criticism from essentialism

An early set of criticisms of Foucault arose in the context of feminist theory, a posi- tion committed to the idea that there are some essential structures of patriarchal dominancy at work in gender relations (for example, Fraser 1981; 1989; Cooper 1994; Deveaux 1994; Harstock 1990; Sawaki 1991; and especially Hekman 1996 which collects much of the critical commentary). From this perspective there was little doubt that men and women had real opposed interests, and that men’s inter- ests, represented in the patriarchy, dominated those of women. Such a view of dom- ination did not sit easily with what was seen as Foucault’s overly generalized account of power. If power does not concern questions of sovereignty, and if sovereignty needs to be overthrown as a prime mover for power analysis, if power comes from everywhere, if power is neither an institution nor a structure but ‘the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society’ (Foucault 1984: 93), then power seems so diffuse that it cannot be pinned down, dissected and used in analysis of specific structures of domination, such as those of patriarchy.

Domination is inescapably a part of what it means to be human; through the normal forms of domination we learn to assert our powers as historically consti- tuted subjects having the capacity to act upon the limits of our freedom, ‘through practical, technical and procedural inventions … embodied in ways of thinking, speaking and judging that emerged at a particular time and place and are destined to disappear’ (Rose 1999: 95). What truths maintain domination will vary from era to era and this will be a result of the dominant power practices defining that era, producing its objects, its rituals, and its truths. In this way are power and domina- tion related, such that, for instance, the power of feminist critique produces the conditions both of its liberation and of that domination which it will liberate. Structures of dominancy are not power, they are the outcome of historical strug- gles for power. In this sense, power does not stake out and hold some essentialist ground, position or viewpoint, but is distinctly empirical and strategic. Power priv- ileges no essential struggles in society; what different interests ensue will be largely contingent upon, precisely, these struggles.

It is through struggles and resistance that the legitimacy of domination as authority is enacted. Authority is never given per se; it has no transcendent ethos but is merely representative of the state of play of power relations. That they are as they have become speaks of no necessary unfolding of the rights of man – or woman; it merely indicates those normalcies which have become taken for granted as necessary nodal points of contemporary existence, necessities that key texts or movements can question, sometimes even transform (de Beauvoir 1953; Friedan 1965; Greer 1970).

The point is not that there will not be struggles – of course there will, and many of them may be articulated by their protagonists in terms of some essential con- ceptions that privilege particular cleavages around notions such as gender, class or, for that matter, any number of alternative constructions of identity – but that para- doxically, unlike many feminists seem to promulgate, these struggles should not be seen as necessarily eternal or somehow in the nature of things. They are not the truth at the expense of other truths (e.g. Harstock 1987); rather, they are the effects of whatever relevancies are at work, are capable of mobilizing support and of being translated into actions of various kinds. In this way, an essentialism that might seem quite surprising to some other essentialisms – such as the renaissance of the religious right might seem to old-school socialists and feminists – will irrupt not because it articulates some fundamental sovereign principle but because its supporters mobilize around it as if it did. Thus, one can remain agnostic about the various essentialisms that enthusiasts of whatever persuasion might proffer, while not denying the analysis of their effects.

Inspired by Foucault, there have been several developments of non-essentialist feminism. Judith Butler (1990) uses the distinction between ‘power to’ and ‘power over’ to demonstrate how each conception hinges on a different conception of the human subject. The theorists who stress ‘power over’ assume that subjectivity is already there in a pre-given form, while the theorists who stress ‘power to’ see it as producing subjectivity. The former corresponds to notions of patriarchal power subjecting gendered relations to its pattern, while the latter indexes a notion of subjection as subject making embedded in discourse (Probyn 2005: 518). These dis- courses institutionally produce – legally, nationally, culturally – what is contested as normalcy.

