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Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Vol. 1

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Frances S Hasso

on 5 February 2016

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Transcript of Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Vol. 1

What is the story Foucault seeks to refute?
Western societies since the "classical age" repressed sexuality
The process consolidated with 17th century development of capitalism and Victorian bourgeoisie -- the repressive hypothesis
Western societies have gone from repressed to liberated (linear)
To "free ourselves" we must transgress all laws and lift all prohibitions on sex (so goes the story).
Secrecy or mystification is essential to the workings of power, so SOVEREIGN power (juridical) is replaced with NORMALIZING power
Only negative relations are established between power and sex -- law, taboo, censorship
Sex is organized as binary -- illicit versus licit
But this produces desire because desire is what you cannot have
Sexuality is an especially dense transfer point for power relations -- but the strategies PRODUCED sex rather than reflected its realities
Perverse Implantation
multiplication of discourse on sex since 19th century; intensive observation and investigation
dispersion and implantations of "perversions"
concern moved from canonical and civil law in regard to
marriage sex primarily (deployment of alliance)
to sodomy, children's sexuality and criminal sexuality
(deployment of sexuality)
-- the "unnatural" in relation to the "normal" -- two separate registers developed
medicine made forceful entry into life of the couple and family
"homosexual" invented as a "species" or

Institutional Incitement
Michel Foucault, History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, Prof. Frances Hasso
The Will to Knowledge
New institutions and discourses moved the locus of sexual knowledges and practices to the married bedroom, to marital reproduction
"Illegitimate sexualities" were moved to the spaces of the brothel, mental hospital, and psychiatrist office -- these were the "Other Victorians" allowed to practice, listen and speak non reproductive sex
Relationship between sex and power was not repression and prohibition; evidence of proliferation and regulated
incitement to discourse; a discursive explosion around sex
What happened with sex and sexuality instead (space & knowledge)?
He wants to put repressive hypothesis within a general economy of discourses on sex in modern societies since the 17th century
The linear historical/temporal account is untrue, he says;
Sexuality became more regulated over time and the modern period saw a "will to knowledge" through discursive productions about sex and sexuality
Westerners were urged to talk about it, study it, listen to it, reveal their secrets about it.
What is Foucault's Answer?
Institutional discourse about the "truth" of sex
(schools, social workers, psychologists, doctors);
new authorized discourses - new rules of discretion and requirements to talk by agencies of power; but until Freud, "never ceased to hide the thing it was speaking about"
Move from Catholic confession of the flesh to secularized confessions where sexual aspects and effects are pursued; flesh still seen as root of all evil
Infinite task of
every desire; turning it into discourse
Sex now needed to be managed; becomes a target of intervention
2 orders of knowledge: biology of reproduction and science of sex
ars erotica replaced by science sexualis
power produces resistance, which generates power -- it is positive;
microphysics of force relations rather than sovereign notion of kingly deductive power to kill
sex determined to be the secret of who one really is -- an ontological category that is discovered and told
Pleasure and Power
For the observed and observer, pleasure, not repression, was produced by:
Saying "no"
Extracting "truth"
Thus, modern society is perverse, implanted perversion!
produced discourses of "truth" about sex but refused to see its complexity until Freud
is the name of a complex strategical situation in a particular society
not something acquired, seized, or shared
exercised from innumerable points
never exterior, always immanent
can come from below
no one headquarters
power is always relational
no locus of great refusal or revolt
relations of power-knowledge not static, but tactical and produced through discourse
Full transcript