Foucault: Power and Knowledge

What are we doing this week?

  • This week we turn to Foucault's middle, genealogical period, in which the motif of power comes to the fore and Foucault's writing becomes more overtly political.
  • We will follow Foucault as he charts the development of new forms of power in the history of the Western world.
  • We will explore these modalities of power through his important text Discipline and Punish.
  • We will elaborate a contrasting account of power from 1 Corinthians 1.
  • And we will bring this biblical account of power into conversation with Foucault's writing.

The videos

1) What is power?

In this video you'll learn:

  • Why, for Foucault, power is less Nineteen Eighty-Four and more Shawshank Redemption.
  • Six key theses summarizing Foucault's understanding of power.
  • Why Foucault didn't like using the term "power" by itself.


2) Discipline and Punish

In this video you'll learn:

  • Four models of power that Foucault uses: sovereign power, pastoral power, disciplinary power and biopower.
  • Six key theses summarizing Foucault's understanding of power.
  • How the invention of the rifle contributed to a transformation of the modern world.


3) Cruciform power

In this video you'll learn:

  • How to build up a distinctively biblical understanding of power.
  • How the v-shaped dynamic of Philippians 2 becomes x-shaped in 1 Corinthians 1.
  • How the cross introduces a moment of subversion into narratives of power and wisdom.

4) "... so that no one may boast"

In this video you'll learn:

  • How to bring the Foucauldian and biblical accounts of power into dialogue.
  • How Foucault and the Bible share a concern for an attitude that thinks tomorrow will be just like today.
  • How the responses they offer to that problem differ significantly.


Supplied readings

If you want to take things further, here are some extracts to help you.

1) Foucault on the Panopticon

  • In Discipline and Punish Foucault identifies the Panopticon (described in this extract) as a paradigmatic manifestation of disciplinary society (in a similar way to how he offers the Ship of Fools as a paradigmatic emblem of the Renaissance view of madness). In this extract he explains what the Panopticon is, how it functions, and how its paradigm shapes the disciplinary society.

2) Paul Barnett, "The Word of the Cross" (commentary on 1 Corinthians 1:18-25).

3) Carl R. Trueman, "Luther's Theology of the Cross".

  • A brief introduction to this important biblical theme by a leading Reformed church historian.


Further reading

Sara Mills, Michel Foucault (London: Routledge, 2012).

  • Another entry-level introduction to Foucault's thought, organized into brief discussions of major themes and issues, Foucault's method, and key themes from his best-known texts.

Graham Tomlin, The Power of the Cross: Theology and the Death of Christ in Paul, Luther and Pascal (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2007).

  • An interesting treatment of the theologia crucis motif, drawing out its implications through Pascal. Contains a relatively brief discussion of Foucault.

Paul Helm, The Providence of God (Leicester: InterVarsity Press, 1994).

  • Contains a perceptive treatment of the great reversal motif in relation to its implications for a biblical understanding of power.

Carl R. Trueman, Luther on the Christian Life: Cross and Freedom (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2015).

  • A rare discussion of Luther's theology of the cross from a Reformed standpoint.

Bible passages

  • The main Bible passage this week is of course 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. The theme of the great reversal is also emphasized in 2 Corinthians.
    • What do you think it was about the context of the Corinthian church that led Paul to lay greater emphasis on the great reversal in these letters than in others?
  • Matthew 5:1-12