There can be no legitimate discussion of a single authority guiding the mechanisms and apparatus of the State from the ‘top down:’ the sources of power have become abstract, the major influential factors in a secular, capitalistic democracy too diverse, parasitic and demanding of one another to be thought of as one coherent entity.
Dyadic ruler-subject models no longer express the relationships of power in contemporary states where socio-political authority and influence have become embedded in cultural habits and symbols, and assumed in institutional norms and everyday attitudes of a “well-intentioned liberal society.”
Power is now everywhere, wrote Foucault, for “it comes from everywhere,” and it is “employed and exercised through a net-like organization.”
What defines a contemporary relationship of power, writes Foucault, “is that it is a mode of action that does not act directly and immediately on others. Instead, it acts upon their action: on possible or actual future or present actions.”
As we have discussed in previous parts of this blog, political power a relationship based on recognized authority: of the state over agents in the world. This authority is structured deontically, justified through rhetoric and ideology, and backed with the brute threat of punishment, including imprisonment, fine, and sanction.
Deontical force is expressed through the structure of regulatory and permissive boundaries and effectively insinuates itself into individual agential action. It shapes, directly and indirectly, the range of possibilities in which one might act.
Directly by structuring the limits of action (“stay off the grass,” “extra luggage are fifty dollars,” “skateboarding prohibited”), and indirectly by enforcing the assumptions underlying the justificatory premises for the state’s sole claim to authority. These indirect means are involved with what I call phenomenological oppression, an idea I have mentioned in the past and will define in the future.
This shift in the modality and application of socio-political power coincides with a shift in the tactics and range of state authority during the decline of systems of hereditary monarchies and the rise of enlightenment values and industrial capitalistic mechanisms in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Biopower and control
Following the various social, scientific, and political ‘revolutions’ of the eighteenth century, the time of aristocratic domination ended and the methods and ideals derived from new secular visions of the “self,” biology, and social relationships became tools for not only enlightening bodies and minds, but tools for turning bodies and minds into sites for the application of sociopolitical power.
Foucault claims that, “starting from the eighteenth century, modern Western societies took on board the fundamental biological fact that human beings are a species.” This was a period involved with, Foucault says, “the emergence of technologies… that are either specifically mechanisms of social control… or mechanisms with the function of modifying something in the biological destiny of the species.”
This notion of humankind as an object of socio-scientific interest and significance, i.e. humanity understood as both individuals to be controlled and as a population for management or ‘governance,’ forms the basis of Foucault’s idea of “biopower.”
Utilizing means and methods developed in the social and political sciences, this new form of power analyzed, classified, regulated, and quantified human beings as both individuals and as a species.
With statistics, probabilities, science, division, and anonymity, modern power relations are able to quantify general information concerning the population (birthrates, dietary and health patterns, educational and vocational needs and access), and the mechanisms of the nation state are able to promote regulation and discipline over social customs, the criteria for health and illness, and personal sexual and reproductive habits and practices.
Searle explains Foucault’s idea of biopower as being “a matter of the achievement of control over the bodies of human beings… producing a certain kind of normalization that creates human subjects who can be administered.”
Foucault himself claims biopower is a “technology;” it is a way of managing people as a population, and he defines it as “the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power.”
As this strategy and its tactics developed over time and its practices, ideologies, and assumptions became normalized, modern society and individual agents came to internalize two crucial mechanisms of ‘power as authority’, those of Surveillance and Exclusion, along with the panorama of disciplines and controls that stem from these.
Relations and intentionality
Biopolitics is a technique of sociopolitical power; it is a way of managing. Within its method is evidence of intentionality: the manner in which state action is directed at the external world.
In contrast to traditional sovereign power, which maintained its authority through threat of death to the agent, biopower emphasizes protection of life. It is an evolution of Christian pastoral power, with the state understood as the shepherd and the citizens the flock.
Foucault writes, “What can the end of government be? Certainly not just to govern, but to improve the condition of the population, to increase its wealth, its longevity, and its health.” This “pastoral” state contained the mechanisms for large-scale discipline of the individual body, where conformation to the dictates and expectations of the state was linked to the well being and advancement of both individuals and the general population; the sole means to the best end.
It is good to remember here, however, that to be considered an exercise of modern socio-political power, there must be a relation between mutual subjects, “ …‘the other’ (the one over whom power is exercised) is recognized and maintained to the very end as a subject who acts.”
Within sociopolitical interaction, agents must have access to some degree of liberty in choice, options, response, or reaction. Maintaining the capacity for power in relation to the political structure is the expression of individual agency in material conditions.
In this light, we can understand that sociopolitical power is valuable for both sides of any expression of power. It is valued for its utility in satisfying the material conditions for personal agency, and it is valued by the State as a vehicle for its existence.
However, in the context we have currently placed sociopolitical power in, we can say that, for the State, such modern princely power is valued for its ability to manipulate the assumptions and normative background structures of exploitative capitalistic practices.
The legitimate use and the illegitimate abuse of sociopolitical power both originate in a relationship defined by its action upon actions. This pragmatically translates into a manipulation or limitation of perceived and actual options available to a subject.
Limiting options is limiting expressible power and autonomy, therefore, agency itself is threatened by the empirical conditions resulting from structural relations of power, and this is bore out in the material conditions of actual agents.
