Foucault and the Strategic Model of Power

Paul Patton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Citations (Scopus)


Allen criticizes Foucault for having a ‘‘narrow and impoverished conception
of social interaction, according to which all such interaction is strategic.’’ I
challenge this claim, partly on the basis of comments by Foucault which
explicitly acknowledge and in some cases endorse forms of non-strategic
interaction, but more importantly on the basis of the significant changes in
Foucault’s concept of power that he elaborated in lectures from 1978
onwards and in ‘‘The Subject and Power.’’ His 1975–1976 lectures embarked
upon a critical re-examination of the ‘‘strategic’’ concept of power that he
had relied upon up to this point. However, it was not until 1978 and after that
he outlined an alternative concept of power as government, or more broadly
as ‘‘action upon the actions of others.’’ After retracing this shift in Foucault’s
understanding of power, I argue that the concept of power as action upon
the actions of others does not commit him to a narrow conception of social
interaction as always strategic. At the same time, Foucault’s concept does
not answer normative questions about acceptable versus unacceptable ways
of governing the actions of others.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)14–27
Number of pages14
JournalCritical Horizons
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • power
  • strategy
  • domination
  • government
  • autonomy
  • freedom
  • Domination
  • Government
  • Strategy
  • Autonomy
  • Freedom
  • Power


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