3. Criticism of negativity

Ironically, one critique of Foucault picked up precisely on his implicit agnosticism. Deleuze (1988) criticized Foucault’s ideas because, despite Foucault’s protestations to the contrary, he argues that power is mainly negative for Foucault, in his insti- tutional analyses. Although Foucault’s later work argues that power is positive, his analyses mostly show power as a restrictive and oppressing force – hence the link- age with total institutions. Only when he talks about power and pleasure (in his last two volumes of The history of sexuality) does Foucault’s notion of power become more productive. However, it is not productive enough for Deleuze who argues that power is always linked to desire – or to the very strong instinct or drive that underlies desire. So power is linked to very strong emotions like passion or desire, and it is for this reason that it is positive. Thus, one seeks a certain kind of libera- tion or experience as a result of what we might term an essentialist desire, but, to realize or achieve this, one must exert power.

For Deleuze, Foucault talked about a more passive pleasure that might come with power: he was insufficiently positive. This is a very different spin on positive power to those we have encountered thus far: as Foucault acknowledged in his preface to Deleuze and Guattari’s (1983) Anti-Oedipus, it is ‘the connection of desire to reality’ which is important; because we desire something we exert power positively to try and bring it within our grasp. In this sense, quite contrary to Deleuze’s critique, Foucault views power as always being positive in that it brings about a change in state; he acknowledges, however, that the outcome of this change may not be something that is welcome (Haugaard 1997). Nonetheless, it is clear that the project is not one of total control or domination; power does not always get its way. Consequently, we may agree with Foucault that power is never a phenomenon of mass and homogeneous domination – the domination of one indi- vidual over others, of one group over others, or of one class over others; keep it clearly in mind that unless we are looking at it from a great height and from a very great dis- tance, power is not something that is divided between those who have it and hold it exclusively, and those who do not have it and are subject to it. Power must, I think, be analyzed as something that circulates, or rather as something that functions only when it is part of a chain. It is never localized here or there, it is never in the hands of some, and it is never appropriated in the way that wealth or a commodity can be appropriated. Power functions. Power is exercised through networks, and individuals do not simply circulate in those networks; they are in a position to both submit to and exercise this power. They are never the inert or consenting targets of power; they are always its relays. In other words, power passes through individuals. It is not applied to them … The indi- vidual is in fact a power effect, and at the same time, and to the extent that he is a power effect, the individual is a relay: power passes through the individuals it has constituted. (2003a: 29–30)

Thus, the effects of power cannot be simply read off as domination, despite some critics’ point of view (Allen 2003).

4. Criticism of Eurocentrism

Another common criticism of Foucault is that he presents a Eurocentric view of power, and one that is oriented far too much to the centrality and importance of texts and discourses in explicating this history. In fact, his view of the world is even more restricted: it is essentially Francophone and actually misses opportunities to engage with other scholars working, at various times, on similar themes, such as the English E. P. Thompson (1967) and the German Max Weber (1978) on aspects of discipline, or the Canadian Erving Goffman (1961) on Asylums.

Certain scholars have engaged with Foucault’s works from a broad perspective and, in doing so, have shown ways in which the focus on discourse may not be as limited as might be imagined. Typically, Foucault’s analyses demonstrate that the growth of a phenomenon such as Western rationalism, in the Age of Reason, had a dark, dialectically related side – in this case the emergence of madness as the other of reason (Foucault 1965). As the Age of Reason cast its spell over a benighted and bewitched Europe, so it also was extended globally through the European colo- nization of the world, albeit that, as we have seen in Chapter 6, it did not necessar- ily incorporate that which it found there as indigenous. On the one hand, reason promised emancipation from enchanted and traditional beliefs at home; at the same time it offered nothing much more than domination globally, as it imposed a developmental discourse on the rest of the world judged inferior by the criteria of Euroreason.

The very discourses that established the Enlightenment in the West, through reasoned knowledge, using a language of emancipation, created new discursive systems of power, of which notions of development were one. In the postwar era, huge swathes of the world in Africa, Asia and Latin America were consigned to the category of underdevelopment. A whole discourse of development and under- development was created, employing what Escobar (1984/5; 1992; 1995) refers to as a new political economy of truth, replacing earlier orientalist themes (Said 1979). Discursively, a vast institutional network of agencies was talked into being using the terms of the new discourse: that development meant achieving the state of existence of those societies that were already wealthy, which created an apparatus linking knowledge about the Third World with specific powers to intervene in the knowledge objects thus created (Escobar 1992: 23).

