Foucault’s power

1. Reading Foucault

Something termed ‘the Foucault effect’ (Burchell et al. 1991) has been noted, not always favorably. It is perhaps not surprising, given the undoubted influence of Foucault’s work on power, that such a powerful effect should have been noted. A vast critical industry is now addressed to Foucault’s oeuvre.1 Foucault has become an icon and a fashion (Ibarra-Colado 2001a) in organization studies,2 despite the fact that the author in question declared himself against the role of the ‘author’, while nonetheless being quite willing to exploit his own success.

Foucault’s work on power is scattered, although The Foucault reader edited by Paul Rabinow (1984) provides a good introduction; Kendall and Wickham (1999) provide a good guide to his approach. However, the best guide to his account of power is undoubtedly provided by Mark Haugaard (1997; 2002a), who, following convention, divides Foucault’s work into three distinct preoccupations: with arche- ology; with genealogy; and with the care of the self. Rather than being three distinct approaches these represent different emphases that are more or less predominant at different stages in Foucault’s work. While in his late discussion of governmentality he seeks to bring these different accounts into a patterned relation with each other, nonetheless there are distinct emphases. The archeological approach seeks to demon- strate the arbitrary nature of that which confronts us as the assumed nature of everyday life; in Bauman’s (1976) words, the present ways of seeing the world seem to us to be almost a second nature, as overwhelmingly there, as something natural. The discourses with which, in their assemblage and grammar, we render the world as something knowable and as true provide us with the means to make the facticity of the world. It is not that the world we experience in some way denies a human essence – because it represses us through unreal interests (Lukes 1974) – or can be remade in a more ideal or utopian form in which discourse will be less distorted.3 It is the world that was made historically and, in its own terms, rings true.

2. Using Foucault

We live our lives as organizational subjects bound by a whole world of normalcy: hierarchy; rigid rationalities; domination experienced as authority; and everyday work as a complex of mechanisms in which we strive to amass the resources, pull the levers and thus exercise power. Yet we do not constantly question the normal, nor do we acknowledge its power over us. However, we can see, as we have done in the earlier chapters of this book, that many foundations of organizations and man- agement, and organization and management thinking, not only are bizarre and strange by contemporary views (the political economy of the body; the ‘Sociological Department’; efficiency in the abattoir) but have helped to translate (Parsons’ work on Weber and on social systems theory), selectively discard (Follett’s work) and prepare the foundations for today’s normal science (the naturalness of the rational system; the unnaturalness of power).

In the past, we would insist, the main function of ‘normal’ organization and management theory was the design of mechanisms to exercise power, coupled with a simultaneous way of constituting them, discursively, that negated their reality as power; instead it constituted them as social problems, industrial problems, human problems, and so on, in ever more technically specialized forms and concepts. For instance, having never thought about the relation between the body and power, conventional organization and management theory can see only efficiency at work in Taylor rather than a political economy oriented to the body; later it cannot see a political economy of the soul at work in human relations, or a political economy of the unconscious in the later literature of excellence and the more sophisticated pro- posals of organizational culture; and, as we saw earlier in Chapter 6, it can find no place for the Holocaust or other total institutions. We need to grasp the history of the present to redefine the tools with which we understand it: that management and organizations began as (knowledge of) a political economy of the body makes these total institutions seem less exceptionable and more comprehensible.

3. Power as techniques of social relations

Foucault teaches us that, rather than being a resource that can be held or exercised – a capacity inanimate but potential – power is inseparable from its effects. We have already encountered this view of power at the outset of the book: it underlay the viewpoint from which Chapters 2 and 3 of the book were written. The focus for analysis is the play of techniques, the mundane practices that shape everyday life, structuring particular forms of conduct and more especially structuring the ways in which people choose to fashion their own sense of self, their dispositions and those devices with which, through which, by which, they are shaped and framed.

