Foucault formulates the analysis of power in two schemes: that of contract-oppression and domination-repression/war-repression. Contract-oppression is reminiscent of Hobbesian theory; a social contract is forged amongst a populace, and governing capacity is given to a sovereign leader. The sovereign is dependent upon the people because as leader he is made up of their expressed wishes; conversely, the people depend upon the sovereign for order. In this model, called the classic or juridical conception, power is of an economic nature. This means that
power is taken to be a right, which one is able to possess like a commodity, and which one can in consequence transfer or alienate1.
Power is generally of a binary nature, and its binary opposites are that of the powerful, and the subjugated. Foucault also refers to this dualism as that of the
legitimate and illegitimate2. This is the traditional mode in which we analyze power: we see a singular entity holding and wielding power, a massive collective which confers (by will or otherwise) power upon that entity, and both the entity and the collectivity are inextricably tied to one another.
The second schema is the domination/war-repression hypothesis. Where the first schema is more or less continuous and stable (the citizens are usually subject to the same conditions of law under any sovereign), the second schema appears to be rooted in uncertainty and displacement. It is not static, but rather is essentially active. Its nature is that of
struggle and submission3. There are structures in place which define, identify, involve and place citizens (think of Louis Althusser's ideological state apparatuses) in such a way that they have to adhere to at least some social structures and become entangled in power relations. This is where the war analogy comes in; there is constant conflict between various agencies in which the only possible outcomes are dominance or submission.
It is interesting to note that the two concepts are not entirely symmetrical, which may the be the impression that one gets at first glance. Repression
is not abuse, like oppression,
but is, on the contrary, the mere effect and continuation of a relation of domination.4
Again, we must remember as well, that while the contract-oppression schema denotes something of a binary relationship, the domination-repression schema represents multifaceted, oscillatory relations between social factions (who all are existing within a plethora of social structures).
Foucault admits that while he has generally worked within the domination-repression thesis for several years previous to Two Lectures, it is not adequate for accurately portraying the reality of power struggles. This is because it does not reflect the social minutiae and micro-processes which cluster together to make the social webs and structures in which we live.
Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge, ed. Colin Gordon (New York: Pantheon, 1980) 88.