Foucault versus Marx in a battle over Power.

Foucault and Marx influence our thinking of power, through classification and structure. While they both had at times expressed conflicting points of view, many of these conflicts converged in society, whereby creating a cohesive fusion that often are distinctive only by the origination of these authorities on Power. We will examine them through several extremely integrated tools of Power and emerge with a hybridized conclusion. We as a society have become so embedded with these philosophies and tools of the use of Power and therefore no longer clearly differentiate the two as separate causes and effects but examine them as a whole in the fabric of society.

Foucault observed that modern power, is a form of internalized surveillance to produce a person who is docile and therefore disciplinary (Dreyfus and Rabinow, p.134-135). With disciplinary power, everyone disciplines themselves and this is related to bio power which is the states involvement with the biological well-being of the population that includes prevention and control of disease, adequate supplies of food and water, housing and education. (Foucault 1979, p.170 as cited in Darier, p.587) Bio power is a link between the control of people and the development of capitalism.

In the analysis, power states and self regulation appear not to be the centers of power but instruments of modern power concepts. Classifying and dividing practices are also disciplinary practices.  They are aimed at individuals, specific populations, and the entire social order where new technologies were developed for treating individuals and populations, which cannot be understood or explained in Marxist terms.

Marxist models of productive powers, explains the formation and transformation of society in terms of conflict between the relations of production and class struggle. Both Foucault and Marx identify an agent provocateur but disagree in its effect and consequences. This involves a belief in a global struggle and the overthrowing of capitalism to create change versus allowing the will of the people to create a more realistic change in society, that favors capitalism but through bio-power.

For Marx power is originating from a clearly identifiable source, power is a top-down forum, concentrating power at the top echelon of society to erode the capacity for spontaneous action and dehumanize and imprison the rest of humanity on the lower end of spectrum. Therefore maintaining that the superstructure had only a ‘relative autonomy’, and the theory of ‘relative autonomy’, as a shorthand designation of the base–superstructure relation, became a central concept of twentieth-century Marxism

Foucault argues that power works through people and not just on them. There is no clear source of power in Foucault’s view as power relations circulate in all sites and levels of social life. Additionally, for Marx power is restrictive, whereas for Foucault power is both productive and restrictive.

Finally, the two views are not actually mutually exclusive. Marx saw power as strongly related to economic resources and the means of production, whereas Foucault saw it in terms of everyday social interactions, with the balance of power shifting from one group or individual to another, depending on the circumstances. The market’ is the ultimate authority governing economic and social life. Whereby efficiency, productivity and growth occurs through free markets to reduce government regulation Economic rationality extends throughout society forming, new “common sense” We will review how power is reflected through these very interrelated aspects of “power’ Government of the Self, Irrationality of Rationality, Co modification, Neo-liberalism, Entrepreneur of the Self and McDonaldization.

To begin with. McDonaldization, encompasses several of these vehicles of power. Irrationality of rationality, Neo liberalism and Entrepreneur of the Self. And Commodification can all be explained through this extreme of Capitalism via McDonaldization. Capitalism is a global market strategy as the market was transformed into conflict between modes of production by transforming people’s lives from great distances as it did when these distances were negligible. (Wolf 310-311

“McDonald’s is the basis of one of the most influential developments in contemporary society.  Its reverberations extend far beyond its point of origin in the United States and in the fast-food business.  It has influenced a wide range of undertakings, indeed a way of life, of a significant portion of the world.  And that impact is likely to expand at an accelerating rate.”

According to George Ritzer, rationalization is growing out of control. He calls the rationalization of the economic sphere “McDonaldization” a word play, that coins an adjective that we use to reference a phenomenon  that is the overwhelming success and popularity of the McDonald’s restaurant franchise.

McDonaldization is “the process by which the principles of the fast food restaurant are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as the rest of the world” (1993: 1). Ritzer takes his critique largely from the work of Max Weber regarding formal rationality and applies it to economic developments that are leading us into the twenty-first century. For Weber, the archetypical manifestation of this process was the Bureaucracy; a large, formal organization characterized by a hierarchical authority structure, well-established division of labor, written rules and regulations, impersonality and a concern for technical competence. Bureaucratic organizations not only represent the process of rationalization, the structure they impose on human interaction and thinking furthers the process, leading to an increasingly rationalized world. The process affects all aspects of our everyday life

He describes formal rationality as “the search by people for optimum means to a given end shaped by rules, regulations, and larger social structures” (1993: 19). The social mechanism by which such formal rationality is to be carried out is the bureaucracy. “Weber viewed bureaucracy as the paradigm case of formal rationality” (1993: 20). McDonaldization is based on Scientific management as created by Frederick W. Taylor. First, he mentions the proclivity toward scientific management. Employers found that when workers followed Taylor’s methods, they worked much more efficiently, everyone performed the same steps (that is, their work exhibited predictability), and they produced a great deal more while their pay had to be increased only slightly (calculability) (1993:24).(Marxism)

These elements of efficiency, predictability and calculability are key concepts in the discussion of rationalization. Second, Ritzer describes the assembly line and the part that the automobile industry played in manipulating technology to increase the elements of rationalization described above. As we shall see, it also seems to represent a quantum leap in the process of (ir) rationalization (1993: 34).