[A]thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architec- tural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral and philanthropic propositions – in short, the said as much as the Such are the elements of the apparatus [dispositif]. The apparatus itself is the sys- tem of relations that can be established between these elements. Secondly, what I am try- ing to identify in this apparatus is precisely the nature of the connection that can exist between these heterogeneous elements. Thus, a particular discourse can figure at one time as the programme of an institution, and at another it can function as a means of justify- ing or masking a practice which itself remains silent, or as a secondary re-interpretation of this practice, opening out for it a new field of rationality. In short, between these elements, whether discursive or non-discursive, there is a sort of interplay of shifts of posi- tion and modifications of function which can also vary very widely. Thirdly, I understand by the term ‘apparatus’ a sort of – shall we say – formation which has as its major func- tion at a given historical moment that of responding to an urgent need. The apparatus thus has a dominant strategic function. (Foucault 1977: 194–5, italics in original; also see Deleuze 1989: 157–8)

These are techniques of power in so far as they induce appropriate forms of con- duct in those others whom they target. Hence, power is only visible in its effects. However, these effects are not at all mechanistically related to some initiating prime mover. Instead, technologies of the self work initially by inducing people to regu- late their own behavior and actions in accord with idealized representations that are institutionalized in specific contexts: the worker who strives for excellence; the manager who strives to be enterprising; or the service worker who aims to leave every client delighted. This is only one of the three ways that relations of power unfold. In the first unfolding the subject is constituted as a particular body/soul in relation to others – an enterprising worker, for instance; second, the subject is con- stituted in relation to those social bodies or populations defined in relation to authoritative categorizations – the official employee of the month, for instance; in the third unfolding the subject constitutes knowledge of itself, in relation to itself and in relation to others – the employee as coach and mentor (Ibarra-Colado 2001b: 20–7, 29). These are rarely pure forms but a complex mixture of articula- tions that, together, form specific local regimes of governmentality – how power is constituted locally in specific organization settings.

4. Power produces truth

Power produces its own truths – which is why, occasionally, epochal and seismic shifts occur, some more perceptible than others, in what is taken to be true: as power shifts, so do those truths held to be self-evident.4 The power of systems theory as the normal science of management and organization theory produces deviance from authority – as power. Its rules of discourse produce power as a deviant effect of the system. And, as we shall see in the next chapter, there were equally orthodox but opposed ways of rendering the truth of power not as systemic deviance but as the imposition and control of a capitalist labor process that de-skilled craft workers. Both accounts, incidentally, refer to the same historical events of the growth of Taylorism, while seeing in these events quite different grounds for dif- ferent histories of the present. They posit different truths.

Our interest is not in adjudicating between different truths; such an activity seems utterly pointless given that we reject the transcendent position. We are more interested in the conditions of their existence, their possibility. The key element for the production of contemporary discourse is the understanding of current prac- tices. When practices change, then there is an opportunity to re-produce (produce again and in a different way) their knowledges. The knowledge that we are inter- ested in is that of power in organizations. Increasingly, as Greenwood and Hinings (2002) have argued, such knowledge, to the extent that it is produced at all today, is increasingly produced from the business schools. These institutions are the main locale for the production of what we take to be correct and true knowledge of power in organizations. Of course, just as in any other sphere of endeavor, the field of knowl- edge production is stratified. The business schools most enmeshed in the global circuits of power – the elite US business schools and their global clones, which can recruit the ‘best students’ and maintain the most ‘elite’ ‘strategic conversations’ – tend to have the inside track in defining the possibilities of what is taken to be true. Their intellectual capital is most highly prized: its investments and the returns on these investments, built up over many years, are the bluechip knowledge stocks. Few with investments to protect would wish to liquidate them, so the temptation is always to demonstrate that the old canon can address the new problem.5 For instance, when scholars argue that only a functionalist view of power is valid (Donaldson 1985) we do not see someone wishing to demonstrate just that the propositions he uses are the outcome of verifiable procedures. Rather, we see someone attempting to invest his or her particular discourse with the effects of that power which attaches to the talisman of ‘science’. Like a dog, they are marking their terrain – but with the totemic power of exclusionary canons of knowledge rather than the more usual substances. What they mark out is a terrain that is divided between that which is conjecturally true and that which is not.

