“The Subject and Power” – Foucault

Foucault, Michel. Power. Ed. James Faubion. New York: The New Press, 1994. Print.

In “The Subject and Power” Foucault explains the modes of objectification that turn human beings into subjects. Foucault states, “This form of power that applies itself to immediate everyday life categorizes the individual, marks him by his own individuality, attached him to his own identity, imposes a law of truth on him that he must recognize and others have to recognize in him. It is a form of power that makes individuals subjects” (331). Human being becomes subjects when objectified through the sciences, through dividing practices (such as the dividing within a self or from others), and through reflective signification (such as turning yourself into a subject by expressing sexuality as a truth). Foucault is not interested so much in power as how certain structures of power (for which we need a better analytics and conceptualization) turn humans into subjects. Of power and the way is turns humans into subject, Foucault notes the following: power is the action on the field of possible action of others; power can only be exercised in relation to free subjects. The degree of power is determined by five factors: the system of differentiations (status, wealth, social difference, etc.), types of objectives pursued by those acting on others’ actions, instrumental modes of that action, forms of institutionalization, and degrees of renationalization.  Power is generally gained by making another a subject as a means to an end, to gain an advantage, or to procure victory over another. Foucault states, “Relationships of communication imply goal-oriented activities (even if only the correct putting into operation of directed elements of meaning) and, by modifying the field of information between partners, produce effects of power.” (338). In other words, power is “goal-oriented” and objectifying. Power, “operates on the field of possibilities in which the behavior of active subjects is able to inscribe itself. It is a set of actions on possible actions; it incites, it induces, it seduces, it makes easier or more difficult; it releases or contrives, makes more probable or less; in the extreme, it constrains or forbids absolutely, but it is always a way of action upon one or more acting subjects by virtue of their acting or being capable of action. A set of actions upon other actions” (341). In terms of how to disrupt the subjectification of power, Foucault suggests we stop trying to discover “what we are” and instead actively refuse what we are. “We have to imagine and to build up what we could be to get rid of this kind of political “double bind,” which is simultaneous individualization and totalization of modern power structures” (336).

Foucault is obviously interesting in relation to the study of games because players are inseparable, most often, from subject. Additionally, though the player exerts his subjectivity in the game space, interacting with it’s system and eventually “beating” it, this is always only ever a rouse – the player remains subjectified by the system at all time. He is trapped within its power structure so long as he chooses to play. Of course, this echoes Foucault’s sentiment about power necessitating partners (338). The player and the game are partners and in the partnership the player consents to the rules of game system and thus to the game’s power ability to turn the player to subject.  It is also not surprising the Foucault himself discusses game theory or mechanized power. Games depend on fixed rules or situations in which “an ensemble of actions…induce others to follow from one another” (337).

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