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

We see, then, that relations between spouses are not questioned in themselves; they are not first seen as the simple relationship of a couple comprised of a man and a woman who might, in addition, have to attend to a house and family. Xenophon deals at length with the marital relation, but in an indirect, contextual, and technical fashion: he deals with it in the context of the oikos, as one aspect of the husband's governmentalresponsibility and with a view to determining how the husband will be able to make his wife into the co-worker, the partner, the synergos he needs for the reasonable practice of economy.Ischomachus is asked to show that this technique can be taught; he has nothing more, and nothing less, in the way of teaching credentials than the fact of being a "gentleman"; he once found himself in the same situation as Critobulus is in; he married a woman who was quite young-she was fifteen, and her education had scarcely taught her more than how to make a cloak and how to give out the wool to the spinner maids; 10 but he had trained her so well and had made her such a valuable partner that he could put the house in her carewhile he went about his work, whether this was in the fields or in the agora- that is, in those places where male activity ought to be exercised in a privileged way. (p.155)


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


History of Sexuality, Foucault Citations

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