The study of organizations is a seemingly minor and inconsequential territory in the social science universe – at least looked at in terms of prestige ratings of knowl- edge (Pfeffer 1993). Yet, the offices marked ‘organizations’ in the corridors of busi- ness school knowledge have ‘an importance that almost passes unnoticed, to the extent that their primary function is found more in the production of practical consequences than in the institutionalization of great theoretical discourses or the defense of a certain regime of truth’ (Ibarra-Colado 2005: 15).6 If one practical consequence of their knowledge is that those who pass through the portals of the business schools leave with little understanding of how power works, what its man- ifestations are, and how its relations may be analyzed, other than in the simplest mechanical terms, then relative ignorance serves some functions. It serves to main- tain an idea of modern organizations as if they were merely technical apparatuses, with some causal attributes, in which individuals occasionally exert leverage, when they are proximate to the right resources and dependencies.

By contrast, the account that we are presenting is not premised on power as a mechanical fulcrum: it does not rely on a model of possession or access to resources with which to leverage others. In short, we are moving towards an imma- nent view of power, one in which, as Allen says, ‘Power does not show itself because it is implicated in all that we are and all that we inhabit’ (2003: 65). The immanent idea of power is not dependent on an analytical claim to omnipotence, to a pure form of knowledge that stands apart from and outside of power, and which legis- lates on what power is and is not. We wish to dissolve any sense of there being a privileged and transcendent position from which the truth of power is visible. Such positions can only ever be constituted within specific discursive practices. Within some institutionalized forms of these, some representations will achieve domi- nance: for instance, power may be registered as an overwhelmingly mechanical and causal relation between people who possess differential access to differential resources. What one might say is that, discursively, some representations of the world, which of necessity have a historical specificity (ways of seeing the world are always diachronically shifting and contested language games), become fixed in usage, are normalized, become the common currency of thought and conceptual- ization. Specific discursive practices become institutionalized and thus have com- mon currency among other discursive practices, even as they are resisted.

Discourses are always in permanent dispute; there is no meta-discourse of/for everyday life. The tactical polyvalence of discourses indicates the unstable, contin- gent articulation between knowledge and power in discourses, marking possible displacements and reutilizations (Ibarra-Colado 2001b: 20); they denote the possi- bilities of appropriation of some discourses (the discourses of the opposition, for example), changing their meaning. Some discourses may become temporally and temporarily ontologized – that is, taken for granted as a necessary aspect of (think- ing about) being. (For instance, in the relatively recent past it was a fact widely assumed that women did not make good managers; if they were married, it was assumed that they would be having babies and that it was their husband’s job to support them, and thus they were obliged by law to exit from the workplace. Women’s being was ontologized as secondary to men; as producers of babies, and as not managers.) Hence, part of the task of analysis is to provide an understanding of how the ways of thinking and conceptualizing the world that have become normal- ized are possible. What are the grounds of what passes for reason in any given epoch? And what concordance and dissonance does this buried history prepare?

5. Discipline and punish

Power does not become an explicit concern in Foucault’s work until the genealogical phase of its development with Discipline and punish (1977), in which he introduces his view of power as productive, as creative, as much closer to the ‘power to’ concep- tion than to that of ‘power over’. Here the concern is less with power as something that is distributed, so that some have it, or have more or less of it than others, and more with how the techniques and practices of power are normalized into ways of being in and thinking of the world that we share discursively, and which structure conduct in the world – including resistance to these techniques and practices. Such resistance merely serves to demonstrate the necessity for the further application or refinement of those techniques and practices so that, in future, resistance will be overcome. Power feeds on its failures to achieve the ends that those who wield it desire. In fact, failure is its most essential ingredient as it continually demonstrates to the elites of power the necessity of the power they invariably wield imperfectly.

