Foucault, Power and the Company: Toward a Theory of Managerial Governmentality

From the beginning of the 1970s, Michel Foucault studied power. Repressive, ruling, and dominating, discipline, his first developed concept of power, is an essentially negative mechanism. Foucault seems to strive to escape the binary and overbearing idea of power he inherited from the theories of sovereignty. By the mid-’70s, he balances and nuances this understanding. Power is no longer likened to a prison panopticon, but to the government—in the narrow sense, and in the broad sense to a behavioral technology applied to free individuals. But again, Foucault is encumbered by this regal rationality which influences the contemporary understandings of power he continues to criticize. He makes three exceptions: the first is Christian pastoral care, the second is the Ancients’ formulation of self-government, and the third is managerial governmentality, which Foucault sketches very briefly and incompletely, and which we will discuss here.

Power relations in companies – a methodological and conceptual analysis

Economics has always been reluctant towards the concept of power, which cannot be operationalized in microeconomic models but can justify ex post rationalizations. Yet power is a vector of social institutionalization that economists must integrate to make the firm a political entity and accomplish real explanatory progress. Therefore, the article aspires to propose a renewed methodological analysis of power, which implies a collective structure while relying on individuals as actors. On the basis of this conceptual clarification, an essay for defining power in the firm is proposed: power is the latent capacity (which may or may not be exercised) of an entity A to constrain and draw the choices of an entity B so that the behavior and actions of B are oriented in a direction favorable to A, by mechanisms intrinsic to the socio-economic relationship that may be formal or informal. Such a definition of power makes it possible to reconsider transformative agency in the firm and to link power with the relational dispositions of the organizations of capitalism.