Knowledge and power

The French philosopher, social theorist and psychologist Michel Foucault has been hugely influential in shaping our understanding of power in society. His ideas help us to understand the role of public and private institutions, how discourse and debate influence our attitudes - and ultimately how language and knowledge shape our perception of the societies we live in.

Foucault's theories from the sixties and seventies addressed the relationship between power and knowledge. He used the term 'power/knowledge' to signify that power is established through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and 'truth'. In this way society creates a 'regime of truth', where social institutions define what counts as ‘true’.

His ideas and theories have left a large impact across numerous disciplines, from sociology and philosophy to government policy and medicine. Not least in sociology this school of thought has had a great influence on social theorists and thinkers.