The phase of Foucault’s work indicated by the publication of Discipline and punish centered on the ‘explicit recognition that meanings are central to the constitution of social life as a complex set of petty and ignoble power relations’ (Haugaard 1997: 43). So it is not just that our sense of the world in which we live is embedded in our institutionalized conventions for making sense of it; these also form the warp and weft of everyday power relations. We cannot understand our present without knowing its history; a history of the present is the first step to rethinking the pasts we might imagine, to see ‘how that-which-is has not always been’ (Foucault 1988b: 37). Thus, from this perspective, power is always at work. It is both inescapable and also something active, something done, something exercised. ‘Power is the consequence of petty confrontations between actors fighting within or over a regime of truth production’ as Haugaard (1997: 69) suggests. It is produced through the strategies and tactics of local conflicts ‘carried out by actors with specific strategies and objec- tives’, rather than being the effect of some capacities to access resources, or real interests, or ideologies that obscure these. Power is always embedded in those forms of rationality with which actors will be held accountable.

The objects of knowledge are the consequence of power; it is the inscription and normalization of power relations in the field of knowledge that call truths into being, which produce its realities, its ‘domains of objects and rituals of truth’ (Foucault 1977: 194). Thus, in closely related times but in radically disjunctive con- jectures of knowledge, justice can be served both by imposing its design on the body and by seeking to discipline the soul (Foucault 1977). It is not an either/or relation: that the political economy of the body gave way to a moral economy of the soul in terms of regimes of punishment does not mean that the body disappears from the discourse or the practices of power (although Foucault tends to neglect the body with his enthusiasm for the power of the gaze, as we argued in Chapter 6).

We are dealing with social facts (Durkheim 1983: 67) rather than an evolution-ary sequence in regard to the relation between body and soul: that the body was neglected in preference for the soul does not obviate the continuance of the tech- nologies visited on the soul. Specific ways of acting, thinking and feeling constitute the body and soul as objects of reflection and as sites of power: there is no hierar- chy of powers at work. In our embodied selves we are at one with the body and the soul, the conscious and the unconscious, and any other legacies of that Cartesian dualism that has marked our knowledges (Lakoff and Johnson 1999; also see Clegg et al. 2004 on Cartesianism and its effects).

Different social facts are sustained by different practices. The facticity of the factory, the total institution, the Panopticon and other organized sites of power is maintained by techniques of power that organize the spaces within which social relations are constituted. Allen refers to these as the zoning, partitioning, enclosing, and serialization of activities, in which matters of spacing and timing are institu- tionalized – as we have seen graphically in the case of the total institutions:

The arrangements of space, the particular assemblages of space which make up institu- tional complexes, are understood as integral to the ways in which particular forms of conduct are secured. In this line of argument, different spatial arrangements reflect the possible ways of acting inscribed in different schemas and serve to regulate, as well as enable, movement through them. (2003: 70)

But it is not just a matter of spatial arrangements; as in Bentham’s Panopticon, these are designed to generate a certain sort of subjectivity. There are those who know indubitably that they are under power, who have power and surveillance exercised over them, and there are those who stand in hybrid relations to power – partly con- stituted by it and partly enacting its constitutions. And there are those who move effortlessly through the elite portals of power: they switch smoothly from boardroom to executive suite, from the cabinet office to the corporate headquarters, traversing spaces that are just as designed as the Panopticon – but designed to pro- duce legitimate asymmetries of authority, asymmetries that the hybrids will want to desire, by which they will seek to be seduced (Rosen et al. 1990). Still others may be forced to accept such relations through coercion, while others may be deceived as to the intent that resides in these relations and are thus manipulated. Different actors may generate power effects through these different modalities.

