Pouvoir-savoir

In an ongoing debate on actKM about the relationships between knowledge and information, Foucault's concept of pouvoir-savoir has been raised by Michael Olsson. The original quote is here:

« Il n'y a pas de relations de pouvoir sans constitution corrélative d'un champ de savoir, ni de savoir qui ne suppose et ne constitue en même temps des relations de pouvoir... Ces rapports de "pouvoir-savoir" ne sont donc pas à analyser à partir d'un sujet de connaissance qui serait libre ou non par rapport au système de pouvoir ; mais il faut considérer au contraire que le sujet qui connaît, les objets, sont autant d'effets de ces implications fondamentales du pouvoir-savoir… » (« Il faut défendre la société »)

Paraphrasing, this quote expresses the idea that power and knowledge are inextricably linked.

The reason that I've posted the original French is that Michael argues translating "pouvoir-savoir" into "power-knowledge" is a poor translation and fundamentally undermines the intent of Foucault's statement.

The reason is quite simple: both pouvoir and savoir are infinitive verbs, implying the potential for action without specifying when the action will take place. Savoir can be translated as "to know", but pouvoir has no similarly simple translation, because "to power" does not capture the intent of possessing power.

On the other hand, "power" and "knowledge" are both nouns, turning actions into objects (that can be possessed). Michael argues that this emphasis on tangibility has been the cause of a lot of misunderstandings in the KM community, and particularly the historical emphasis on codification and capturing knowledge into a computer system, as if creating slices of knowledge under glass is sufficient to translate into "pouvoir" -- having power.

An interesting point of view that I'll be considering for a while.