Social Bodies Essay

Pages: 11 (3299 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Master's  ·  Topic: Women's Issues - Sexuality

Foucault and the Current Discourse of Sexuality

The "History of Sexuality" as posited by Foucault, purportedly is an attempt to disprove the notion that westernized society has been inhibited and repressed sexually for centuries and that the notion of sexuality has become something determined unmentionable that is difficult to talk about (Patton 1998). Foucault argued that Western culture has for a long time been fixated on the notion of sexuality as a social convention resulting from a great deal of discourse, certainly making sexuality ubiquitous and seemingly appearing everywhere (McNay 1994). Foucault is described as politicizing sexuality and the role it has within the processes of the formation of self. Foucault bespeaks the notion of heterosexuality structuring and encoding individual's daily lives and that it is a natural, a given. This is in stark contrast to many other theorists and some feminists on the notion of heterosexual relations. Many argue that through Foucaults' work, sexual and the social become interconnected through the idea of normal behavior (Foucault 1990). During the time Foucault's "History of Sexuality" was produced, the sexual revolution, particularly in many of the developed countries was prevalent. Many had ascribed to the ideas and ideologies of individuals such as psychoanalyst Wilhem Reich who asserted that 'in order to conserve one's mental health, it would be necessary to liberate his or her sexual energy' (1986: 89). Following is a critical look at the work of Michel Foucault, and the strengths and weaknesses of his work in understand current discourse on sexuality.

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Foucault and Sexuality

TOPIC: Essay on Social Bodies Assignment

Some describe Foucaults' "History of Sexuality" as originally intended as a relatively straightforward extension of the "Discipline and Punish"; a geneaological approach to the issue of sexuality (Han 2002). Accordingly, his ideas suggest that the numerous and differing modern bodies of knowledge regarding sexuality, inclusive of psychoanalysis, have a particularly intimate association with contemporary societies power structure and as such are considered prime candidates for this kind of analysis. The first volume of Foucaults' work, published in 1976, purportedly had an expressed intention to introduce a collective of studies on certain aspects of current thought regarding sexuality and offered a historical perspective with explanations of the ideas and methodologies used.

Foucault posited that modern control of sexuality could be succinctly compared to modern control of criminals by associating sex as a crime, an object of posited scientific disciplines, which offer domination of objects and knowledge simultaneously. However, it becomes increasing clear that there is more to be understood regarding the power dimension as it relates to the "science of sexuality" (Gutting 1989; 2005; 2011). Control is exercised by way of an individuals' knowledge of others as well as his or her knowledge of self; internalizing norms established by the sciences of sexuality and self-monitoring in an effort to abdicate to these established norms. As such, the individual is controlled not just as objects of this discipline but as self forming and self scrutinizing subjects as well (Flynn 2003).

According to Foucault, who couched heterosexual relationships in language described as naturalistic and set against institutional constraints that are deemed no legitimately challengeable, these relationships provide the grounding or foundation for understand any other form of sexuality. In his work, the issue of power and its direct connectedness to the most intimate components of the human body are correlated; particularly when viewed through the contextual framework of Foucault's theories regarding power, resistance, and exclusion (Foucault 1992). He articulated the capillary model of power wherein he postulated an understanding of the relationships between power from the viewpoint of resistance and struggle: (1) Struggles are not restricted to any one individual or any singular; (2) struggles are concerned with the resistance of power's effect on the body or the government's role in the formation of the individual self; (3) struggles are concerned with making clear and revealing how power is used in an effort to change individuals as well as with the politics of self-formation and self identification, and that those political struggles are both personal and local in nature; and (4) struggles are concerned with resisting external standards of decency and taste being imposed (Foucault 1990: 139).

