Michel Foucault

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Summarize parts 1–3 of the book The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1 by Michael Foucault.

Part 1 of Foucault's book addresses the historical orientation toward sexuality and introduces Foucault's aims of the work, related to a history of sexuality and power and knowledge. Part 2 explores the idea that the more repressed something is, the more we must know about it in an effort to retain said repression. Part 3 explores the ways that sexuality became enmeshed in scientific and psychological discourse.

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Part 1: Foucault's primary project, for nearly all of his work, is to explore why certain social phenomena emerged into the present in a certain way. In the case of sexuality, he is interested in why or how we have come to see sex as a taboo subject. As he states, in the seventeenth century, there was a certain frankness about sexuality, but in the nineteenth century, during the Victorian era, sex became a repressed subject. Still, we find spaces to talk about it: psychiatrists were allowed to talk about and think about sex, and individuals could talk about sex under the confines of the confessional booth. Further, those who were not afraid to see themselves as transgressive or as deviants would talk about sex. Sex, as a discussion, was reserved for certain spaces and times, but it was not completely done away with as a point of conversation. Foucault's goal in writing this piece is to understand how it got to the point where sex could only be talked about in such spaces and why we have allowed such repression to occur. To do this, he seeks to explore a history of discourses, power, and "knowledge" (it should be noted here that knowledge is related more to general belief and attitude rather than a pure "truth" for Foucault) around sex.

Part 2: The idea of the repressive hypothesis might be summed up as "the more we attempt to repress something, the more we need to understand it, and thus the more we need to talk about it." For instance, while discussion of sex became relegated to the confessional booth, people needed to be more and more explicit about their sexual habits in the confessional, and this means they needed to be more critical and detailed about their own sexuality. Another example is that children were no longer supposed to be seen as sexual beings, but this meant instilling certain behaviors within school, and it meant monitoring children's habits and a careful reconstruction of the discourse around sex in the school building. Here, sex also became a medical concern. It could be used to control populations, but also people. We could invent descriptors of people as having moral and physical deformities related to sex, and more closely monitor and categorize individuals (perverts, sex addicts, hedonists, heathens, etc.).

Part 3: To increase repression (or to legitimize repressing sex at all), sexuality had to be linked to a scientific discourse. By calling sex a scientific endeavor, there could now be experts in the topic of sex. Additionally, by making sex more scientific, it became appropriate to talk about, provided that it was in a clinical way. In this part, he also introduces the concept of ars erotica versus scientia sexualis. Both are about discovering a truth about sexuality. In other countries, truth is related to understanding how to extract pleasure from sex (ars erotica). In Western cultures, however, we are more concerned with finding a clinical truth about sexuality and the morally right and wrong ways to engage in sex (scientia sexualis). Science helps us to justify an interest in the individual (Foucault refers to these people as "subjects") and their sexuality, and it supposedly helps individuals better understand themselves and their desires.

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