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Power Forms in Developed Industrial Societies Essay


Drawing on the ideas of Michel Foucault, explore how and why forms of power have changed in advanced, industrialized societies


Power revolves around every human activity. According to Foucault (1973) power comes from everywhere and is therefore everywhere. The ability of an individual, group, or state to have control over other entities constitutes power. Those with power can make others behave in a manner they never intended through a variety of means including the use of force. For instance, the government may exercise power over its citizens as stipulated in the constitution in what is known as the downward enforcement of power.

On the other hand, people may force the government to act in a way they deem necessary. Kendall (2007) argues that in the past, for instance, the power used to be exercised through physical force as well as through the use of threats and violence (p149). However, according to Foucauldian theory, this has tremendously changed in the contemporary world since people currently live in what he referred to as a disciplinary society (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004).

He reiterates that the modern method of exercising power has changed in techniques and technology as well as sites where power gains entry into the body of people thereby changing their attitudes, acts, beliefs as well as their general behavior (p136) Foucault argues that power is currently exercised in a modern manner in the advanced industrialized states. The transition from the exercise of power in the Monarchial period to the disciplinary power has been successful through the application of simple technologies and techniques (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004).

The change of power exercise in the advanced industrial society

The exercise of power has undergone a tremendous change to the modern form currently witnessed in contemporary society. To begin with, the enforcement of power in the past had been characterized by a combination of injustice, inequality, and forms of autocracy. For instance, a high degree of brutality was displayed during the monarchial period compared to the more subtle form of exercising power in the modern world.

Foucault describes such brutality in his book of discipline and punishes where he cites the execution of Frenchman Damiens as an act performed in very brutal circumstances (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004). Foucauldian theory utilizes the conviction and torture of Damiens in the late eighteenth century to illustrate how brutal the ancient authorities exercised their powers (p136). The theorist contrasts torture and chaotic public torture in his book “Discipline and Punish The Birth of the Prison” where he challenges the widely held notion that punishment became consistent due to the demands by the reformists.

Moreover, Foucauldian theory cites the changes in culture as the precipitating factor in the witnessed transition of forms by which power was exercised (p136). It is noteworthy that Foucault does not deny the aforementioned notion but holds that prison is a modern technological power that can also be found in other institutions including hospitals, army barracks as well as schools (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004).

According to Foucault, the authorities exercised their powers by making other people on whom the power was exercised to behave in a manner they had never intended. Badham (1986) explains that those undergoing the exercise of power were manipulated through a variety of ways including the use of force to behave in a manner desired by those in power. This was evident in the Middle Ages were those undergoing power felt the negative effects of power exercise thereby creating a rift between them and those exercising power (Badham, Richard, 1986).

Besides, Foucault associates knowledge with power in many instances in his arguments. He goes on to argue that in the past knowledge was not prioritized in the exercising of power by those in authority. For instance, he says that soldiers could be chosen merely by their natural characteristics and not by training. This is in contrast to the modern disciplinary approach where the recruits are subjected to a variety of disciplinary processes.

For instance, they are expected to behave in a certain specified manner after undergoing evaluation as well as being ranked. This is in line with Crowner and Green’s (2004) argument that the process of exercising power may be both dominations as well as oppressive by implication. However, it is noteworthy that despite the cumbersome and undoubtedly difficult process, disciplinary techniques ensure that professionals are not just hand-picked but made and formed and that positive effects of power are witnessed during the process (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004).

Foucauldian disciplinary theory of power may also be applied in the life of an organization. To begin with, Foucault explores the notion of discourse which is supported by structures and symbolized in people and spread through speech as well as other behavioral practices. Here, the relationship between knowledge and power is stressed like those in authority will exercise power in their knowledge-based duties in an organization.

For instance, doctors would have the power to draw up doctoral discourse to explain a medical issue. According to Crowther and Green (2004), the doctor does this by speaking as well as casting judgment on patients in a hospital as an organization. On the other hand, the patient is entitled to be quiet and is therefore the entity of the power exercise (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004).

