Foucault's conception of power: an ideology and hegemony deficit?

AuthorPaul Mokuolu
S.S.L.R. Fouca ult’s Concep tion of Pow er
Foucaults Conception of Power: an ideology and
hegemony deficit?
Paul Mokuolu
Michel Foucault was a Fren ch philosoph er largely ren owned for his unusual
conception of power. He perceived power to be an elusive entity; something
that could n’t be owned or possessed. This piece con siders whether th is
conception of power precludes such notions as ideology and h egemony. It
begins by providing a coherent un derstandin g of Foucault’s theory of power
before exploring these notions of ideology and hegemony and critically
assessin g their compatibility with this unconven tion al concep tion of power.
We subsequen tly con sider wheth er the pr eclusion of these concepts of
ideology and hegemony from Foucau lt’s conception is problematic. Ultimately,
we find that Foucault’s conception of power is self-defeating; crumbling un der
th e pressu res of his own argu ment.
Michel Foucau lt was a very prom in ent Fr en ch hist orian an d ph ilosoph er who
has commonly been noted as the m ost influential social th eorist of the latter
half of th e 20t h cent ury. H owever, it was Foucau lt’s u nconven tional con ception
of power that war ranted him m uch attention: either in the form of repugnance
or admiration . Par ticularly, it h as been claimed that one of the fundamental
problem s with Foucau lt is the deficit of a concept of either ideology or
hegem on y. This piece seeks, first, to analyse h is un ique notion of power,
befo re evalua ting t his pivot al claim .
Before we can even pr oceed to evaluate Foucau lt’s conception of power, and
whether it is starved of a concept of ideology or hegem ony, we must
understand what Foucault’s notion of power actually is. The closest thin g we
get to of a unified definition of power by Foucault can be found in The History
of Sexu ality, vol. 1: An Introd uction,1 where he describes power as “the
multiplicity of for ce relations immanen t in th e sph ere in which they operate
and which constitute their own organ ization”.2 Thus, the most significant
attribu te of Foucault’s conception of power is that it is relation al. No
1 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1: An Introduction (Pantheon Books 1978)
2 Ibid 92

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