Fault's Conceptualization of Power Relations: Masculinity and Power


Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere. (Foucault, 1978, p. 93)

For many years, the concept of power was thought of only in the context of political power. Can the concept of power and its relations be considered only in the context of the state and its extensions? If the power is specific to the government, how can the oppression and domination of individuals be explained? Foucault’s understanding of power can be approached as an answer to this question, as the article will strive to explain. The idea that the body (gender in this context) is an important part of the practice of power and control in this sense is clearer within the framework of Foucault’s analysis of power. Considering that hegemonic masculinity is also formed and reproduced in the context of power relations of genders, it is important to understand that the establishment and mechanism of power relations are always included in this power struggle of the patriarchal gender order; because talking about gender is also talking about power. For the continuing construction of genders and any related inequalities, power must be regarded as centrally important. This article presents a discussion of how hegemonic masculinity leads to the reproduction of patriarchy in the context of Foucault’s understanding of power relations.


Figure 1: The French philosopher Michel Foucault in 1975.

Hegemonic masculinity is an established form of existence that is accepted and idealized in society, emphasizing the historical and established (according to space and time) nature of masculinity, which is at the top of the social hierarchy (Carrigan, Connell & Lee, 1985). In this respect, hegemonic masculinity is primarily public. However, considering that hegemony is a superiority that goes beyond power struggles and infiltrates private life and cultural processes, it is seen as inclusive of a reproduction process that covers private life and all social relations. In this context, all relations between gender roles refer to an area of ​​power struggle. This domain of power includes the everywhere feature, which Foucault also emphasizes (McLaren, 2002). According to Foucault, power is not a phenomenon that occurs only in the political field or emerges in a certain place, but is systematically highlighted by known power centers, so that power is everywhere. In her work “Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity”, Margaret A. McLaren states that Foucault never sees power as a static, coherent, united entity, but rather considers it as power relations that include complex historical conditions and articulate many things, including the field of power and his critique of traditional philosophical models of subjectivity.


While giving explanations to the subjects he studied, Foucault mentioned that his real problem was “power” and that power was at the root of all the topics he dealt with. According to Foucault, modern power cannot be explained by the 18th and 19th century understandings of power, which are considered classical and generally related to issues such as traditional sovereignty and law. Power is not a phenomenon whose existence is based on and based on a single thing; it continues to exist by penetrating the movements, discourses, behaviors of individuals and in general every detail of their lives (Foucault, 1978). In other words, the individual is a part of the power relationship and is him/herself a form of power. However, as mentioned before, this power relationship is not fixed and static by nature, but rather a dynamic and constantly functioning process. This point also indicates that hegemonic masculinity is an idealized and volatile phenomenon, as discussed in the previous article. Hegemonic masculinity also changes, renews itself, or eliminates itself according to historical, spatial, and cultural dynamics in order to ensure the continuation of the masculine power of the patriarchal order (Connell, 1987).



Figure 2: "Can you think of any laws that give government the power to make decisions about the male body?"

Foucault (1980) argues that power creates, transforms, strengthens, or reverses its own existence, and according to him, the mobility of power relations is the condition for power to become possible. This power is not something that is acquired, extorted or shared, held, or abducted. It occurs in unequal dynamic situations. From this point of view, according to Foucault, power relations do not have an external character in processes such as economic orders, network of knowledge relations, legal or political reforms; they are immanent to them. Power relations are not just higher institutions that can play a suppressing or accompanying role. On the contrary, it has a direct productive role wherever it works (Foucault, 1980). As in the case of hegemonic masculinity, power is not found in all men, this power continues with unequal mobilities (Connell, 1987).


For Foucault, power is another set of actions that works out over possible frameworks. In this respect, Foucault advises people to avoid monotonous and shallow thinking; according to him, identities are a part of power relations. The identity of masculinity is presented to society as if it were a product of truth within the framework of constant discourse and knowledge, in order for such a power to maintain and reproduce itself. The perception of gender emerges with discursive associations created within the framework of institutions, structures, organizations, and learned truths. In this respect, it can be said that these power relations have spread to all aspects of society. For instance, Connell (1987) attributed one of the causes of masculinity formation in the context of gender to institutions (such as the military). With a similar approach, Foucault emphasizes that institutions should be constantly analysed in the context of power relations. However, he highlights that it would be wrong to attribute power formation only to institutions, and that power relations should be sought in all discursive and non-discursive practices outside of institutions (Foucault, 1982).

Figure 3: Rediscovering masculinity.

In this respect, the hegemonic form of masculinity is a form of existence that is always incomplete and is based on sociality that is produced equally socially and emotionally. According to Connell, ideally, men try to create the different forms of power they have by establishing power relations over women, other men, and their own bodies. In this context, women have tried to create some form of resistance to dominant forms of masculinity through feminist movements. In order to eliminate one power, it is necessary to have areas of power, that is, opposing groups or views. That is to say, where there is a power relationship, there are at least two rivals. This struggle is particularly visible in second and third-wave feminism. For example, according to Shilling (2003), second-wave feminism is one of the main social factors behind the rise of the body (as the subject matter in the fields of power) in sociological thought after the 80s. Also, according to Joyce Mann and Huffman (2005), second-wave feminism argues the nature of woman against the modernist depiction and definition of woman.


