Discussion on the History of Sexuality by Foucault

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Foucault begins a discussion on the history of sexuality by accusing our societies of hypocrisy and silence about sexuality and says that we are still under the Victorian rule in this Aspect. Then, he makes a simple comparison to sexual discourse in the early seventeenth century and after the appearance of the bourgeoisie. In this comparison, Foucault says that during the seventeenth century, the discourse on sexuality was freer and there was no strictness and reservation compared to the nineteenth century (after the emergence of the bourgeoisie .(

Foucault explains the change in sexual discourse after the emergence of the bourgeoisie and its causes. First, according to Foucault, with the emergence of the bourgeoisie, our sexuality was carefully besieged and subjugated only in the institution of marriage. The only one to talk about is the parents' bedroom. Second, the natural characteristic of discourse is politeness and anyone trying to transcend would be suppressed and moreover must punish for doing it. Thirdly, since children do not have sex (as alleged by the bourgeoisie), this prevents them from talking about sex or listening to the discourse about sex, where silence about sex becomes the master of the situation. Here Foucault explains the mechanism of repression: repression acts as an injunction of silence, emphasizing non-existence, which means that nothing has been said, seen or understood.

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Foucault claims that our hypocritical bourgeois societies have been forced to make some concessions by keeping illegitimate sex outside the community system by creating a place to keep it under control. Foucault used the term Stephen Marcus (the other Victorians) to express these places, namely the psychologist and the brothel.

Foucault refers to the studies of Freud at the beginning of the twentieth century and describes it as a step forward in terms of freedom from sexual repression, but he does not consider such studies as a liberation because it remained within the academic and medical field and since power and knowledge and sex are linked to each other, we need than theories and medical practices to free us from oppression. Foucault sets out the steps and methods by which we can be free from this oppression: breaking laws, lifting taboos, breaking into words, restoring pleasure to reality and creating a new economy in the mechanics of power.

Foucault challenges the importance of sexual discourse. Since the discourse on sexual repression has political and historical guarantees related to the emergence of capitalism and the bourgeoisie as a dominant force - where sex is considered a kind of pleasure and that this pleasure is unproductive and therefore discourse about it is a waste of time and energy - that sexual discourse is important because of the knowledge we form is a kind of revolution of power, and in ther hand the repression itself has given prominence to sexual discourse.

Foucault considers the repressive hypothesis as an attempt to give revolutionary significance to the talk of sexual activity. The repressive assumption makes it seem challenging and paramount to our personal liberation

Foucault asks three questions about the repressive hypothesis:

  1. Is it historically accurate to trace what we think of today as sexual repression to the rise of the bourgeoisie in the 17th century?
  2. Is power in our society really expressed primarily in terms of repression?
  3. Is our modern-day discourse on sexuality really a break with this older history of repression, or is it part of the same history?

It is interesting to note that Foucault is not interested in opposing the repressive hypothesis, but his main concern is to know how and why sexuality has become a topic of discussion. In other words, his interest is not sexual activity, but rather a quest for a certain type of knowledge and the power of knowledge.


Foucault begins this chapter of his book Observation and Punishment by presenting two models of punishment in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the first model, Foucault describes the horrendous punitive scene of Damienz, whose father was killed, in which Damienz was dismembered in a hideous and inhumane way. He then moves on to a timetable for prisoners in the juvenile prison after the Damienes incident in 75 years. Although these two models do not deal with the same crimes, it is possible to observe the extent of the tremendous change that occurred during the period.

Foucault describes this period as a new era of justice and on the other hand the era of scandals for traditional justice. According to Foucault, in this period there is a new justification for the right of torment in addition to the liberalization of new laws and the abolition of the old laws of punishment. The most important changes that Foucault mentions are that during this period: first, the sanctions were sanctioned. Second, clear and general laws were put in place so that punishment would be commensurate with the crime to which it was attributed. Thirdly, the jury was approved and finally, it is more important to Foucault that the body was removed as a target of punishment.