Linkage was achieved discursively through three strategies: first, the definition of the situation of some countries as less developed or underdeveloped, seen as a problem to be treated by specific kinds of interventions from outside, from the West; second, the recasting of these problems into appropriate technical problems (of economics) to be resolved through the application of scientific expertise; third, the institutionalization of development through the formation of a network of new sites of power, defined in terms of specialist expertise and knowledge, which then bind people to certain behaviors and rationalities. In this way, Escobar argues, a spatial field of power and knowledge emanates from the West and percolates out, pulling actors into the orbit of its rhetoric of ‘development’. The rhetoric is power- ful; it resonates with Enlightenment ideals as well as the aspirations of poor people in those countries at which the discourse is aimed. The exchanges were not all one way, however, and we should not be blind to this because, as has been argued else- where, many syncretic forms of the colonizers being colonized in reverse have cre- ated much of the vitality of the contemporary world through media such as music, gastronomy, and religion (Clegg 1996).

Escobar provides applications of Foucault that demonstrate that discursivity has material effects. Yet, how these effects are created, theoretically, is troubling. Power becomes equivalent to its discourse; the discourse seems to take on a reified power apart from any of the agencies that might be articulating or resisting the discourse. Power becomes a verb that does things – a troubling state of affairs for English usage wherein power is ordinarily a noun and is only a transitive verb in specific instances, such as when one notes that a car is powered by a four-liter alloy engine.

5. Criticism of a singular focus

While Foucault’s later work on governmentality brings power outside of confine- ment and into more nuanced arenas, as Hannah notes, Foucault ‘never precisely spelled out the ways in which the panoptic logic of visibility had to change to oper- ate effectively in an environment where its subjects did not suffer continuous con- finement’ (1997: 344). From this perspective, Foucault maintained too singular a focus on surveillance.

A closely related critique comes from Bourdieu which says that the emphasis in Foucault is too much on a ‘simplifying vision of social constraint as discipline, i.e. as a constraint exercised upon the body from the outside’ (Wacquant 1993: 35). The emphasis remains on ‘external disciplines and constraints’ rather than the processes of ‘inculcation of cognitive schemata of perception, appreciation and action’. Thus, the criticism is that while Foucault may be quite good at describing the disciplines of power as an external imposition on the body, he is far less sophis- ticated in his discussion of the ‘subtler forms of domination which come to oper- ate through belief and the pre-reflexive agreement of the body and mind with the world – whose paradigmatic manifestation is masculine domination’. Here, Bourdieu is actually quite close to Lukes (1974; 2005), when he asks: ‘Indeed, is it not the supreme exercise of power to get another or others to have the desires you want them to have – that is to secure their compliance by controlling their thoughts and desires?’ (1974: 23). In fact, this criticism suggests that Bourdieu was, perhaps, not as familiar with the Foucauldian oeuvre as one might expect of one Parisian and Collège de France intellectual of another. It is evident from the earlier discus- sions that Foucault does attend to these matters – and in a way which is less rhetor- ical and more empirical than Lukes (1974).

Bourdieu approaches power differently: it is practical social action that links what is past to what is yet to happen, for which he reserves the term ‘habitus’.

Habitus is a tacit knowledge of how to ‘go on’ as a competent social agent. It is a form of disposition derived from life experience. In this sense, habitus is both an internaliza- tion of reality and, at the moment of practice, an externalization of self as constituted through past experience. Through the use of habitus in social practice, history, as past experience, becomes projected into the future. When actors interpret their past they impose particular order upon it, which, in turn, determines their ordering the future. Hence the ability to reproduce the orderdness of social life as a whole, is a reflection of the ordering which actors perceive to exist in the past. (Haugaard 2002a: 225)

Bourdieu was alert to the symbolic manifestations of power relations, looking at the way in which the dominant symbolic order of any arena, such as a society or an organization, generates a system of highly visible distinctions and discriminations which stratify those populations subject to them. The dominant symbols and meanings stratify status in orders of distinction, based upon many small and subtle markers of identity: tastes, deportment, education, residence, sports, life inter- ests, and so on, all represent a surplus of meaning denoting membership in parti- cular strata of society. The symbolic order is never stable or fixed but is an effect of previous and current power relations and competitions in which actors seek to position those symbols of distinction that define them, or which they aspire to, as the desirable forms of seduction.

