For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

The History of Sexuality: The use of pleasure

by Foucault, Michel (1988)


Michel Foucault's 'The History of Sexuality' pioneered queer theory. In it he builds an argument grounded in a historical analysis of the word "sexuality" against the common thesis that sexuality always has been repressed in Western society. Quite the contrary: since the 17th century, there has been a fixation with sexuality creating a discourse around sexuality. It is this discourse that has created sexual minorities. In 'The History of Sexuality', Foucault attempts to disprove the thesis that Western society has seen a repression of sexuality since the 17th century and that sexuality has been unmentionable, something impossible to speak about. In the 70s, when the book was written, the sexual revolution was a fact. The ideas of the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich, saying that to conserve your mental health you needed to liberate your sexual energy, were popular. The past was seen as a dark age where sexuality had been something forbidden.

Key Passage

The activity of landowners [within Xenophon's Oeconomicus], on the other hand, is practiced in the market-place, in the agora. where they can fulfill their duties as friends and as citizens, as well as in the oikos. But the oikos comprises more than just the house proper; it also includes the fields and possessions, wherever they may be located (even outside the boundaries of the city): "whatever someone possesses is partof his household"; it defines a whole sphere of activities.2 And this activity is connected to a lifestyle and an ethical order. The landowner's existence, ifhe takes proper care of his estate, is good for him first of all; in any case it is an endurance exercise, physical training that is good for the body, for its health and vigor; it also encourages piety by making it possible to offer rich sacrifices to the gods; it favors friendship relationsby providing the occasion to show generosity, to satisfy fully one's hospitality obligations, and to manifest one's beneficence toward other citizens. Further, this activity is useful to the entire city in that it adds to its wealth and especially because it supplies it with good defenders: the landowner, being used to strenuous work, is a strong soldier and the wealth he possesses motivates him to courageously defend the homeland. (p.152)


Foucault, Foucauldian, Sexuality, Repression, Power, Pleasure, Freedom, Truth, Dialectics


History of Sexuality, Foucault Citations

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