6. Essentialism?

Ordinarily, if power is going to do something then some agency or other has to do it. Of course, this can lead to a problem – thinking of power as a thing that one may have or not have, or may have but hold in reserve (reserve powers) – a problem that, hopefully, this chapter will not dispose the reader to accept. The tendency to reify power, to make it an active agent in its own right, betrays a certain lack of reflexivity in the way in which the Foucault effect has played out. He criticizes the totalizing power of past ways of thinking, saying that we need to break free from discourses of sovereignty that see power centered on certain essential ways of society being structured. Yet, the alacrity with which his view of power as premised on the gaze of surveillance has been taken up, especially in organization studies, seems to be itself creating a new essentialism (Sewell 1998).

A part of the new essentialism is to confine power purely to organizational settings that comply with some elements of a total institution, in which a notion of the Panopticon functions as a metaphor, capable of extension to the electronic Panopticon, and so on. Certainly, people walk the streets and the halls of public spaces throughout the world and are subject to cameras that follow their every move – but with little effect except in so far as people are called into account ret- rospectively. Most of the time there is no one constantly monitoring the results of the watchful electronic eyes. It is usually only when it is established that some crime or misdemeanor has occurred that the tapes are checked. If it is not established fairly quickly, the evidence has often disappeared, as the tapes are routinely wiped and reused if nothing has come to notice. The mere fact of there being panoptical possibilities does not mean quite as much control as many of the more enthusias- tic followers of Foucault would suggest. Panoptical possibilities are not necessarily wholly inclusive. In Australia, Aboriginal people were not included in the census until the 1960s – meaning that in some essentially modern respects they did not exist. This was also the case for indigenous people in Mexico; they were denied as part of the Mexican reality for about 500 years, until the Zapatista insurgency of the early 1990s obliged the modern state to check its memory, when the Internet and insurrection met in a widely publicized actor network.7

7. Governmentality

Foucault used the notion of ‘governmentality’ to connect the idea of ‘government’ with that of ‘mentality’, as a neologism based on a semantic merger. He was pointing to a fusion of new technologies of government with a new political rationality. ‘Governmentality’ refers both to the new institutions of governance in bureaucra- cies and to their effects. These effects are to make problematic whole areas of government that used to be accomplished through the public sector, seamlessly regulated by bureaucratic rules; now they are moved into calculations surrounding markets. Foucault defines government as a specific combination of governing tech- niques and rationalities, typical of the modern, neoliberal period. Bureaucracies, rather than regulating conduct, now enable individuals in civil society to act freely through markets to get things done, in normatively institutionalized ways governed increasingly by standards, charters, and other codes, and enable public administra- tors to recreate themselves as entrepreneurial actors, chasing after and trailing ‘excellence’ in the private sector (Peters and Waterman 1982). When we talk about ‘mentality’ we can distinguish different sets of knowledge that are dominant in dif- ferent moments. For example, the Keynesian welfare state was an expression of the dominant mentality from the 1930s to the 1960s, while neoliberalism begins to dominate from the 1970s onward (see Foucault 2003b). As the designs of govern- ment change, so do the mentalities of those who administer and are subject to them. If the Weberian bureaucrat valued ethos, character and vocation, the con- temporary neoliberal bureaucrat is expected to be enterprising.

Foucault introduced the term ‘governmentality’ in a series of lectures that he gave at the Collège de France on the ‘Birth of Biopolitics’ in 1979 (Marks 2000: 128). These lectures engaged with the changing face of liberalism as a political pro- ject in the Reagan and Thatcher administrations. For Foucault, governmentality meant both strategies of organizational governance in a broad sense, and self- governance by those who are made subjects of organizational governance. The concept of governmentality sought to capture new liberal approaches to political management. The focus was on ‘the totality of practices, by which one can con- stitute, define, organize, instrumentalize the strategies which individuals in their liberty can have in regard to each other’ (Foucault 1988b: 20). As du Gay suggests, governmentality ‘create[s] a distance between the decisions of formal political institutions and other social actors, conceive[s] of these actors as subjects of responsibility, autonomy and choice, and seek[s] to act upon them through shap- ing and utilizing their freedom’ (2000a: 168). What is novel about liberal forms of governance is that the personal projects and ambitions of individual actors become enmeshed with, and form alliances with, those of organization authorities and dominant organizations.

