Foucault and the Current Discourse Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Paul Patton (1998) maintains, "in this manner, the ways in which certain human capacities become identified and finalized within particular forms of subjectivity the ways in which power creates subjects may also become systems of domination (71).

Foucault contends that discourses on sex positioned at the end of the 18th century were not designed nor used in such a way to regulate or repress the people. Instead, these conversations, dialogues or conventions were designed by the emerging bourgeoisie as a strategy for self-affirmation. Through discourses on sexual relationships and sexuality, these groups slowly established itself as a class distinguished from the "ignorant masses and decadent aristocracy" (1980: 121).

It seems to me that the deployment of sexuality was not established as a principle of limitation of the pleasures to others by what have traditionally been called the 'ruling classes'. Rather it appears to me that they first tried it on themselves… the primary concern was not the repression of the sex of the classes to be exploited, but rather the body, vigor, longevity, progniture, and descent of the classes that 'ruled'. This was the purpose for which the deployment of sexuality was first established, as a new distribution of pleasures, discourses, truths and powers; it has to be seen as the self-affirmation of one class rather than the enslavement of another (Foucault 1980: 123).

It appears that his deployment of sexuality discourses failed to result in social control enhancement. Rather, he speaks about bio-power production; those mechanisms that problematize, invest and manage life so it can be lived to the fullest (Foucault 1980). The bourgeoisie, in so doing, through the elaboration and organization of power knowledge procedures on sexuality gave itself a body to be maximized and positively transformed itself. Through these efforts, the bourgeois subject preserved, cultivated, and maximized his or her body and protected it in order to retain status, value and specificity (Foucault 1980: 123).

Sexuality is a consolidate transfer point for power relations, according to Foucault "between men and women, young and old, parents and offspring, teachers and students priests and laity and an administration and population (1990:103). Four strategic alliances formed certain power and knowledge mechanisms on sex to include the psychiatrization of behavior deemed perverse, socialization of behavior for procreation, pedagogization of sex with regard to children and the hysterization of the woman's body. Further, these mechanisms in Foucaults way of thinking led to the production of sexuality (105). He argues that the family is the interchange of alliance and sexuality and conveys the law in the categorization of sexuality; conveying the "economics of pleasure and the intensity of sensations in the regime of alliance" (108). Because there was movement in the 17th century from the outskirts of sexuality deployment with the family to being the primary vehicle by which sexuality was addressed, Foucault maintains that relatives and parents developed into the primary agents of the conveyance of sexuality which served to draw external support from educators, doctors and so on. The family became prominent in the notion of sexualization.

Foucault's Critics

There are both strengths and weaknesses in Foucaults' work. His critics have highlighted some of those areas determined as weaknesses. It is undeniable that Foucault's writing has been significantly influential not only in the area of sexuality but also in many other areas across the social sciences and humanities, as well as many professional and applied disciplines and areas of study which is certainly a strength. He has readily criticized various societal institutions particularly medicine, the prison system and psychiatry and historical notions of sexuality. He is often referred to as emanating from the contextual frame of post structuralist or post modernist by many modern day critics and commentators. Furthermore, there have been a number of scholars, and those deemed critical thinkers who have criticized Foucaults' work. One of the premises that some scholars highlight in their criticism is Foucault's rejection of what they assert to be liberal philosophies and values associated with enlightenment while at the same time using it as a source to be relied upon. As such, Foucault can be seen as someone that no serious consideration needs to be given to because of his discounting of values determined to be normative and the very use of these same values to support his argument.

Additionally, there are historians who take issue with Foucault's work because of the way he used history to frame his argument and then summarily discounted the importance of the historical perspective. Some historians maintain that he misrepresents the facts or created them entirely. Jacques Derrida is noted as one who has significantly criticized the work of Foucault as it relates to Foucaults use of "Meditations on First Philosophy" (Glenndinning 2011). Some discount the criticism posited by Derrida citing that his reputation had been tainted and was in decline thereby making his assertions invalid (Paglia 1998). It is important to note, on both sides of the criticism deriving from Foucault as well as from those who criticize him, there has been no universally accepted validity posited to any of it. Both sides have taken issue with the other at various points and both sides cite 'facts' to support their positions.

Although many have cited criticism from many feminists regarding Foucault's work, others argue that there has been some level of convergence between feminism and Foucault. It has been argued that because power relations are central to much of the feminist perspective in understanding the issue of female subordination, that Foucault's work on power relationships was not in opposition to what many feminists argue (Sawicki 1988). When one takes a critical view of historical notions of power and repression, there are some correlations between feminist theory and the repression and oppression of women in societies noted as being primarily patriarchal.

At the same time, within and amongst feminist theories, this notion is being questioned as many state it oversimplifies the facts and supports a general misconception of passivity in women who are powerless to protect themselves or stand up for themselves in a male dominated society. To that end, Foucault's work is seen as aiding in the development of a heightened conception of the power relationship which lays to rest assumptions about men's possessiveness and women's passivity, in general. Foucault's notion of power being exercised or used vs. something that is possessed and regarded as productive instead of repressive (Sawicki 1988: 164) has been positively argued by some feminist who challenge domination from the make perspective and victimization from the female perspective.

Nancy Fraser (1989) maintains that Foucaults work offers renewed vigor to what is frequently referred to as the "politics of everyday life" in as much as,

The empirical and conceptual basis for treating phenomena such as sexuality, the school, psychiatry, medicine and social science as political phenomena widens the arena within which

people may collectively confront, understand and try to change the character of their lives (26).

Some regard Foucault as being particularly insightful in addressing the micro-political level of sexuality and body as the locus of control of social control; insisting on historical body specificity. This focus is considered to be very attractive to many feminists' theories both political and social. Fundamentally, the notion of the body as central to analysis according to the feminist perspective as it relates to female oppression because of her physical and biological differences are foundational to the argument of gender inequality. According to feminist theory, the woman's body is judged and determined to be inferior as compared to the masculine physique and physical abilities and this has been subsequently translated to more than just biology. This line of thought has transpired to encompass the totality of the woman as inferior to the man. To this, Foucault posits an argument that suggests that reducing anyone to just his or her bodily and physical abilities is indeed an oversimplification (Foucault 1978).


Michel Foucault is regarded as an influential philosopher and his work, "History of Sexuality" continues to garner much critical review, scholarly discourse and examination. His analysis and work on the repressive hypothesis has engendered much debate as to whether or not his ideology is sound. Although he has a number of critiques, Foucault's work continues to stand up under the scrutiny of historians and scholars. As outlined in the aforementioned, there are noted strengths and weaknesses within his argument in understanding current discourse on sexuality. He argues successfully that the repressive hypothesis gives revolutionary credence to discourse regarding sexuality noting the lack of necessity in shouting it from the…

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