Because status represents past experience, status has a tendency to be self-reproducing and self-reinforcing. It is self-reproducing in the moment that the dominated class use their past experience to shape future expectations, in this case, habitus, as embodied history, repeats itself as an endless, self-fulfilling prophecy. Individuals find themselves in a particular place in society; as a result they undergo certain experiences, they then internalize a habitus concerning the order of things, and, consequently, structure their future behaviour in a manner which reproduces their social position. Instances of this include the expectation by working class children that education is ‘not really for them’. They order their actions relative to this predisposition and the more they do so, the more accurate they find their habitus to be – they underachieve within the educational system.

The alternative to the self-fulfilling prophecy is to try and move up the social ladder. This has the unintended consequence of reinforcing relations of domination. What constitutes status is valued because people desire it. Consequently, the act of raising expectations towards social mobility is, ironically, to validate the system of hierarchy. Furthermore, the attempt at advancement usually culminates in failure because the newly acquired habitus, the new manners and meanings, do not form part of the actor’s deeply internalized habitus, the habitus of childhood, which is what renders actions easy and natural to perform. The recently acquired condition of the habitus of social advancement is betrayed in the actions of such individuals. Their actions are characterized as ‘affected’, ‘unnatural’, or ‘pedantic’ in contrast to the ‘natural ease’ and ‘effortless ele- gance’ of those who carry out the very same actions with reference to a habitus which is truly ‘theirs’. (Haugaard 2002a: 226)

Bourdieu, like Foucault, was something of an outsider: a working-class child, from Algeria, who drew mainly on one source of capital to get ahead in the world of academia – his intellectual knowledge – in dealing with elites. Many of his colleagues with their middle-class and aristocratic backgrounds had other forms of capital that worked for them – social and cultural – which gave them access to forums, arenas and other possibilities, much more readily. Bourdieu also lived in one of the most status- conscious cities in the world, Paris, and no doubt had an acute eye for the slights, the stings, the cruel put-downs of distinction and its claimants, protectors and assailants (Bourdieu 1984). What is maintained as distinction is social or symbolic capital that exercises a form of symbolic violence wrought by the state, educational institutions and appeals to the natural order of things (Bourdieu 2002). All these establish, stabi- lize and reproduce distinction, making of specific cultures a form of capital with which people seek to impress some and simultaneously suppress others. Education, particularly in universities, is vital to this process as it is the field in which struggles over the truth claims of knowledge are played out (see Harker et al. 1990).

While maintaining distinction might as easily involve seduction as manipulation, inducements as much as coercion, in Bourdieu it is invariably reduced to domina- tion, which, once institutionalized as a legitimated set of orderings, acquires the gloss of authority. These symbols serve solely to legitimate domination; they pro- vide the velvet glove that cloaks the iron fist because ‘no power can be exercised in its brutality in an arbitrary manner … it must dissimulate itself, cloak itself, justify itself for being what it is – it must make itself be recognized as legitimate by foster- ing the misrecognition of the arbitrary that founds it’ (Wacquant 1993: 25). Through the impositions of symbolic violence tied up in cultural capital the domi- nated come to misrecognize their reality and begin to see it in the terms – and they are plural and fragmentary – of the elites, a game that they can never win.

