On visibility and power: An Arendtian corrective of Foucault

  • Gordon N
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Abstract

Freedom, conceived ontologically, is power's condition of possibility. Yet, considering that the subject's interests and identity are constantly shaped, one still has to explain how -- theoretically speaking -- individuals can resist control. This is precisely the issue I address in the following pages. Following a brief overview of Foucault's contribution to our understanding of power, I turn to discuss the role of visibility vis-à-vis control, and show how the development of disciplinary techniques reversed the visibility of power. While Foucault illustrates that during different historical periods, distinct modes of visibility are produced by power in order to control society, I argue that the very same power that produces visibility is concomitantly dependent upon it. In addition, I maintain that visibility is a necessary component of resistance. But Foucault -- perhaps due to his premature death -- never adequately explains how individuals can resist the mechanisms of control in a world in which power is ubiquitous. To help clarify this enigma, I turn to Hannah Arendt's insights into power, freedom, plurality, and natality. These concepts, I claim, can serve as a corrective to Foucault because they make room for resistance without assuming that humans can exit power's web.

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Authors

  • Neve Gordon

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