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A2 Unit 1 - Power and Politics

8) Post-structuralist approaches to power

All the perspectives we have looked at so far say power can be understood by examining the structures in society. For example, Marxists say power can be understood by the type of economic base in a society.

However, Foucault claims power lies outside of these structures. He instead said that power operates in discourses rather than structures. A discourse is how we talk about something. An example of how power could be seen in society is through changes in society such as feminism. At the start of the 20th century women having the vote was a ridiculous idea, however, as more people began to talk about the subject, and opinions started to change, the distribution of power in society shifted from being completely patriarchal, to being much more equally spread.

In summery Foucault doesn’t see power as set to one group or as something that is determined by structures. Instead power can change over time, and it is when a discourse becomes dominant that it is accepted as true so it has the power.


A strength of this perspective is that it has face validity. Unlike other perspectives, which say that power is rooted in one place, poststructuralism say power can change hands, and this is something we see in our society every day.

Similarly, the rise of “new media” such as Facebook supports Foucault’s view. Facebook allows people to have their voices heard and get people talking about any issue, so anyone can gain power.

However, there are several weaknesses of poststructuralism. One is that there isn’t necessarily plurality in the new media, so not everyone can create a discourse as easily. For example, if Barack Obama, who has almost 12 million followers, made a statement on Twitter, wouldn’t that carry more weight and power than someone with only 50 followers? Therefore not everyone can create a discourse as power is already unfairly distributed.

Another criticism of Foucault’s work is that he fails to give any explanation of why dominant discourses arise; his critics also say the answer to this question is the structures in society, undermining his whole perspective.


About Sam Cook

A blog set up to help A Level students revise Sociology


One thought on “8) Post-structuralist approaches to power

  1. Amazing! Thank you 🙂

    Posted by Jamila | May 10, 2013, 12:49 pm

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