Thus, from the perspective of this critique, the Foucault effect requires qualifica-tion: most of us do not live in total institutional organizations. Nonetheless, knowl- edge of the parameters of these is invaluable in helping us assert our freedoms as citizens in a civil society employed by and interacting with organizations, subject to imperfect surveillance, negotiating distinctions, and having a variable awareness and regard for the governmental regimes that do exist. Power is complex, heterogeneous and multifaceted. In fact, towards the end of his life, Foucault demonstrated an awareness of the rather one-dimensional focus that he had developed:

When I was studying asylums, prisons, and so on, I insisted, I think, too much on the techniques of domination. What we call discipline is something really important in these kinds of institutions but it is only one aspect of the art of governing people … Power consists in complex relations: these relations involve a set of rational techniques, and the efficiency of those techniques is due to a subtle integration of coercion-technologies and self-technologies. (1997: 182)

With this in mind, Bourdieu’s critique of Foucault’s lack of sophistication in regard to the inculcation of cognitive schemata is justified. However, Foucault’s treatment of the constitution of knowledge, and the effects of this knowledge on the self and how one might overcome these, must be acknowledged, particularly in his later address of the ‘care of the self ’.

6. Critique of power as structuralist

In his earliest discussion of Foucault’s work Steven Lukes (1977: 8, 139) categorizes him as a structuralist: a theorist who regards individual wills as of less significance than structural factors within systems. Against this, Lukes takes the side of human agency. For him one cannot discuss power without also discussing responsibility. If one exercises power one could have chosen differently; one could have chosen not to have done so. Attributing power is equivalent to attributing responsibility: that one exercises power over another demonstrates a deliberate choice rather than a structural necessity. However, as Hoy notes, ‘The claim that a structural system restricts what an agent can do does not entail the claim that such a system deter- mines what an agent will do’ (1986: 128). In other words, structural patterning can coexist with individual choices and responsibility. Where does this leave Foucault?

In contrast to Lukes’ views, Foucault eschews any problematic of the subject as much as he does one of structure. Neither subjects nor structures are seen as deter- mining and determined. It is not a matter of levels or dimensions of analysis, in a geological metaphor; instead, because of the discursive shaping of power, power exists in terms of ‘intentionality without a subject, such that power relations are intentional and can be described without being attributed to particular subjects as their conscious intentions’ (Hoy 1986: 128).

Power operates through a network of relations, micro-politics and capillaries of power, as discourses shape the structure of society and those common attributions of motive and meaning with which claims to intentionality can be made, through patterning truth relations in knowledge (Blum and McHugh 1971). Foucault’s power/knowledge nexus illustrates the importance of historical ways of constitut- ing knowledge claims, which will differ markedly from episteme to episteme. If Foucault were the structuralist that Lukes would have him, then power should be something that the structures distribute, so that who possesses it depends on where they slot into the structures. Yet, he argues strongly against any conception of power as a possession. Power is not something that dominant classes have and those subordinated lack. Power is not the property of the state and it is not implicit in specific resources. Power is a strategy, and those who are dominated are as com- plicit in its strategic web of relations as those who are dominant. Power is not something that is situated in some sovereign center from which it radiates. By con- trast, its capillaries permeate many small, local spaces.

Foucault is structuralist in one respect: he is interested less in who has power and more in the possibilities of how anyone is able to exercise power; how the fields or arenas in which power is exercised are structured in such a way that power could be exercised. In this respect he is much closer to Clegg’s (1989) reformulation of the underlying issues of the exercise of episodic power than he is to Lukes’ (1974) formulation. In fact, he even uses a metaphor to discuss how he sees power that Clegg (1975) had used earlier. In Foucault (1982), when he answers the question ‘How is power exercised?’, he draws an analogy with the game of chess. That one piece may exercise power over another is, in Foucault’s (1982) terms, ‘an effect of the overall arrangement of the pieces at the time as well as of the strategy leading up to and including the capture’ (Hoy 1986: 135). Or, in Clegg’s (1975) terms, the moves that are possible are embedded in the rules of the game – but in reality power is less like a game of chess with fixed rules and more akin to a game where some of the players can make up and interpret the rules as they go along (as seen to great effect in Flyvbjerg’s 1998 analysis). Hence power/knowledge – precisely because the knowledge of the rules is not a stable and externally given datum but is an effect of the power being played out.

