Foucault and Power

I like to joke that I never revisit Foucault because I’m pretty well-versed in white men’s conception of power (ha!), but I reread A History of Sexuality because of an independent study I’m supervising. In part 4, chapter 2 “Method,” he outlines the roles and rules of power. I found it particularly useful for the current moment we’re in. Foucault makes six observations about power…1) it exists regardless, 2) it is inherent in every relationship, 3) it can be consolidated to form a hierarchy, 4) it has aims and objectives, 5) resistance is itself a power relationship and is not anti-power, and 6) it passes through systems but is’t localized. The fifth point, resistance is itself a power relationship, is an important one. I often say we need to “burn the system to the ground,” but the truth is that I want a better, more just system.

However, I *also* just finished reading Gloria Anzaldúa’s, Borderlands and she writes,

“But it is not enough to stand on the opposite river bank, shouting questions, challenging patriarchal, white conventions….because the counterstance stems from a problem with authority–outer as well as inner–it’s a step towards liberation from cultural domination. But it’s not a way of life. At some point, on our way to a new consciousness, we will have to leave the opposite bank, the split between the two mortal combatants somehow healed so that we are on both shores at once….or perhaps we will decide to disengage from dominant culture, write it off although as a lost cause, and cross the border into a wholly new and separate territory. Or we might go another route. The possibilities are numerous once we decide to act and not react” (p. 100-101).

It is not lost on me that Foucault (a white man) argues for the infinite existence of power and that Anzaldúa (a Chicana woman) argues for something we haven’t yet imagined. One of the more enduring habits of Brown and Black scholars is to hope for worlds that don’t yet exist.

How do we negotiate these ideas, especially in reference to everything in the current moment? Something to think about…


Anzaldúa, G. (2007). Borderlands: The new mestiza. Aunt Lute Books.

Foucault, M. (1990). The history of sexuality: An introduction. Vintage.

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