In writing this critique of the modern era, Foucault challenges the conventional wisdom that the many forms of knowledge gained by humans during the 18th and 19th centuries have given people more freedom. Instead, Foucault points out that new forms of domination that have emerged during the supposedly more progressive times.
Modernization has brought about new forms of knowledge, which positivist theorists viewed as neutral and Marxist theorists viewed as potentially emancipatory. Foucault, however, believed that knowledge itself cannot be disassociated from the regimes of power. While competing theories thus viewed power as repressive and anchored in social structures and the ruling class, Foucault believed that power is dispersed, operating through hegemony of norms, political systems and ideas regarding the body and the soul.
In The History of Sexuality, Foucault focuses on how the dispersed nature of power operates to produce and reproduce prevailed ideas regarding sexuality and beings who have a "sexual nature."
Thus, in the first part of the book, Foucault argues that prevailing dispersed power structures have repressed the idea of sexuality, to the point that merely speaking about sexual matters had become a "transgression" of laws. Marxists argue that this repression coincides with the development of capitalism, because sex takes time and energy away from intensive labor. However, Foucault believed that the repression of a discourse on sexual matters is sustained by a joint regime of power-knowledge-principle.
In the second chapter, Foucault writes that the 17th century was an "age of repression," where Christianity limited sexual discourse to areas such as the confessional. By the 18th century, new forms of repressing a discourse on sexuality were instituted. However, rather than the censorship that regulated the discussions of sexuality in the 17th century, new devices were invented to allow people to speak, listen, record, transcribe and redistribute what is being said about sex.
Sexual matters could now be discussed, when couched in the language of "population" or specialized studies in medicine, psychiatry and criminal justice.
There was a further fragmentation, and by the 19th century, heterosexual monogamy was the norm while "unnatural" forms of sexual behavior were labeled as "perversions." Foucault believes that the idea of such "perversions" is a manifestation of the dispersed power structures on the human body and its pleasures.
Foucault explores the fragmentation of sexual conduct further in the third part of the book. Though there was a seemingly greater acceptance and openness regarding sexual matters in sciences such as biology and medicine, Foucault believes that society was still very repressive in terms of sexual matters. The only difference is that the Catholic confessional has been replaced by the medical facility. Though one is religious and one is scientific, their goal was the same -- to present a uniform idea regarding the "naturality" of sexuality, one that labels other forms of pleasure as "perverse."
In summary, in the first three parts of The History of Sexuality, Foucault examines how dispersed forms of power, which are embedded in religious, scientific and social norms, create hegemonic ideas regarding proper discourses regarding pleasure and sexuality.
Sigmund Freud's Introductory Lectures, 17-18
In his Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis, Sigmund Freud committed to writing a series of lectures given during at the University of Vienna from 1916 to 1917. The seminal lectures summarized Freud's views on culture as seen from a psycholanalytic perspective.
In Lecture 17, Freud is concerned with the "sense of neurotic symptoms," which is manifested in obsessions. Freud builds on the work of his predecessor Josef Breur. According to Breur, obsessional neurosis is evident when patients become inordinately pre-occupied with certain thoughts or impulses. Freud adds that these irresistible pre-occupations often compel patients to perform repetitive tasks.
As an example, Freud shares the case of a woman in her late 20s, who shows extreme obsessional symptoms. This patient would run from one room in her house to another room, sit by a table in the middle, and then ring for her housemaid. At this point, the obsessive patient would either send the maid on an unnecessary errand or send her away without any tasks. The woman would then run back into the original room. She would then repeat the cycle of behavior. In this case, Freud believed that the woman's obsessive actions held a representative meaning for the patient. The cycle…