Notes from What Power Is — Michel Foucault


Misconceptions of Power

  • Hierarchical power is only a part
    • → instead, power is an oceanic force of nature
  • Theoretical vs Empirical
    • Focault talks both about theoretical and empirical power
    • Emperical: sexuality, prison systems, etc. (historical crystallizations)
    • Theoretical: generalized, abstract conception, a “theory of power”
  • Prior political analyses of power: misconception
    • e.g. 1984, Leviathan, Marx’s class relations
    • characterized as the struggle between powerful vs not powerful
    • most power here is negative power (punishes)
    • originates probably from the western legalistic tradition
    • → but majority of power is not this (misrepresentation)

Immanent “microphysics” of power

  • invisible, but real and measurable
  • power is a quality of the social world (not metaphysical, natural force like Nietzche)
  • intentional & non-subjective (e.g. party DJ putting on “Killing me softly”)
    • intentional: you are technically free.
    • non-subjective: people will find you uncool


  • Resistance is not exterior to power, but is intrinsic
  • revolutionaries → if there is no resistance, there is no power
  • relations of power is only allowed in a free society
    • “free” in that you’re technically free to resist

Full Definition of Power

  • “Power must be understood in the first instance as the multiplicity of force relation imminent in the sphere in which they operate”
  • e.g. dressing for school
    • legal, etc. (traditional)
    • school clique
    • “what’s cool”
  • ⇒ They all operate simultaneously

Relations of Power

  • Local force relations act on each other (even in the absence of the individual to act on)
  • struggle, strengthen, weaken. etc
  • They can also bond & combine
    • e.g. fashion + peers, school + parents kinda match

Institutional Crystallization (social)

  • “tactics” of power
  • local micro-physics of power → coalesce to create school & state, bigger power
  • nobody individually can predict the effects of micro-power
  • e.g. legal, agreement, new forms of government