Foucault's Approach to Power: Its Allure and Limits for Collaborative Lawyering

88 Pages Posted: 12 Oct 2007


This Article examines the considerable influence that French philosopher Michel Foucault's conceptualization of power has had on U.S. theorists of lawyering for social change. Led by Professors Gerald López and Lucie White, a substantial literature has emerged in the past two decades urging progressive lawyers to reshape their lawyering practices to collaborate more closely with clients and community groups. Proponents of this model of activist law practice have often invoked Foucault and acknowledged that his ideas about power underlie and inform their visions of lawyering. This Article provides an accessible exposition of Foucault's complicated ideas about power, set in the larger context of his work, and a balanced assessment of their utility and limitations for social change lawyering. It uses an environmental justice scenario to help convey the collaborative approach to lawyering and the role that visions of power play in daily lawyering practice. It details the many ways in which Foucault's view of power fits neatly with the projects of this model of collaborative lawyering and also reveals a number of areas in which his approach is unhelpful, areas in which these lawyers must part company with him and draw instead from other models of power and social change.

Suggested Citation

Piomelli, Ascanio, Foucault's Approach to Power: Its Allure and Limits for Collaborative Lawyering. Utah Law Review, p.395, 2004, Available at SSRN:

Ascanio Piomelli (Contact Author)

UC Hastings Law ( email )

200 McAllister Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
United States

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