I was wondering if anyone could help me understand what Michel Foucault means by the "micro-physics" of power in Discipline and punish:

What the apparatuses and institu­tions operate is, in a sense, a micro-physics of power, whose field of validity is situated in a sense between these great functionings and the bodies themselves with their materiality and their forces.

Are they the specific details pertaining to each individual that the "body politic" observes and examines in order to gain more control?


2 Answers 2


Going on the basis of this passage only; Foucault appears to be describing an ontology of power; which isn't flat ie of one form - only the large institutions of power, whose motions are commonly the subject of politics and history; or the counter-narrative pioneered by Marxism and Social Darwinism which reduces these situations to individuals - to the personal, the self and the body: ie 'each individual'.

His micro-physics of power is situated between these two canonical ontologies of power; so it's in-between, more temporal and transient.

  • I do not quite understand your answer, Foucault explains most of the terms he uses, for instance "body politic" he claims is: "A set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communication routes and supports for the power and knowledge relations that invest human bodies and subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge". But there is little clarification in "Discipline and Punish" for what he concretely means by "Micro-physics of Power". I would appreciate if you could clarify your answer.
    – Artist
    Apr 5, 2015 at 21:07
  • I'm not sure if I'm explaining his term; more that I'm rephrasing it; it doesn't seem to have made it clearer; does it help to say that micro-physics is about the tactical and strategic usage of power as opposed to its possession by the state or body? Apr 6, 2015 at 10:12
  • This made me think of metaxy; have you come across this term?
    – labreuer
    Apr 6, 2015 at 15:10
  • Only very vaguely: I see it was referenced in Simone Weils work which is where I probably saw it; she uses it in the sense of connection - a wall seperates but it also connects. Apr 6, 2015 at 15:49

For Foucault power does not always work in terms of law and police. There are other mechanisms, invisible at times, that serve to dominate and subjugate the individual (micro level) institutionally.

Examples include the school, the hospital and psychiatry. These exercise a direct control on the human body and mind of the individual without giving him a chance to notice it.

  • I made an edit which you may roll back or continue editing. You can see the versions by clicking on the "edited" link above. One thing to add may be sources to texts by Foucault and quotes. This would strengthen your answer and give the reader a place to go for more information. Welcome to this SE! Sep 21, 2018 at 9:48

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