46 pages 1 hour read

Michel Foucault

The History of Sexuality: Volume 1

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1976

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Sex and Power

Understanding and dissecting power was at the core of Michel Foucault’s work throughout his life. The philosopher was still in school during World War II when Germany occupied his French homeland. Watching a regime narrowly focused on the acquisition of power rip through Europe in the 1940s led many philosophers to seek answers to questions about control, repression, and mob mentality. Hannah Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism to explain why and how totalitarian regimes gained popularity and command. Karl Popper wrote in The Open Society and Its Enemies that “[w]e should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant.” Although Foucault’s work does not address World War II with the narrow focus of some of his colleagues, the study of power was central to his work. In Discipline in Punish, Foucault analyzes the connection between power and justice. In Civilization and Madness, he exposes how mental illness and power converge in the modern experience. His understanding of power develops with his works, moving from a repressive concept of power to an expansive and pervasive one.

Foucault explains in The History of Sexuality that the Victorian age welded sex and power together: “The power which thus took charge of sexuality set about to contact bodies, caressing them with its eyes, intensifying areas, electrifying surfaces, dramatizing troubled moments.