When power is ever ything it is nothing …

Lukes (2005), in the second edition of his celebrated book on power, makes a fur- ther criticism of Foucault’s account of power as being so general and diffuse in its effects that it is indeterminate and empty, almost akin to socialization as a catch-all category. He is not alone: Lynch (1998) makes a similar critique. Because Foucault’s power lacks any other, anything that is outside and opposed to it, such as freedom or autonomy, some state of being opposed to being subordinated or dominated, it is seen to be utterly nihilistic – a position that is often met with the critique ‘How can it be true that there is no truth?’ In large part this charge of nihilism arises because of Foucault’s opposition to any Whiggish history, as a story of progress, of increasing emancipation (of knowledge; from power). However, the charge misses Foucault’s point entirely.

It is not that Foucault does not acknowledge truth; rather, he does not acknowl-edge a single truth. That is, he does not privilege any one version of truth over another; rather, he recognizes that different social systems or cultural regimes will have versions of truth that reflect the regime’s historical constitution of knowledge. Haugaard (1997) adds weight to Foucault’s observation by adding that there is no culture on earth that believes their version of truth is not true. Foucault gives truth a plurality; rather than there being a single truth out there waiting to be discovered there are multiple truths, each of which has a cultural significance (Foucault 1984; 1997). In this sense, he is not a nihilist; as Haugaard (1997) points out, it is not that Foucault does not have values, it is just that he does not trust them. For Foucault it is the privileging of one’s values or version of truths that prevent one from recog- nizing those of others from which one might learn, a position that is central to his ‘care of the self ’ writings.

Foucault sees power as having a specific relation with freedom which ‘is both the condition and the effect of power. It is a condition because power is only exercised on free beings, and it is an effect since the exercise of power will invariably meet with resistance, which is the manifestation of freedom’ (Hoy 1986: 139). At this point he comes quite close to Lukes’ (1974) position on the relation of power and responsibility; hence, where there is no freedom, no responsibility, just pure coer- cion, for instance, then there can be no power. Power is closely and deeply related to ethics, because the exercise of freedom is related to the election of a particular mode of existence as a life project – and, as we shall shortly see, as a life-path.

Where there is power, then the appropriate question to ask is: how is this power possible? How are power relations arranged? Not taking a transcendent position, Foucault would not expect power arrangements everywhere to partake of some essential quality, such as class struggle or resource dependency. They will be con- tingent on the effects of local struggles in specific fields and arenas of power. Again, in this respect he joins Lukes’ (1974) way of thinking – that power is an essentially contested concept – but he adds the rider that it is not just in political theory but in everyday practice that the contestation occurs.

Power that is not practical, not morally responsible, and not usefully evaluative Lukes (2005: 65–9) takes the point that power is a significant term in everyday practice in his second edition of Power: a radical view, and in so doing adds to the general critique of Foucault. In everyday practice power will be contested for three reasons, he suggests (following Morriss 2002). First, for practical reasons: we need to know who can exert power on us and whom we can exert power on. Second, there are moral reasons: denial of the power to have done something is tantamount to a denial of responsibility; one cannot be held responsible for things over which one has no control, in other words. Third, we use power in everyday life for evalu- ative purposes: where people are rendered powerless to better their conditions because of the actions of others – whether specifically intended and targeted or not – through the structural arrangements they design (such as a shifting balance of citizenship versus consumer rights in a society, tilting state provision of things like education and health care increasingly into the laps of consumers rather than hold- ing them to be rights of citizens), then power is palpable. Things could be other- wise; different choices could be made; different designs would have different consequences. Foucault evades these three uses of power, according to Lukes (2005: 90), because his account of power as something that both represses and produces is ‘wildly overstated and exaggerated’.

The problem, according to Lukes, is that Foucault is too much in thrall to ‘Nietzschean rhetoric, within which power excluded both freedom and truth’(2005: 91). Because truth is contingent on regimes of power, one cannot make judgments about the relative merits of forms of life; because power is inescapable, one has neither practical inclination nor moral responsibility to liberate oneself – or others – from particular instances of it. Moreover, he produces far too strong an account of power in works such as Discipline and punish (1977) because he confuses design with efficacy: after all, the Panopticon may have been a fiendish design but it was not that widely used, and, Lukes (2005: 93) suggests, hardly achieved the ‘one- sided, monolithic image of unidirectional control’ that pervades both his work and that of his disciples. Indeed, for Lukes (2005: 97) his views seem much like old- fashioned sociological functionalism with their accounts of the centrality of the socialization process. Power in Foucault becomes so general that it is virtually indistinguishable from socialization. Only late in his life was he able to make more fine-grained distinctions that enabled discrimination to be made about the different types of power and its asymmetries – and when he did so he trod familiar paths that had already been well prepared, for instance in Weber’s (1978) account of domination.