Furthermore, Foucault has explored organizational change in contemporary society. He argues that discourse inscribes itself on people via a wide range of forms in the age of disciplinary power. Foucault explores the metaphor of ‘panopticon’ by exemplifying the army barracks to illustrate the form of power that operates through visibility. The theorist compares the ancient prison design with the current modern designs in terms of the visibility of the prisoners from the perspective of those in charge of the prisons (Kendall, Diana, 2007).

In the past, prisons were designed in a manner that the prison guard could not be seen by the prisoners unlike in the modern scenario where visibility is greatly enhanced. Foucault however cautions against such visibility arguing that this is just a trap. He goes on to argue that modern society employs power and knowledge in its control system via such visibility (Kendall, Diana, 2007).

He, therefore, suggests that such an idea should be employed throughout modern society in other sectors in the man’s everyday domestic as well as working lives. These sectors may include education, accommodation, and social work among other areas. All are linked by the control of people undergoing the power exercised by those in the authority (Kendall, Diana, 2007).

According to Foucauldian theory, the modern technique of exercising power upholds justice as well as minimizing oppression and therefore makes individuals to whom power is exercised to embrace the power exercise. Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, (2004) posit that disciplinary punishment provides no room for brutality as witnessed in the past but instead encourages self-policing by the people undergoing such exercise.

The two researchers cite the period between the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries as an era when a modern and more restrained form of power which he termed discipline was exercised across different nations (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004). Generally, Foucault’s arguments are based on the culture change as the backbone of the witnessed transition in the exercise of power in the advanced industrialized societies. He focuses on the issue of knowledge and power while tracing the changes in culture as a precipitating factor in the transition from the monarchial period to the modern disciplinary techniques of power exercise (Crowther, David & Green, Mariam, 2004).

Critically evaluate claims that the power of the nation-state is in terminal decline

Evaluation of claims that the power of the nation-state is in terminal decline

In the past, a variety of nation-states had substantial economic as well as political control over their territories for two main reasons (Agnew, John, et al, 2003). At the outset, the lack of technological advancement led to an inability by other groups as well as states to access the borders of the nation-states given the geographic positions of the latter states (Hirst, Paul, 2001). As a result, such states were economically immune from the effects of other nations hence their ability to have economic control over their borders (Agnew, John, et al, 2003).

Moreover, the systems of belief as well as the design of social institutions in the past undermined economic interdependence between states. Agnew, John, et al, (2003) argue that this was possible even though no state can exist and successfully operate on its own without interacting as well as transacting with other states. According to Axford (1995), this has been exemplified in instances when foreign products could not be accepted in a state due to widespread suspicion of their value.

Many citizens had believed in a notion that anything any foreign had an inferior value compared to the local products. The second reason is the need by a state to mobilize its resources to protect its sovereignty through the use of military options (Hirst, Paul, 2001). Nationalism was the fundamental aspect that ensured the existence of nation-states hence the dire need by the states to protect it through the use of force (Axford, Barrie, 1995). According to Axford (1995), nation-states would go to an extent of mobilizing its people against rejecting foreign things including products as well as the culture in an attempt to uphold its national values.

Certain modern forces such as globalization have greatly contributed to the decline of territorial sovereignty of a variety of nation-states thereby shifting the roles and functions of such political communities beyond the understanding of their citizens (Pilkington, Collin, 2002). Such a decline in power is based on the economic as well as political aspects concerning historical and socio-political changes (Held, David, 2004). The claim that the power of a nation-state is in terminal decline is a complex matter that requires a thorough understanding of a variety of issues. To begin with, Smith (2001) posits that the existence of a nation-state in the first place is an issue of concern.

Such a political economy can only be claimed to exist in circumstances where the whole population of the state comprises a relatively single ethnonational group of people and the group and the state boundaries are co-extensive (Smith, Antony, 2001). However, such coincidences are uncommon given the consistent immigration as well as cultural fusion (Smith, Antony, 2001).

According to Agnew, John et al (2003) the concept of a political community with distinct geographical boundaries that comprises people with a common culture, language, ethnicity as well as religion was nonexistent in medieval Europe before the fourteenth century (p177). In essence, the claim that the power of the nation-state is in terminal decline might have lacked basis as the existence of such a political community was rare (Pilkington, Collin, 2002).

