Power-knowledge

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Power-knowledge (French: le savoir-pouvoir) is a concept coined by the French philosopher Michel Foucault.

Definition of power-knowledge[edit]

According to Foucault's understanding of power, power is based on knowledge and makes use of knowledge; on the other hand, power reproduces knowledge by shaping it in accordance with its anonymous intentions. Power (re-) creates its own fields of exercise through knowledge.

Foucault incorporates this inevitable mutual inherent in his neologism power-knowledge, the most important part of which is the hyphen that links the two aspects of the integrated concept together.

It is helpful noting that Foucault has a textual understanding of both power and knowledge. Both power and knowledge are to be seen as de-centralised, relativistic, ubiquitous, and unstable (dynamic) systemic phenomena. Thus Foucault’s concept of power draws on micro-relations without falling into reductionism because it does not neglect, but emphasizes, the systemic (or structural) aspect of the phenomenon.

However, he does not actually define knowledge.

Implications[edit]

According to this understanding, knowledge is never neutral, as it determines force relations. The notion of power-knowledge is therefore likely to be employed in critical, normative contexts.

History of the term[edit]

In his later works, Foucault replaced his notion of power-knowledge with the term governmentality which points to a specific mentality of governance.

References[edit]

  • Foucault, Michel, The History of Sexuality, vol. 1, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1981 (see pp. 92–102).
  • Foucault, Michel, Histoire de la sexualité, volume 1: La volonté de savoir, Paris, Gallimard, 1976.