Can Foucault’s analysis of power inform a radical politics?
‘There is an optimism that consists in saying that things couldn’t be better’
(Foucault, 1990: 156).
This statement reflects Foucault’s focus on the historical conflicts of power relations. His analysis radically diverges from traditional conceptions of power as an inherently oppressive force to be overthrown. In a revival of the legacy of Critical Theory, Foucault’s theories produce practical radical politics. This paper initially explores Foucault’s concept of power and how it differs from the traditional, top-down approach to radical politics. Foucault’s theory of power not only provides an imperative tool to engage critically in politics, but also interrogates the discourse of what constitutes ‘radical politics’. In effect, arguing that upholding a dominant conception of ‘radical politics’ subjugates alternative radical theories and practices. Although critics may consider this pessimistic, Foucault utilises such analysis for resistance in warring against dangerous forms of power. Moreover, Foucault’s theories enable the proliferation of possible forms of radical politics.
Foucault’s lack of a concrete alternative to the present induces some to consider his theories ‘conservative’ (Habermas, 1981), however I interpret his work as reviving Critical Theory’s aim of informing radical politics. Foucault’s theory of power not only provides an imperative tool to engage critically in politics, but also interrogates the discourse of ‘radical politics’. This paper utilises Pugh’s (2009) broad definition of radical politics as revealing ‘root’ problems and strategizing how to ‘root out’ problems, yet aims the analysis at power and resistance. First, this essay introduces Foucault’s (1998) analysis of power. Second, I demonstrate how Foucault situates power, and differs from the traditional approach to radical politics, which focuses on sovereign power. Third, Foucault’s analysis of power engaged in conflict against resistance illustrates its practical utility in proliferating the possibilities for radical politics. Finally, I employ his theory of power to critique the discursive process that produces radical politics, since this process implicitly subjugates alternative radical theories and practices.