Foucault discusses further changes in how punishment was imposed between the late 18th and early 19th centuries. According to Foucault, the most important thing that has changed during this period was that the criminal show was turned into a mere administrative measure and the column of recognition and defamation was canceled. These changes came as a result of the suspicion of the brutality of the punishment, which went beyond the brutality of the crime itself. Foucault attributes this brutality in the previous era to the goal of intimidating people from crime and imposing the prestige of the ruler and the judiciary. On the contrary, and unexpectedly, this method of returning people in the form of crime and therefore increased the number of crimes and became the executioner and judge criminals sold people, which created them a lot of enmities. In addition, these places (places of general punishment ) have become places of violence and punishment was the most hidden part of the criminal process.

Therefore, in this period, unlike previous periods, the trials became public and implementation became a disgrace to justice, so it was exercised to others and under the nature of secrecy, which freed the judiciary from the profession of the heinous massacres. In this way, the new type of punishment, in which the punishment r was abolished and the pain was abolished (using the guillotine) and the creation of prisons that take freedom here, can be said to be forms of punishment that have become decent and have been prevented from harming the body.

After the middle of the 19th century, although the transformation of the body was stopped and the focus on pain technique ceased as the first and only form of punishment (where there was a prison that was considered the loss of the ownership of freedom), the retribution did not work without eating the body in another way . For example, life imprisonment and hard labor were associated with rationing, sexual deprivation, beatings and solitary confinement. So there is still an element of punishment but in a hidden and limited way.

With the end of the nineteenth century, the punitive process was associated with a number of developments, The first and the most important is 'quantity'. Where there was less amount of pain and a greater amount of humanity, that is, the transition from physical punishment to spiritual punishment. At this stage, many crimes are no longer considered as crimes because they are linked to a kind of religious authority or economic life. For example, 'infidelity' is no longer considered a crime, and theft from the home is less dangerous and less punishable.

The second development of the criminal process is the appearance of mitigating circumstances: it enters the decision of the judge based on the work (the will of the actor and the extent of knowledge of the crime and linking the act to the criminal past of the actor). This development (through the introduction of psychiatry and anthropology) aims to rehabilitate criminals and turn them into law and order-respecting people. Here is the beginning of the judiciary in Europe to rule on something other than crimes, but on the spirit of criminality: The question is no longer a question what the consequences of this violation, but became a question what is the most appropriate way to reform this individual and the prediction of the development of this individual.


In this section, Foucault begins by defining punishment as a painful and painful punishment by Goucourt, in which the pain is aggravated and the punishment is inexplicable but at the same time systemic and non-brutal. And the process of punishment at this stage was codified as there were standards of punishment and was not random: First, the amount of pain should occur if not measurable it can be estimated. Second, the quantity and momentum of the pain is equally correlated with the gravity of the crime. Thirdly, the punishment must be eye-catching and everyone must be assured. If punishment is a form of imposing prestige and the power of justice.

Under the Royal Crown of the year 1670 all procedures, including the judgment, must be confidential even for the accused himself, who has not been allowed to know the charges, the allegations, the witnesses and no lower to defend him. Foucault argues that such secrecy was intended to reduce unrest and violence against judges, which means that the king and the supreme authority cannot return to the general public to make a decision. But this secrecy did not prevent the restriction of some rules, since there was a system that imposed what should be the laws of medicine.

According to Foucault, punishment at this stage is understood as a political ritual because it constitutes a form of the governor's own celebrations. In the classical era the offense was directly related to the ruler, even if it did not harm anyone. It is a violation of the image of the law. At the same time, it is a violation of the ruler because it is the image of the law. Therefore, punishment has a legal political image: in addition to restoring the natural balance is to restore the image of sovereignty that has been distorted. Foucault adds that the punishment is a kind of imposition of prestige instead of direct killing is linked to something else: because of disease, famine and periodic massacres, the scene of death became familiar.

Foucault claims that after the transition of the general punishment scene inside the prisons was not intended to be humanitarian, but was caused by fear of the disturbances that accompany these scenes, as the people (who was called as a witness to the punishment and terrorism) was able to reject the punitive power and Execution of the sentence is prohibited if it is deemed unfair. It has become a privilege for the public to be punishment d to listen to the words of the person who no longer has anything to lose (especially if the sentence is carried out by a member of the general public for a crime against a nobleman), which would encourage the revolution against the ruler.

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Discussion on the History of Sexuality by Foucault. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/discussion-on-the-history-of-sexuality-by-foucault/
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