Rationalization can be seen as essentially paradoxical. The ‘rationale’ for rationalization, its a priori assumption, is that increased efficiency, predictability, and calculability is akin to an increase in the ability of man to manipulate his environment, to adapt, to conquer the chaotic elements of life so as to obtain a quality of life that can be considered ‘better’ than previous times. It is the empirical economic realization of the notion that “social change is ‘normal’ ” (cf. p. 6). It is an effort to increase the ‘standard of living’ of those citizens of the social order who agree to capitulate to institutionalized rational systems.

However, ‘standard of living’ has come to be defined not in a qualitative manner, but rather as a quantity: of income, of ‘gross national product’, of the rise and fall of interest rates. The ‘standard of living’ is measured as a numerical gesture rather than experienced as a real circumstance. The way we gauge our ‘progress’ into the future is based on a notion of quantitative growth rather than qualitative happiness.

It is merely assumed that a growth in production will allow us to shrug off the dangers and inconsistencies of the unpredictable natural environment; there is, in fact, a need to reevaluate this assumption. This is the paradox of rationality: it inevitably leads to irrationality. “The bureaucracy,” writes Ritzer, “is a dehumanizing place in which to work and by which to be serviced. The main reason we think of McDonaldization as irrational, and ultimately unreasonable, is that it tends to become a dehumanizing system that may become anti-human or even destructive to human beings”. Foucault versus Marxism.

Ritzer (1993) identifies the dehumanizing aspect of fast-food restaurants in customer/employee relations (“The nature of the fast-food restaurant turns customer’s and employee’s contact into fleeting relationships”), in the simple and repetitive nature of the jobs (“Said Burger King workers, ‘Any trained monkey could do this job’”) and in the rapid dining experience of the consumer. Given the rate at which the model of McDonaldization is being adopted by the business world, such a trend in the degradation of relationships between people and other people, and between people and their work, is disturbing. The individuation that accompanies rationalization is a process of isolation by which persons in our society are found to be separated from each other by invisible barriers of custom and culture that guide our relationships in directions that are not conducive to an honest and meaningful human exchange.

Rationalization and the accompanying conformity in the architecture of both the physical presence of, say, a McDonald’s restaurant and, perhaps more importantly, the non-physical presence, speed and efficiency replaced the standard value of what meal time was meant to do. It has robotized our meals as merely consumptive fuel for a combustible economy. Due to the predictable, calculated, and controlled measures of rationalized business, we can escape from the chains of chaos that fettered our forefathers; however, we make this getaway only to run into the mouth of an even greater threat to our emancipation as individuals and historical actors the emergence of mass society. Arendt writes that mass society, the realm of the social has finally, it embraces and controls all members of a given community equally and with equal strength. But society equalizes under all circumstances, and the victory of equality in the modern world is only the political and legal recognition of the fact that society has conquered the public realm, and that distinction and difference have become private matters of the individual.

It is this behavioral uniformity, as fostered by today’s corporate culture, that seems to be isolating people into narrowly privatized expressions of their own values and beliefs. This behaviorism hides from view the existence of a reflection that stifles the existence of imagination rather than connecting people in a genuine, contemplative fashion. It is, quite remarkably, the very same mainstream corporate culture fostering this behaviorism (through rationalization) that justifies huge economic inequalities among individuals by saying that they are the result of meritocratic procedures The irrational processes of rationalization have led to the arrival in modern societies of what Arendt calls the “social realm.” “The phenomenon of conformism is characteristic of this modern development” (Arendt: 1959, 40).

And it is this social realm that contemporary capitalists (i.e. those who posit that they have accumulated all that they can safely possess by the virtue of their excellent character) helped to create, using modern economic science as their guide. The premise that great wealth is justified by the fact that the wealthy earned their keep is bad, for “the social realm…made excellence anonymous, emphasized the progress of mankind rather than the achievements of men, and changed the content of the public realm beyond recognition” (Arendt: 1959: 49).

So it can be seen that as we have striven to eliminate chaos from our lives using the process of rationalization, the alternative to which we have turned to has a conformist mass society is both ultimately destructive to the variety of individuality, the so-called “private” realm,  that emerged during the Renaissance and lead to vast economic inequalities. Is there, then, any other way out of this “iron cage” that has increasingly encapsulated our society from the time of the industrial revolution? Is there any hope for non-rationalized business to appear on the horizon? Pragmatism suggests a much to do over nothing but we have certainly engineered a beast that has somehow crippled mankind into doing its will.

For whom does the bell toll if not for me. Donne explores this inter-connectivity of humanity and as he was so eloquently aware long before Foucault and Marx came on the scene that “perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.”

Apt words to live by in this era of IS(IS), Boko Haram and all the chaos that the world has reinvented. Power, a state of mind and being is still being wrestled from the grasp of discordant forces that aim to rent asunder the fabric of humanity and take us back into primitive times. The path of civilization always seem to lead to blood shed. So despite all our modern tools, delivered to us by Arendt, Ritzer  etal and with Foucault observing that modern power,  a form of internalized surveillance did attempt to produce a person who is docile and therefore disciplinary,  had not encountered today’s millennials where such antiquated rule based thought cannot be applied. The internal fabric that was aforementioned has frayed and dissolved into a vague apathy. The dream has died and with it, has come a nightmare of unprecedented surreality that is now the new modern paradigm. Chaos that is leading to entropy and creating further chaos.

Written by Cristoph De Caermichael


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