The following article on the ‘place of power in political discourse’ by Australian political scientist/theorist Saul Newman first appeared in The International Political Science Review in 2004. The subject it deals with, the nature and concept of power — as outlined by Michel Foucalt — relates to the anarchist critique of — and struggle against— the State. We welcome any contributions to the discussion, which should be emailed to us; these will be posted in due course.
ABSTRACT. This article examines the concept of a central, symbolic place of power in political theory. I trace the genealogy of “place” from sovereign conceptions of power in classical political theory to the problem of state power in radical politics. I then examine the theoretical and political implications of Foucault’s reconfiguration of the concept of power, in particular, his contention that power does not have a place, but rather, is dispersed throughout the social network. I argue that this decentralization of the concept of power denies a universal dimension that “sutures” the political field. I critically engage with the limitations and flaws of Foucault’s theory of power, and turn to the work of Lefort and Laclau for a more viable understanding of the relationship between power, its place or non-place, and the contemporary possibilities for radical politics.
This relationship of domination is no more a “relationship” than the place where it occurs is a place. Michel Foucault (1984:85)