In supporting the late French philosopher Michael Foucault, l argue that sexuality is a cultural construction. In doing so, this essay shall explore Foucault’s History of Sexuality, volume 1 (1976) that belies the assumption that sexuality is an inherent truth of humanity. What is at the hallmark of Foucault’s thought is how we have shifted from sovereign power to ‘governmentality’ (Foucault, 1978: 87). A term that asks us to understand how aspects of modern societies are now constructions made by techniques of power /knowledge that are designed to govern, monitor, normalise and control the behaviour of individuals (Gordon, 1991). With regard to the latter, this essay explores Foucault’s analysis of sexuality by utilizing two of his focal points. On the one hand I will explore his notions that condemn sexuality as a fictitious ‘effect’ yet argue against his assertion that this is a modern phenomenon (Halperine, 1998) (Thorpe, 1992) . On the other, I will define and explore his concept of ‘bio power’ and touch upon the problems this paradigm can pose (Fraser, 1983) (Foucault, 1976: 137). Ultimately, whilst this essay acknowledges the shortcomings to Foucault’s concept of omnipresent power (how it problematizes an understanding of freedom), it adheres to his belief that no universal ‘truths’ (such as sexuality) of humanity exist.
In Foucault’s History of Sexuality volume 1 (1976) (HOS 1) he takes issue with the ‘repressive hypothesis’; a Freudian notion that dictates Victorian influences to have repressed sexuality in modern society (Foucault, 1976: 18). Alternatively, rather than society silencing sexuality, Foucault argued that discourse (groups of statements that represent influential and historical knowledge (Hall, 1997)) has proliferated around the subject since the eighteenth century (Foucault, 1976). Instead of elite power repressing sexuality, we have paradoxically constructed it; sexuality is in itself power/knowledge and operates through technologies such as modern science, politics and psychiatry (Foucault, 1976) (Lacombe, 1996). Nancy Fraser (1981) pointed out that in rejecting the repressive hypothesis Foucault is rejecting ‘repression versus liberation’ (Fraser, 1981: 281). This, argued Fraser, suggests that we are in need for an alternative framework for liberation and importantly, Foucault fails to offer this (Fraser, 1981). Is this the case? Or was Foucault significantly disinterested in discovering such liberation potentials? (Dean, 2012). Foucault’s academic mission was arguably not so concerned with the future; it was our present and our past that was up for examination.
According to Foucault, when individuals wanted to sexually ‘liberate’ themselves from repression, they were not freeing themselves from power; they were simply embodying this power for their own advantage (Foucault, 1976). Contrary to pre-modern sovereign rule where power required force, modern power intensifies itself; it is everywhere, it is ‘capillary’ (Foucault, 1976 : 44) (Fraser, 1981). Foucault specifically rejected the ‘juridic- discursive’ concept of power that paradoxically perceives power as something that dominates the less powerful (Foucault, 1976 : 88). Charles Taylor argued that Foucault’s conception of power (power as omnipresent) was ‘incoherent’ (Taylor, 1984: 166). Foucault’s main aim was to argue that ‘inner truths’ about are sexual selves are in fact disguises of power. Taylor argued that in Foucault’s attempts to unmask such constructed ‘truths’ he in turn contradicts his critique by searching for other ‘truths’ (Taylor, 1984). We can see the trap here, yet was this what Foucault endeavoured to do? For Foucault there was no criterion of ‘truth’, as soon as we attempt to discover truth about our sexual selves we simply fuel additional power into the discursive regime (Deleuze, 1988)(Foucault,