Foucault on power and the history of sexuality.

Foucault’s analysis of knowledge regarding sex is in terms of power, not in terms of repression of law. This analysis must not assume the sovereignty of the state, the form of the law, or the general system of domination of one group over the other. These are only the terminal forms power takes.

Instead, Foucault believes that “Power must be understood…as the multiplicity of force relations immanent in the sphere in which they operate and which constitute their own organization” . Foucault establishes the omnipresence of power, writing that “Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere….power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society

Foucault five propositions of power, are:

  1. “Power is not something that is acquired, seized, or shared, something that one holds on to or allows to slip away; power is exercised from innumerable points, in the interplay of nonegalitarian and mobile relations”.
  2. “Relations of power are not in a position of exteriority with respect to other types of relations (economic, knowledge, sexual), but are immanent in the latter” . Relations of power are also “not in superstructural positions, with merely a role of prohibition or accompaniment; they have a directly productive role, whenever they come into play” .
  3. “Power comes from below; that is, there is no binary and all-encompassing opposition between rulers and ruled at the root of power relations” .
  4. “Power relations are both intentional and nonsubjective” . They are “imbued with calculation: there is no power that is exercised without a series of aims and objectives”  yet at the same time, “this does not mean that it results from the choice or decision of an individual subject” . The logic of power can be clear but oftentimes the inventor or formulator cannot be identified.
  5. “Where there is power, there is resistance and yet this resistance is never in a position of exteriority in relation to power” 

The deployment of alliance

a system of marriage, fixation and development of kinship ties, of transmission of names and possessions; could not be relied upon through economic processes or through political power

a system of rules defining the permitted and the forbidden, the licit and the illicit; its chief objectives is to reproduce the interplay of relations and maintain the law

important:  a link between partners and statutes; linked to economy through transmission or circulation of wealth; homeostasis of the social body; privileged link with the law and “reproduction”

The deployment of sexuality

superimposed upon the deployment of alliance without supplanting it

mobile, polymorphous, and contingent techniques of power; engenders a continual extension of areas and forms of control

important:  sensations of the body, the quality of pleasures, nature of impressions; linked to economy through numerous and subtle relays, primarily the body; proliferating, innovating, annexing, creating, and penetrating bodies in an increasingly detailed way, and in controlling populations in an increasingly comprehensive way

Four hypotheses present themselves as a result of these deployments that are counter to the repression hypothesis:

a.  sexuality is tied to recent devices of power

b.  sexuality has been expanding at an increasing rate since the seventeenth century

c.  sexuality is not governed by reproduction

d.  sexuality is linked with the intensification of the body and its exploitation as an object of knowledge and an element in relations of power

Foucault makes clear that the deployment of sexuality has not replaced the deployment of alliance, but that one day it might.  However, the deployment of sexuality was constructed from the deployment of alliance.  “First, the practice of penance, then that of the examination of conscience and spiritual direction, was the formative nucleus” 

Rachael Ellis

I think he’s saying that without “power” there is no discourse for sexuality and that the deployment of alliance (18th centuary beliefs, marriage,children, family ties) has slowly being matched by the deployment of sexuality in todays culture.


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