In opposition to theories of power which focus on the domination of one group by another, Michel Foucault coined the term "biopower" to refer to the ways in which power manifests itself in the form of daily practices and routines through which individuals engage in self-surveillance and self-discipline, and thereby subjugate themselves. Biopower is a useful concept for medical anthropology because it focuses on the body as the site of subjugation, and because it highlights how individuals are implicated in their own oppression as they participate in habitual daily practices such as the self-regulation of hygiene, health, and sexuality. Yet few medical anthropologists have taken advantage of Foucault's framework to illuminate how both the individual and society are involved in perpetuating such practices. This paper brings together Foucault's theory and three concrete examples of bodily practice in Western culture, demonstrating how behaviors associated with physical fitness, femininity, and obstetrical practices all contribute to the creation of "docile bodies". The article ends by considering why some scholars have found Foucault's conception of power to be problematic.
Keywords: Foucault, power, health, fitness, femininity, anorexia, obstetrics, women, medical anthropology
How to Cite: Pylypa J., (1998) “Power and Bodily Practice: Applying the Work of Foucault to an Anthropology of the Body”, Arizona Anthropologist 13.