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September 15, 2013

According to Childers and hentzi:

Power is defined in a great number of ways, but usually in one of two senses: 1) as the ability or skill to do something (“Shakespeare had great poetic power”); or 2) as the possession of the capacity to dominate or control someone or something else. It is the second sense that has received the greatest amount of critical attention. The crudest and probably oldest view is that the powerful are those who possess the greatest brute force. But, as Max Weber has pointed out, political power is not usually possessed or exercised in this way – those who possess and exercise “power” usually do so, not on the basis of the threat of physical violence, but on the basis of tradition, legal systems, ideology, consensus, etc. Classical Marxists believe that power is always in the hands of those who control the economic base, the means of production, and is exercised primarily in two ways: through the state’s judicial and legislative functions (closely allied with the interests of the capitalist owners) and through the exploitation of the worker. Michel Foucault, in contrast, argues that “theories of government and the traditional analyses of their mechanisms certainly don’t exhaust the field where power is exercised and where it functions.”
Similarly, many feminists have observed that male power over women occurs in all economic classes, in most (if not all) cultures, and thus its tenacity cannot be explained solely with reference to the distribution of wealth or form of government. Such broad explanations do little to clarify power as a specific, definable entity. Many theorists have argued that a Foucauldian concept of power as all pervasive and without a specific locus renders the term and the concept all but meaningless. Others have pointed out that such explanations make resistance seem futile, since all attempts to defy or work against power are ultimately “always ready” figured in the structure of power. Thus, power becomes much like the Althusserian concept of ideology: it apparently has no history and there is no functioning outside of it.
These interpretations of power ignore Foucault’s own assertion that power should not be seen only as oppressive, that it also enables, especially when employed locally against dominant forms of oppression. Edward Said has also pointed out that by thinking of the Foucauldian idea of power in terms of hegemony, it is possible to conceive of it as resistive, allowing for combinations that meet the needs of a larger group than the power formation that currently exists.”

Ref: (blue, bold emphases mine) Eds. Joseph Childers and Gary Hentzi (1995) The Columbia Dictionary of Modern Literary and Cultural Criticism. New York: Columbia University Press. [I forgot to note the pagination]


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