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Foucaults Analyses of the Repressive Hypothesis - Book Report/Review Example

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Foucaults Analyses of the Repressive Hypothesis

. . thus the image of the imperial prude is emblazoned on out retrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality" (Foucault, 1990, p.1).
According to the traditional view of "repression" (one that Foucault palces firmly within a Freudian context), the Victorians were "repressed" and we in the modern age, with constant talk of sexuality and a relative openness regarding the subject, have broken free of that repression. Sexuality had power over the Victorians through its denial, the modern age is freed from these shackles. This Foucault presents as the traditional view of sexual repression, and also of power. For Foucault power is not "a general system of domination exercised by one element or one group over another, whose effect . . . traverse the entire body social . . . .". Foucault's view of power is one in which "the condition of the possibility of power . .. should not be sought in the primary existence of a central point . . . it is the moving based of locations of force that incessantly induce, by their inequality, states of power, but always local and unstable" (p.121-122). Foucault's view of "power" is of a force that is not centered within a particular individual or group (however much that may appear to be the case), but rather as something that is separate from human beings and transfers between different groups, individuals, ideas, spaces and times according to a system that is essentially unstable.
This has a direct influence upon both repression and desire. The traditional view has it that when a sexuality appeared which "was not ordered in terms of generation" it would "be driven out, denied, reduced to silence . . . not only did it not exist, it had not right to exist and would be made to disappear upon its least manifestation - whether in acts of words" (p.4). As Foucault suggested in an interview (1984), this view of sexuality was part of his ironic attempt to "shake up habitual ways of working and thinking" (p.24).
The "habitual" way of thinking about repressed sexuality was to see it in the terms he outlines at the beginning of The History of Sexuality. This enables the modern person to smugly believe that they have passed "beyond' such repression into a brave new world of liberated and free thinking regarding sexuality. Foucault argues that this is not the case. He aims "three serious doubts" regarding the "repressive hypothesis" (p.10). First of all, he places the whole idea that Victorians were repressed under doubt. Thus, by extension, modern day people may seek to be repressing their own fears of sexuality beneath a smug assurance that at least they were not as repressed as the Victorians were. Yet Foucault, as the very title of his chapter suggests, implies that we are the "other Victorians". His second doubt is whether "the workings of power", and by this he implies the "mechanisms" that are traditionally associated with such workings :- the state, religion, universities, political institutions - really do repress anything. His third doubt is whether stating that something is being repressed in fact places the whole discourse within "part of the historical network as the thing is denounces". So ...Show more

Summary

As one of the most influential philosophers of the Twentieth Century, Foucault contributed many concepts to the postmodern questioning of the late decades of this period. But none of his ideas are more relevant or have been more utilized by other scholars than his "repressive hypothesis", particularly as it is explored within The History of Sexuality: An Introduction…
Author : hkertzmann
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