Foucault - The Key Ideas: Foucault and power

By Paul Oliver


Foucault was very interested in the way in which power and authority was exercised in the world. He investigated the power exercised by institutions, organizations and the state, and in particular the way in which this affected the lives of ordinary people. Although large organizations were capable of exerting power, Foucault also argued that power could be demonstrated on the micro level. He argued that groups of ordinary citizens could be powerful entities in society if they used their influence to the best advantage. In fact, he argued that power as a phenomenon in society was often localized rather than centralized. He noted, for example, the capacity of students and workers in 1968 to influence the French government, through a range of strikes and street protests. He took part of some of these demonstrations and was a leading figure in some of the educational reforms that resulted from the 1968 student action. Foucault argued that power in society was related to the type of dominant knowledge at the time, and also to the types of discourse used. For example, the types of discourse used in professions such as medicine helped to sustain the power of doctors, and in particular the power that their specialized knowledge gave them.

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Foucault - The Key Ideas: Teach Yourself

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