Social Fields and the Exercise of Terror: A Critique of Foucault's Theory of Power

Dr. Ken Morrison
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In the 1970s and 1980s, Foucault put forward a theory of power which entered into a series of oppositions with classical theories of power that were based on a juridico-political conception of power (Hobbes, Machiavelli); and on theories of power based on class oppositions and domination (Marx). Foucault then proposed a theory of power based on an analysis of what he called its microphysics which looked at how power is exercised. This led to different appearances of power including disciplinary power, bio-power, governmental power and repressive power.

The paper examines the theoretical strategies used by Foucault to construct a conception of power that was restricted either to material manifestations of power in the form of discipline, surveillance or bio-power; or to conceptions of power that could be activated in the absence of a social field. The aim of the paper is to re-think the theoretical strategies leading to the view exemplified by Foucault that power can exist in the absence of direct force relations or that it can be constituted in the absence of a social field. The paper explores the possibility that sovereign governmental power of the Western states has suffered a tactical reversal that is directly proportional to the absence of a social field by which terroristic power is exercised and deployed. The paper traces the history of the classical conceptions of power that were manifested in the tactical formations of closely packed military cadres of the 15th and 16th centuries which served as models of defense and as a models of power and force relations up until the 20th century. The paper goes on to analyze the power of global terroristic strikes by situating this power in the strategies of attack where a social field is either absent or mobile, and thus not in need of defense or subject to intervention.

Keywords: Foucault, Theory of Power, Exercise of Terror, Concept of Social Field
Stream: Political Science, Politics
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.

Dr. Ken Morrison

Associate professor, Department of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University

Ref: H05P0273