Power, Power Relations, and Relationships

Out of all the philosophers we’ve read so far, I think I find Foucault the one most relatable to my own thought processes (This has nothing to do with my presentation I just had to start with something). I especially liked his more in depth look into the concept of power. Foucault, to my understanding, challenges the idea that power as a concept is an externally granted “object” that you either have or you don’t. Instead, he sees power as a relationship between two parties in which one party shows dominance and the other shows submission. Meaning that, although one person may be acting as an authority, it is the other party’s choice to then either act like a subject, an equal, or a higher authority. So that an authoritarian being’s power lies in their subjects’ active submission. We’ve seen several examples of this, like in The Tempest in that Prospero’s power lies in his control over the people on the island, or that the kingsmen lose their status on the boat once the helmsmen no longer thinks them worthy of his worship; or in The Bloody Chamber (short story), that the protagonist chooses to marry and live “under” the Marquis; or even in many of the Dabydeen poems, in which the slaves reclaim their power by rebelling against their masters in spirit by singing about defiling white women and such.


If my understanding is correct, then a power-powerless relationship, when understood in this context, would be very malleable and it would consistently see a shift in power to the point where all parties are eventually equal because of their ability to cease and deny power. In this way, a relationship of power is more like a relationship of compromise and coordination (or not because I tend to have a pretty “we’re all in this together” view of the world).

I’m trying to lead to the question I have, which I hope will make sense now:

If power (as an external object that is passed down a hierarchy) does not exist, but only the dominance and submission of interacting parties, is it possible to re-frame the entire hierarchical structure of our modern and majorly capitalist society so that the need or concept of “power” is eliminated? In other words, if we never saw power as a hierarchy, but initially defined it the way Foucault has, would our society look more like Rousseau’s nascent society? Or something more socialist/communist? If we start trying to shift out paradigm now, is there a middle ground that we could effectively reach?


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