This is not a necessary function, as I will explain in upcoming chapters of this blog.
Background power and disciplines
Through the normative discourses of history, science, and culture, a dominant social class is able to guide the production of normalcy through statistics, legislation, policy, and social pressures.
Individual agents produce, reproduce, and are subject to, sociopolitical authority, enforcing its power with their everyday actions, assumptions, and norms. More than the ‘units’ of power’s application, Foucault says, we are ‘vehicles’ for its expression.
Structuralized power relations are evident in their immediate form as the day-to-day life of citizens. Searle claims anyone can exercise power over anyone else in social arrangements where a shared set of background norms sets the standards by which a power to constrain is exercised. “I am not talking here about legal pressures,” he writes, “but about social pressures.”
Drawing from Foucault’s biopower, which concerns the “pervasive… and constant normalizing practices of society,” background power, writes Searle, expresses itself through our everyday customs, habits, practices, attitudes, and assumptions.
Searle mentions standards of dressing practices, and how fifty years ago, women or men could not teach university lectures in blue jeans, but now that they can, “[t]his is a change in the Background possibilities.”
Knowledge of possible sanctions in personal relationships, including shunning or embarrassment, operates in the same way as sanctions on the political scale: by extending the intentionality of the standing declaration, “conform to standards.” Searle claims we have exchanged one type of control for another, instead of being physically repressed, we are intentionally “stimulated.”
The bodies of agents are vital to the mechanics of authoritative structures, and both Young and Bartky appropriate Foucault’s idea of the “docile body,” the individual in a power relationship that takes her body and “explores it, breaks it down, and rearranges it.”
Through micro-spatial and –temporal discipline and a constant atmosphere of surveillance, capital-based hierarchies produce docile, “subjected and practiced bodies,” conditioned for management and blindingly familiar with the social arrangements they inherit.
As an example, Foucault writes at length on the moment by moment breakdown of a prisoner’s day in eighteenth century Paris; twenty-eight articles outlining posture, bathing, eating, work, and bed time.
Foucault claims this structure is reproduced in clinical, government, educational, and bureaucratic institutions. Bartky extends this idea to the disciplines specific to contemporary women and the general message of inferiority they carry.
For women, systemic abuses of political authority and the background effects of mass media, advertising, and ‘information diffusion’ insure the reach and force of normative oppressive authority is, as Sandra Lee Bartky claims, “well-nigh total,” and operates in congress with disciplinary techniques that “aim at a regulation (of the feminine body) which is perpetual and exhaustive.”
The “technologies of femininity,” of which we may include eyebrow plucking, moustache waxing, make-up, nail painting, and various hair care procedures, “are taken up and practiced by women against the background of a pervasive sense of bodily deficiency.”
Bartky reminds us, “[T]he properly made-up face is, if not a card of entrée, at least a badge of acceptability in most social and professional contexts.”
A Final Word
There is nothing ‘natural’ in the justification of sexist or racist attitudes and assumptions, only a series of “ought to be’s,” “should be’s,” and the assumed roles and traditional values that support the normalization of physically and psychologically oppressive social conditions.
In the sixth and final part of Chapter Three I will explain and dispel Searle’s “paradox of government.”
This will lead us to Chapter Four where I will define sociopolitical power and update my definition of common power that I first gave in Chapter Three Part Three.
From this definition, I will begin explaining my troubles with Iris Young’s rejection of distributive notions of power and justice and dive head first into my original concept of Relational Materialism and Phenomenological Oppression.
Thank you for reading and I appreciate your comments, questions, and time. Let’s keep this dialog rolling.
Comments are welcome.
Viva and devirm!!!
 Foucault- History of Sexuality, pp. 178; “the right to make die or let live.”
 Foucault, 1980, pp. 198
 Young, ch 2
 Foucault, “History of Sexuality- volume 1”, pg 92-93; Foucault, “Power/Knowledge” pp. 543
 Foucault: Power, pp. 342
 “This “biopolitics” must itself be understood on the basis of a theme developed since the seventeenth century: the management of state forces.” (2004, pp. 367)
 Foucault: Security, 2004, pp. 1; also: “The public, which is a crucial notion in the eighteenth century, is the population seen under the aspects of its opinions, ways of doing things, forms of behavior, customs, fears, prejudices, and requirements; it is what one gets a hold of through education, campaigns, and convictions.” (pp. 75)
 Foucault defines it as “the set of mechanisms through which the basic biological features of the human species became the object of a political strategy, of a general strategy of power.” (2004, pp. 10)
 Quantify: analyze, classify, regulate.
 ibid. pp. 153
 F- Security, 2004, pp. 1
 Foucault, 2004, pp. 105
 “And the instruments that government will use to obtain these ends are, in a way, immanent to the field of population; it will be by acting directly, on the population itself through campaigns, or, indirectly, by, for example, techniques that, without people being aware of it, stimulate the birth rate, or direct the flows of population to this or that region or activity.” (2204, pp. 105)
 Foucault (1994), pp 340
 Foucault, “Power and Knowledge”, pg 544
 ibid. pp. 157
 Searle, pp. 152-53
 ibid. pp. 157
 ibid. pp. 153
 Foucault (1984) pp. 182
 ibid. 182
 Foucault (1995) pp. 7
 Meyers, pp. 107
 Meyers. pp. 100
 ibid. pp. 100
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