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Sexuality and Society Week 4 Foucault, Sexuality and the Will to Knowledge.

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Presentation on theme: "Sexuality and Society Week 4 Foucault, Sexuality and the Will to Knowledge."— Presentation transcript:

1 Sexuality and Society Week 4 Foucault, Sexuality and the Will to Knowledge

2 Outline Introduction The repressive hypothesis Foucault’s key concepts –Power –Discourse –Body Foucault’s rejection of the repressive hypothesis Strategies in the deployment of sexuality Conclusions

3 Repressive hypothesis Vol. 1 of Foucault’s History of Sexuality (French title The Will to Knowledge) starts with Foucault’s argument, when he says, ironically, ‘For a long time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue to be dominated by it even today. Thus the image of the imperial prude is emblazoned on our restrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality. He spends several pages setting out ‘how the story goes’, I.e the story he will reject, a story of two ‘ruptures’: (1) instilling of repression, silence became the rule (2) repression and silence broken

4 Foucault is associated with left political and social French intellectual traditions, then later with French post- structuralism. Left Communist Party in 1951 Died of AIDS in 1984

5 Power Power is a possession Power stems from and is based in a central source Power is mainly repressive in its aims and effects Power not a ‘zero-sum game’ Power is produced - exercised- at every moment and at every site. Power is not mainly repressive -- power is ‘polymorphous’: both negative and positive (productive)

6 Discourse The proliferation of discourses constructing sexuality is an aspect of power. ‘Discourse: an accumulation of written and spoken knowledges Discursive formation: a body of knowledge (e.g. sociology, sexology, psychoanalysis) Knowledge does not ‘discover’ unknowns but produces new realities through constructing them through new discourses.

7 Body The body is the meeting point between the social and the individual, so it has become a key focus of expert discourses. Power gains access to the body (and therefore the individual) through inculcating self- surveillance and discipline. In History of Sexuality Vol.1 Foucault is concerned with the body as it is framed by expert discourses (discursively framed bodies) not the body we experience ‘from the inside’.

8 Rejection of the repressive hypothesis The Victorians engaged in a ‘banning of words’ to maintain respectability. But rather than silencing or repressing sexuality, it become the ‘noisiest of discourses’; it was made central to medical knowledge, social organisation and the operation of power.

9 4 key strategies for the deployment of sexuality whereby new targets of power were created through discourse A hystericization of the woman’s body (the hysterical woman) A pedagogization of children’s sex (the masturbating child) A socialization of procreative power (the Malthusian reproductive couple A psychiatrization of perverse pleasures (the perverse adult, for instance ‘the homosexual’)

10 Foucault’s radical contribution to the study of sexuality is, according to some commentators, such as Jeffrey Weeks, not so much in the answers he offers but the questions he asks. Weeks writes that ‘The fundamental question, as posed by Foucault, is how is it that in our society sex is seen not just as a means of biological reproduction nor a source of harmless pleasure, but, on the contrary, has come to be seen as the central part of our being, the privileged site in which the truth of ourselves is to be found.’

11 Other responses to Foucault, e.g. feminist scholars Some reject his theory of power (McKinnon, Harstock), men dominate women, taking power away from women, physical violence is central, not patriarchal discourse. But increasingly some feminist scholars appropriate Foucault’s concept of power (Carol Smart, Susan Bordo, Sandra Lee Bartky), especially the relation between power and expert discourses (law, medicine), consent, and self-surveillance Appropriate but stress what is missing: Agree with feminist critics that Foucault ignores gender- e.g.his conception of the body is not a gendered body Also missing is the interaction between persons: ‘It is almost as if Foucault depicts individuals in relation to discourse but not in relation to each other; the interaction between people in bed, in sexual abuse, on the street, does not seem to be there’ (Vikki Bell, Interrogating Incest,1994, P. 27)

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