Arendt and Foucault
Traditional Theories of Power
o Looking at critiquing traditional forms of power (e.g. Hobbes, Marx, medieval
theories of power, etc.).
o Most traditional theories function like triangles. The top sees the
King/Ruler/Sovereign/Ruling class, the middle is ministers or politicians, and the
bottom is the subjects/people/proletariat/masses. The flow of power is very
simple. Arguably the operating system of power that can be drawn from any
conflict is very simple – applying the triangle to a conflict.
o The bottom dwellers have the top’s rules imposed on them by the middle
o Makes 3 key assumptions:
• Power is held and dispersed by a central figure.
• Power is comes from something beyond us. It either restricts or requires
us (more often than not restricts).
• To study power we need to look no farther than forms of governance – we
only need to look at the top and trace it down.
o Looking at historical instances of power (E.g. tax collectors), that was usually a
o This theory of power is called The Sovereign Model of Power. This theory is
based on the law and state institutions, officials, and government. Power is
present in a superior source, and its agents are visible. This theory claims that we
always know when power is being applied to us.
o New forms of society developed with industrialization, urbanization, and
population growth. A new power type emerges.
o Foucault claims that we still haven’t dispensed with this traditional idea of power
– AND WE NEED TO!
o Thus, we look to Arendt and Foucault to understand new conceptions of power.
• These two argue that power is not just about governments and states.
• Power is not just restrictive, but also as producing or creating something.
Both apply this, but in different ways.
Arendt’s Understanding of Power
o Power only exists in a group, because through speaking and acting it can