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Foucault: History of Sexuality/ A Reading.

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Introduction

Foucault: History of Sexuality/ A Reading. Hence the objective is to analyze a certain form of knowledge regarding sex, not in terms of repression or law, but in terms of power. (Foucault, 92) According to Foucault, power from the 18th century began to be exercised in two dimensions. The first one was formulated by the disciplinary techniques and methods of 'bio-power', the power over life which increased the capacities of the human body, and at the same time enhanced its economic utility. The second dimension focuses around the exercise of bio-power over the body and its vitality. Foucault focuses on relations of power and knowledge but his immediate object of analysis was sexuality because it concerns with both, the relations of power of the individual as well as the society. Sex was supposed to be located at the centre of the two axes of the development of political technology of life. Sexuality in Foucault's work thus achieved an important means of addressing the question of formation of the subject. The issue of sexuality emerges at several points in Foucault's works but it is only approached in a limited and sustained manner in 'History and Sexuality'. The essays constitute the central theme of the history of sexual conduct and behaviour, and the analysis of philosophical and religious ideas on sexuality so as to reach an understanding of the formation and the development of the experience of sexuality in modern societies. He keeps shifting from keeping a historical focus to more analytical concerns in his work on sexuality. The Introduction of the essay provides an analysis of sex as an historical theory rather than as the most basic innate human element. Foucault compares and analyses sex and sexuality in relations to power and knowledge and extends the study further to dissect the modes of what he calls the 'objectification' through which human beings are made into subjects. ...read more.

Middle

Such a conception of power has structured the analytical field of inquiry in terms of problems of right and violence, freedom and will and the state of sovereignty. According to Foucault's view power is relational. It is not born from a particular site or location. It is a concept which refers to an open, organized, hierarchical group of relations which are both unstable and local and the analysis of sex proceeds by analyzing the complex relations between the discussions on sex and on the multiplicity of power relations associated with them. There emerged four strategic unities associated with the production of the discourses on sexualities in the 19th century. These constituted of the specific mechanisms of knowledge and power, centred on sex and the four sexual subjects. The strategic unities were: a hysterization of womens bodies, a pedagogization of childrens sex, a socialization of procreative behaviour and a psychological analysis of perverse pleasures. And the subjects were hysterical women, a masturbating child, a Malthusian couple and a perverse adult respectively. According to Foucault, these four unities do not represent mechanisms for controlling or regulating pre-existing forms of sexualities, rather they represent the relations of power and knowledge articulated in medical, pedagogical, psychiatric and economic discourses. In Foucault's view, from 19th century onwards the 'Deployment of Alliance', a system of rules and practices defining the permitted and the forbidden relations between sexual partners, has been paralleled by the development of sexuality operating through techniques of power rather than a system of rules. Whereas the former is concerned with the link between partners, the latter, the deployment of sexuality manifests a different connection to the economy through the cultivation of the body, 'a body that produces and consumes'. The family gradually became a transmission of the strategies of 'sexualisation' that emerged in the 19th century. Foucault's theory is that in the first instance, it was in the 'bourgeois' or the aristocratic family that the sexuality was given a status of a medical problem. ...read more.

Conclusion

This arises from the fact that in his view sex-drive cannot be free of power. It is an effect of the deployment of sexuality and of the exercise of technologies of power over life. Sex is not the underlying reality beneath the illusory appearance of sexuality, on the contrary, sexuality is a typical historical formation from which the notion of sex emerged as an element central to the operation of bio-power. In western civilization there has been a tendency to associate the theme of sexual austerity with various social or religious taboos and prohibitions. Foucault argues that in fact it seems to have been quite different. To begin with, moral considerations of sexual condition were subject to a fundamental gender dissymmetry. The moral system was produced by and addressed purely to free men, to the exclusion, to the exclusion of women, children and slaves. A second significant feature of the moral system is that it did not form fundamental prohibitions or taboos in relation to forms of sexual austerity, rather it intended to present or propose modes of conduct appropriate and relevant for men in view of their right, power, authority and freedom. Foucault states that in the texts of Greek or Gaeco-Roman antiquity, the emphasis as far as moral considerations are concerned tends to be placed on practices of the 'self', rather than on codes and conducts in terms of the permitted and the prohibited. I have tried to make a thorough reading of Michael Foucault's essay the 'History of Sexuality' and found that it effectively establishes that the roots of our modern sexual ethics go back to 'Antiquity'. Although the emergence of Christianity did not introduce a novel code of sexual behaviour, it did transform people's relationship to their own sexual activity. Although the essays address themselves explicitly to the question of the so called 'problematization' of sexual activity, they also are important for their implications for an understanding of the art of government which developed in modern western societies. ...read more.

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