A number of scholars have written about the later aspects of Foucault (see espe-cially Szakolczai 1998: 258; Clegg 2000; Clegg et al. 2002; Ibarra-Colado 2001b: 34–7). However, with the exception of du Gay (2000b), Jackson and Carter (1998), and van Krieken (1996), they do not explicitly address organizational issues (e.g. Hunter 1993; Miller 1992; Burchell et al. 1991). As the governmental concept is quite close to some aspects of organization theory, this is surprising. In particular, the practice of governmentality aspires to create a common sensemaking frame (Peters and Waterman 1982; Weick 1995; Colville et al. 1999) or, in terms of polit- ical theory, a common ‘practical consciousness’ (Haugaard 2000). In Jackson and Carter’s (1998) terms, governmentality means that ‘people should, voluntarily and willingly, delegate their moral autonomy and moral responsibility to obedience to the rules, to being governed in their conduct by a “moral” force … which is exter- nal to the “self ” ’. As they go on to note, the requirement for obedience ‘usually is rationalized and justified in terms of a greater collective interest’ (1998: 51). Or, as Townley suggests, ‘before a domain can be governed or managed it must first be rendered knowable in a particular way’ (1998: 193).

Some organization theorists have interpreted knowability very much in terms of earlier Foucauldian conceptions of surveillance. However, knowability can often be quite selective rather than generalized, as surveillance theories suggest. Knowability, as a shared property of organizing, a practical collective consciousness of those doing the organizing, reaches

[d]eep into the lives of a disparate population to the extent that people more or less internalize its effects … in the absence of any sanctions, we opt to restrain our behav- iour because we may freely choose what is appropriate and what is inappropriate behav- iour … the freedom that people have to get things done or to make themselves up in certain ways [is] a necessary part of what it means to govern. A degree of freedom is implicit in the art of governing, in the liberal sense that the promotion of freedom, rather than its denial, is the most efficient way of achieving governmental ambitions. (Allen 2003: 80–1)

Governmental power operates largely through facilitative rather than prohibitory mechanisms, using forms of institutionalized regulation to achieve their effects, through ‘the continuous and relatively stable presence of a series of ideals, expec- tations, received “truths”, standards and frameworks which provoke individuals to govern their lives in quite particular ways’ (2003: 82). As Allen goes on to say:

Subjects are constituted by the spacing and timing of their own activities as much as they are by those of others who seek to influence their behaviour; their conduct is shaped as much by what they absorb and imagine the ‘truth’ of their circumstances to be as it is by the physical layout, distribution and organization of their settings. (2003: 83)

The mechanisms of power are not only the spatial mechanisms that Allen (2003), as a geographer, is sensitive to; they would also include the communication media defined as ‘a code of generalized symbols which guides the transmission of sym- bols’ to which Luhmann (1979: 111) attended. Indeed, it is largely through these generalized media of communication that power achieves its reach: hence, the cen- trality of the bureau to the old models of bureaucracies; the pervasiveness of infor- mation systems in newer forms of organization; and the increasing governance of organizations, everywhere, by codified standards (Brunsson et al. 2000). The case of standards makes it clear that the modalities of power that can operate are many and varied and should not be reduced to any essential category, such as domination (see Rose 1991). Standards can dominate us; but they can also produce many other experiences, some delightful, some expensive, some safe, and so on. Nonetheless, power effects are embedded in the text of the standard. There is a difference between the form of the files or the information system and the content of that which they convey. It is both the reach of the form and the regulatory potential of the content that matter. These produce causal powers that can be enacted by actors with variable and indeterminate effects, often theorized in the form of actor networks.

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

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