Michel Foucault has argued that research into modern power must work toward an “ascending analysis” which outlines its “infinitesimal mechanisms”. This method of analyzing techniques and effects is at the core of Foucault's concept of modern power, or biopower. Anthropologist Paul Rabinow and his frequent collaborator, sociologist Nikolas Rose, have, following Foucault, framed a concept of biopower that combines three planes: “a form of truth discourse about living beings and an array of authorities considered competent to speak that truth; strategies for intervention upon collective existence in the name of life and health; and modes of subjectification, in which individuals can be brought to work on themselves, under certain forms of authority, in relation to truth discourses, by means of practices of the self, in the name of individual or collective life or health”.
Power is not localized in the state apparatus, Foucault argues, moving away from the work of Althusser and Gramsci; the state apparatus does not take into account the micro-physics of power “that function outside, below, and alongside” the state apparatus. Foucault analyzes these “power-knowledge relations”, asserting that power and knowledge imply one another, and that there is no power relation without a correlative field of knowledge. He theorizes a subject who is not “endowed with a consciousness which power is then thought to seize on” or simply the crude result of ideology's influence, but who is engaged in processes and struggles that determine the multiple forms and domains of knowledge.
Foucault presents a dual process of subjection, wherein the subjectivity of individuals is produced as they are simultaneously subjected within a discourse. As he argues in Discipline and Punish, subjection is not only obtained by simply either violence or ideology but also cannot be localized in any one institution or state apparatus; rather, institutions and apparatuses operate a “micro-physics of power”.
To do this, Foucault must abandon the violence-ideology opposition, and the opposition of what is in the interest or uninterest of power, imagining a “political anatomy” or “body politic” as a set of elements and techniques that subjugate by turning bodies into objects of knowledge . These elements and techniques constitute the beginning of an era of “biopower,” one that is a break from pre-capitalist forms of sovereign power and is chiefly concerned with the subjugation of bodies and the control of populations .
Foucault's insistence upon an ascending analysis of power is not merely a statement of method. His analysis, which traces the history and trajectory of the mechanisms of power, labors to understand how these mechanisms have been “invested, colonized, (and) utilized” by “forms of global domination” . What must be shown, he argues, is the way in which “more general powers” and economic interests engage with mechanisms and technologies of power . Why look at the general domination by the bourgeois class? Foucault thinks “anything can be deduced” from such an analysis. What is different about looking at biopower, biopolitics, and governmentality is the way it illuminates how power is able to function in the most basic “cells and units” of society . Foucault's work attempts to understand the real agents of power rather than lumping them under a generalized bourgeoisie. The question that Foucault's work raises is simply, but powerfully, how do mechanisms of power become economically and politically useful?