7. A science of design rather than practice

Foucault focuses on big schemes, whether they be great men’s grand designs such as Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, or overarching discourses that are said to determine a society’s ‘regime of truth’. As we saw in Chapter 5, when compared with Goffman, in Foucault there is little focus on the inmates of the institution and more concern with the designs that incarcerate them. The anthropologist James Scott (1990) also focuses far more on the inmates of the institutions and his conclusions point to a world of power and resistance that Goffman would have immediately recognized. He studied the ‘hidden transcripts’ of power – the subliminal utterances of power that never cross powerful thresholds but circulate among the servants, in the tav- erns, the carnivals, the marginal areas of the lower orders in social life. It is here that news, stories, and dissent circulate freely through rumor, humor and bawdy, mock- ing behavior, reflecting upon the pompous and pretentious official stories – the polite fictions – maintained by those in power as ‘public transcripts’. In public the lower orders, knowing where their interests reside, pay deference to the official stories, enact their scripts with style and aplomb; but when out of sight and out of mind they creatively, joyously, viciously, and with the flair of the carnival, mock and subvert the dominant order and authorities. In literary theory, one may think of Bakhtin’s (1984) emphasis on carnival, or in organization analysis Rhodes’ (2001) celebration of The Simpsons as the most effective critical analysis of organizations available, Willis’s (1974) Learning to labour, or Linstead’s (1985) wonderfully anar- chic work on humor.9 All of these texts share with Scott the importance of retriev- ing the underbelly of formally organized life; of piercing through the official stories and capturing not only the deep bows but also the silent farts, double entendres, and profane moments that puncture and deflate local rituals, identities and powers.

In such accounts the actors who are subordinated to power may well be exposed to various panoptical devices but they are always able to subvert them, subtly resist them, push, prod and probe for the weak spots in power, or show up its absurdity. Moments of resistance such as these will rarely if ever overcome the system, but these small bursts of pleasure do serve to make domination more bearable and less injurious through skilled performances, albeit that they breed from, trade off, and depend on that domination they mock (Roy 1958; Burawoy 1979). Sometimes they might act as a safety valve that supports the existing relations of power; at other, rare times, when the probe reveals a rotten body politic, a hollow façade, or an empty windbag, they might suggest real modes of resistance and real alternatives. In these accounts, the lower orders treat the grown-up world of power, its celebrity and façade, with all the respect of a Sun editor on the trail of another Tory sex scandal or a royal balls-up – which is to say, with no respect at all. These pop- ular forms of contemporary carnival have long served the function of allowing prurient interest in those upholders of the moral order caught in breach of it, permitting them to be ritually humiliated and the moral order to be mocked for the licentiousness, wickedness, and perversity it conceals. Simultaneously, the prurient interest, whether taking positions such as ‘there but for fortune’, ‘lucky bastard’, or ‘it serves them right’, reinscribes the moral order – the function of deviance displayed. The order violated, publicly revealed and then mocked, is an order accommodated and re-established, according to these accounts. By partaking in the pleasure of seeing the rich and famous misbehave, we affirm that the moral order is re-established (misbehavior leads to punishment, so best behave), while its essential inequalities are revealed through peccadillo and spectacle as a form of moral entertainment and thus enjoyed vicariously.

An approach that researches hidden transcripts has great applicability to organi-zation researchers who seek to capture from beneath the surface and behind the scenes the authentic experiences of reactions to power, rather than its stylized rep- resentation as a design. That Foucault was more concerned with the design than the practice of power thus becomes another criticism.

Source: Clegg Stewart, Courpasson David, Phillips Nelson X. (2006), Power and Organizations, SAGE Publications Ltd; 1st edition.

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