Concept of Power
• What is the primary function in regards to medicine as an
o Surveillance – Foucault
o What is a medical condition? What isn’t?
• Medicine is not primarily about curing diseases, according to
Foucault, it is an institution operating within a state and it is a
mechanism of social control.
• “Madness of Civilization” Foucault, historical perspective
• “Birth of the Clinic” Foucault, social and historical rise of the
• “Discipline & Punish” analyze the prison as the clinic, as a
school, as a distinct form of power
• “History of Sexuality” argue how power have influenced and
constructed what we know has sexuality
What is power?
• Making people do something they don’t want to do
• Exertion of one over another
• Having something that someone else doesn’t
• Authority and using authority
• Power in different forms and environments
• Power is tied to different things
o Tied to different social perceptions of different things
• Power has to be accepted – you’re only as powerful as the
people you’re leading
• Power is not really something we can actually possess.
• According to Foucault, the biological existence of human
beings has become political in certain ways.
• Aimed at human life itself.
• Notion of life emerges in a particular historical period, the
classical period, before this there was no abstract notion of
• “For a millennia man remained what he was for Aristotle: a
living being the additional capacity for political existence;
modern man is an animal whose politics calls his existence as
a living being into question” – Foucault 1976 • In Aristotle’s time there is already a layering.
o Zoe – bare life
o Bios – specific form of life
o Political existence is a certain type of form of life
• Sometime in the 17 thand 18 th centuries, transition to
o Classical era
o Shifts understanding, less interested in life and death
and expansion, but more interested and focused on the
management of life. The state must manage people’s
• Biopower designates those new forms of power that took the
capacities of bodies and the conduct of individuals as their
• Biopower emerged with the development of the modern state
and its need to guarantee the health of its population
• Two main elements:
o Anatomo-politics or the politics of the body
o Biopolitics or the politics of the population
How Does Power Operate?
• Foucault sees 3 main formations of power:
o Sovereign power
o Disciplinary power
• Formation of power that we traditionally understand, power is
repressive, it functions by telling people what not to do. This
type of power, as the name entails, was localized in the figure
of the monarch/sovereign, they had all the power. The
king/queen/ruler was the supreme of power, he could decide
for whatever reason to kill someone or punish them, no
questions asked because all of the power was in the hands of
the monarch/sovereign. Power punished the body directly, by
physical means of punishment. Public hangings, symbolic
register to threaten everyone who watches. The monarch can
act however they want, if they want to steal, they can, no
questions asked. Power is direct.
• Monarch wants bananas, if you don’t give them or give them
fast enough you are killed or thrown in jail.