Power relations, in essence, also constitute an area of struggle against power and thus points of resistance. The focus on identities in third-wave feminism resolves the tendency of male identity to exert pressure (Donovan, 2000). These analyses can also create resistance points. However, this situation is different for men. Socially, patriarchy has always been dealt with as an expression of honor and sanctity for men. However, when we consider Connell's arguments on masculinity, one of the major victims oppressed and marginalized under the power of masculinity is the man himself. One of the most important reasons is that they cannot create resistance points as in feminist movements. But Foucault approaches such an assumption from a different place. According to him, wherever there is power, there is resistance. However, even if there is resistance, this does not mean blocking the power. Power cannot be thought of as being independent from the subject. In other words, power both creates the subject and opens up space for the resistance of the subject to power and tries to limit this resistance by reproducing it in itself. The reason for this is that power gains continuity with the discourses it produces against resistance (Miller, 1990). According to Foucault’s approach (1980), resistance actually consists of aspects that positively affect power, as without resistance, the continuity of power is meaningless. That is, talking about a positive or a negative essence contributes to its struggle for existence. The claim that power relations are formed through discourse and thought shows that masculinity can also be made the subject of this claim. In this respect, the everywhere feature of hegemonic masculinity is evident in language, because, as Elliot emphasizes, language does not only represent but also makes sense of the world (Elliot, 1996). Masculine language is the dominant side of gender and is put into operation through the discourse of power relations.


Figure 4: Humpty Dumpty, from Alices Adventures In Wonderland

A body-focused study analyzes gender issues in terms of cultural performances and power relations between interacting individuals, rather than simply defining the body in terms of pleasure-oriented definitions or biological variables. Due to power relations, the strong and weak segments of the gender regime are included in the power network that operates beyond their control. As a matter of fact, when the identities formed by gender roles are analyzed according to Foucault's approach to power, it can be said that not only does masculinity dominate women and men, but they also struggle with themselves. As a matter of fact, Foucault points out that power is not something gained by individuals for a certain purpose. In fact, social power has an encompassing role that includes all forms of gender, the dominant and powerful segments as well as the weak and oppressed ones. This happens because there is always a struggle between gender stereotypes and this struggle for power is everywhere and finds its place at the core of all relationships. Due to its idealized and socially constructed essence, not being able to find hegemonic masculinity anywhere shows that it is very dynamic, being able to change at any time, in every field, and in all power relations. This ubiquitous masculinity is operationalized by all segments of gender.



Bibliographical References

Carrigan, T., Connell, R.W. & Lee, J. (1985). Toward a New Sociology of Masculinity. Theory and Society, 14(5). 551-604. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/657315


Connell, R.W. (1987). Gender and Power: Society, the Person, and Sexual Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. Retrieved from http://library.lol/main/11C6062867BD04F0D19A43271DF0485C


Donovan, J. (2000). Feminist Theory: The Intellectual Traditions. Bloomsbury Academic.


Foucault, M. (1978). The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1: An Introduction. Random House. Retrieved from http://library.lol/main/CAD3DFB904803933B4A1EA60C3BFAE9F


Foucault, M. (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings, 1972-1977. New York: Pantheon Books. Retrieved from http://library.lol/main/8B8D0B106386BF63F2F23E3A21B0A082


Foucault, M. (1982). The Subject and Power. Critical Inquiry, 8(4), 777–795. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1343197


Mann, S. A., & Huffman, D. J. (2005). The Decentering of Second Wave Feminism and the Rise of the Third Wave. Science & Society, 69(1), 56–91. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40404229


McLaren, M.A. (2002). Feminism, Foucault, and Embodied Subjectivity. State University of New York Press. Retrieved from http://library.lol/main/85D87F2FC45EE5172B36EB4D80B12051


Miller, S. (1990). Foucault on Discourse and Power. Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory, 76, 115–125. http://www.jstor.org/stable/41801502


Richard, E. (1996). Discourse Analysis: Exploring Action, Function and Conflict in Social Texts. Marketing Intelligence & Planning, 14(6), 65–68. DOI:10.1108/02634509610131171.


Shilling, C. (2003). The Body and Social Theory. Sage Publications. Retrieved from http://library.lol/main/9CDEA47493BC76A142F70D5C91BFFEB0


Visual Sources

Cover: The Guardian. (n.d.). What does it mean to be a man? Guardian readers respond. [Illustration] The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/nov/13/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-man-reader-responses


Figure 1: Camera Press. (1975). The French philosopher Michel Foucault in 1975. [Photograph]. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/08/books/michel-foucault-new-book.html


Figure 2: Knight, C. (2020). "Can you think of any laws... ?". [Photograph]. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2022-07-06/andrea-bowers-ucla-hammer-art-activism


Figure 3: The Guardian. (n.d.). What does it mean to be a man? Guardian readers respond. [Illustration] The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2020/nov/13/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-man-reader-responses


Figure 4: Tenniel, J. (1911). Humpty Dumpty, from Alices Adventures In Wonderland. [Illustration]. Meisterdrucke. https://bit.ly/3OcGGvE





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