However, disputed allegiances contributed to the breakdown of the feudal relationships which in turn led to the emergence of the nation-state in the early fourteenth century (Pilkington, Collin, 2002). Pilkington (2002) goes on to argue that a handful of such states existed in the fifteenth and their current high number is attributed to recent development.

Besides, Smith (2001) goes on to argue that it would be difficult to determine the definite trend of decline in the power of the nation-states even if their existence was established. Moreover, he stresses the minor chances of establishing such trends of power decline in the national states. Smith (2001) admits that there has been a massive erosion of both economic as well as political powers of many nation-states in the recent past due to a variety of reasons (p123).

For instance, national states including those considered to be more powerful have lost their economic autonomy as well as military options as a result of the introduction of huge trading markets and currency and multinational companies and the establishment of military and political blocs that have well-defined structures and commands. However, Smith (2001) cites the difficulty in measuring the extent of such erosion as a result of drawbacks in the implementation of the military as well as economic authority by such states (p123).

The decline of the power of nation-states can be however cited in many sectors after the emergence of such states in the early fourteenth century. To begin with, the smaller cultural and ethnic groups existing in the states threaten the political solidarity of such states while the larger international associations, as well as political groups, jeopardize the nationalism and identity of the states.

According to Axford (1995), the dissolution of many countries has been witnessed in the past as a result of the desire of small cultural groups within a country to separate and gain economic as well as political freedom (p174). Such a move is always attributed to the oppression of the minority groups by the majority in a nation. However, such separation and the subsequent independence of the minority groups are bound to face similar challenges (Rosow, Stephen, 1994).

According to Rosow, Stephen (1994) minority groups may succeed in their pursuit of independence through democratic or forceful methods usually known as military options, and establish their sovereignty. However, similar minority groups will still emerge in the newly formed sovereign state and demand for their freedom. This was witnessed in Ireland when the dominant English population oppressed the other minority groups in the UK until the groups decided to gain independence and settled in Ireland (Axford, Barrie, 1995).

However, problems emerged when the protestant minority groups wanted to restore their union with Britain and therefore decided to fight the majority in Ireland until they formed a state in Northern Ireland. Surprisingly enough, another catholic minority group emerged in the state demanding its independence from the state and was ready to fight for it.


It is highly acknowledgeable that power is everywhere and therefore affects every human activity. According to Foucauldian theory power entails the ability of an entity to influence the way other entities behave in different ways. The ancient methods involved the use of force as witnessed in the Damiens case while such an awkward approach has greatly changed in modern contemporary society.

For instance, Foucault has used prison to explain the modern disciplinary society that was a product of such transformation which is attributed to the change in culture. More importantly, he associated power to knowledge, a concept that is utilized by other social realist theories in education. Change of power has also been witnessed in the decline of nation-states as explained by various theorists.

For instance, such decline has been associated with the advancements in technology and communication in the contemporary world (Rosow, Stephen, 1994). Smith argues that the economic, as well as the political authority of nation-states, have been lost while they attempt to safeguard their nationalism and sovereignty. Finally, it is noteworthy that knowledge is power hence should be upheld even though some forms of knowledge are considered more powerful than others.

Reference list

Agnew, John et al (2003). A companion to political geography. New York. Wiley-Blackwell.

Axford, B. (1995). The global system: economics, politics, and culture. London. Palgrave Macmillan.

Badham, R. (1986). Theories of industrial society. Abingdon. Taylor & Francis.

Crowther, David & Green, Miriam (2004). Organizational theory. London. CIPD Publishing.

Held, D. (2004). A globalizing world?: culture, economics, politics. 2nd edition. New York. Routledge.

Hirst, P. (2001). War and power in the 21st century: the State, military conflict, and the international system. New York. Wiley-Blackwell.

Kendall, D. (2007). Sociology in our times. 6th edition, Florence. Cengage Learning.

Pilkington, C. (2002). Devolution in Britain today. Manchester: Manchester University.

Pres Rosow, Stephen. (1994). The Global economy is political space. Boulder. Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Smith, A. (2001). Nationalism: theory, ideology, history. New York. Wiley-Blackwell.

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