The power relationship maintained by Foucault was not posited as a negative and exclusive force. He offers that there is a juridical view of power in contemporary society with a propensity toward viewing power as oppressive, negative, and laying the foundation for those things that should not be done. However, power as defined by Foucault, is couched in sexual relationships, confessors and those that hear the confession, parent and child, teacher and pupil, and patient and doctor. For Foucault, power is present in all relationships where differences exist. Some scholars contend that this notion was mad evident in Foucaults' assertion that traditionally, there have been two distinct viewpoints in looking at sexuality; seeing sex as art, such as in the Roman Empire, India, China and Japan where although private and considered special, it was not regarded as shameful or dirty (Hoy 1986). It was kept private because of the thought that the power and pleasure would be diminished if discussed. This is juxtaposed against what Foucault asserts as the westernized view of the science of sexuality or the confession. This bespeaks the need to talk about it and discuss it and a 'fixation with finding out the truth about sexuality'; because if it was not confessed, it did not exist (Foucault 1990; 124).

We have since become an extraordinarily confessing society.

Confession has spread its effects far and wide: in the judicial system, in medicine, in pedagogy, in familial relations, in amorous relationships, in everyday life and in the most solemn rituals;

crimes are confessed, sins are confessed, thoughts and desires are confessed, one's past and one's dreams are confessed, one's childhood is confessed; one's diseases and problems are confessed (Foucault 1990: 145).

Extortion of the sexual confession, as explained by Foucault, during the period of the 19th century was significantly regarded in terms of science through: (1) clinical codification of speech inducement; (2) postulation of a diffuse and general causality; (3) latency principle determined to be intrinsic to sexuality; (4) mode of interpretation; and (5) medicalization of confession effects (69). There was no confronting of sex; but rather significant discussion of sex designed to "formulate the uniform truth of sex (Foucault 1990: 69).

Foucaults' notions of confession and what that represents in contemporary society offers strong criticism of the scientific notion of confession as well as psychoanalysis. He assesses psychoanalysis as a sexual confession that has been legitimized wherein everything is explained in terms of how one's sexuality is repressed and the sole interpreter is the psychologist. Contemporary thought regarding the notion of confession has been applied to the 'coming out' of homosexuals. Even though the concept was not outwardly existent when Foucault articulated the first volume of "History of Sexuality" surely, for many, this represents a kind of confession as well (Foucault 1990).

His discussion of peripheral sexualities elucidates the implication of power in the mechanisms of resistance and identity and how they are expressed and constructed (Hier 2005). Foucault posits that the concern regarding peripheral sexualities significantly shifted in the 19th century. The example of sodomy, as prohibited according to ancient civil code because of the categorization of forbidden acts and the emphasis on sin or wrongdoing that was targeted at the act vs. The actor who was seen as nothing more than an individual who participated in an act that was prohibited. Foucault argues that the classical vision of this prohibited act was revolutionized in the 19th century with legal subjectivity emerging that encompassed the perpetrator of the prohibited act. As such, the sodomite slowly became a kind of individual who acquired a case history, anatomy, morphology, subjectivity and a curious physiology: being deemed a "homosexual" (Hier 2005). "A new creature was born: the sodomite had been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species" (Foucault 1980: 43).

Homosexuals considered the new species was "made intelligible through a variety of power knowledge strategies that objectified and subjugated" (Foucault 1980: 47). Homosexuals were not considered to be solely at the mercies of those that ascribed that description but was considered to be in a position to resist the discourse. Foucault maintains that once the homosexual asserts himself in his new lifestyle he has the ability to use his new "special" position and put forth his new identity any number of ways; scandalize, resist, show off, or resist passively accepting his prescription of 'being sick' (1980: 48). The unorthodox sexualities or growth of perversions is determined by Foucault to be "the real product of the encroachment of a type of power on bodies and their pleasures" (1980: 48). Foucault maintains that in this instance power is neither structure nor institution but rather the name attributed to a strategical and complex situation in a certain society (1980: 93).

When considering Foucaults' ideologies regarding human sexuality from an individualistic perspective, he posits that a persons' ability to do what they… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Social Bodies.  (2012, January 11).  Retrieved September 18, 2021, from

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"Social Bodies."  11 January 2012.  Web.  18 September 2021. <>.

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"Social Bodies."  January 11, 2012.  Accessed September 18, 2021.