History of Sexuality by Foucault

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Michael Foucault was a French philosopher. He was also recognized in other fields such as sociology and history. Foucault was born in 1926 and later died in the year 1984 leaving a markover his contributions to social institutions in the society. One of his major contributions was his writing about the history of sexuality in which his ideas about power, among other aspects, have remained to be influential in the society today.

This paper seeks to discuss the topic of the history of sexuality as earlier and originally discussed by Foucault. The paper will look into Foucault’sdefinition of power and the fundamental characteristic of this power according to his views. The paper will also relateFoucault’s understanding of power to the current American society.

History of sexuality: power

In his writing about the history of sexuality, Foucault shifted his topicfrom sexuality to explore the concept of power. According to Foucault, in the article history of sexuality, power is defined in terms of sovereignty. Sovereignty is on its right defined as supremacy in the application of authority by a subject.

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It is also defined as being in the state of complete independence or beingself-governed in the sense that there is no element of yielding to any form of authority. Foucault therefore defined power as the highest force that drives activities or occurrences. In expressing the supremacy of power, he for example illustrated the determination of life and death as being subject to power (Hurley 1).

Fundamental characteristics of power

One of the fundamental characteristics of power as outlined by Michel Foucault is its potential to determine the “right to decide life and death” (Hurley 1). Power was identified to be responsible for the manner in which life existed. The term existence of life is used to align Michel’s meaning of how life is controlled by power. According to Foucault, life exists as an entity just like a business enterprise, for example, that is being controlled by some authority in the form of management or administration.

In his view, he portrayed power as the manager who makes decisions over life in terms of whether life is to be upheld or whether it is to be stopped.

One of the characteristics of power, according to Michel, is the authority over life and death. Power was also identified to be founded on two bases. One of the bases of power was the body that was perceived to be in the form of equipment while the other basis of power was applicable in the form of population.

These two bases offeredthe capacity of power to be exercised at different levels starting from an individual person to a group of people in a given society.The basis of population as an element of exercising power was then established to be the common application of institutional authority that is exercised over people by given structures of governments.

Another characteristic of power as illustrated by Michel is the element of transformation that power poses over life. In the understanding of the history of population, the power that is exercised over populations as well as that power that may be possessed by a population, Michel illustrated that change the lives of people. This transformational impact of power was explained to be established due to the influence of knowledge (Hurley 1).

Sex was also explained as an element that bears some relation to power. Being derived from factors such as “the hysterical woman, the sexualization of children” among other factors, sex became identified as an element that yielded influence in the authority of power over life.

The relations that are created in sexual interactions were thus perceived to be contributors to the authority of power as a subject hence contributing some level of force to the administration and control of life. Relationships that are based on blood were also cited by Michel as a factor to power.

Foucault explained, in the history of sexuality, that such blood relations that could take the form of relationship within nuclear or even extended families shaped the direction and effects of power. He, however, explained that such characteristics of blood relations with respect to power were undergoing transformations with time.

The characteristics of power as discussed by Michel were thus based on sexuality that influences the “materiality, forces, energies, sensations and pleasures”(Hurley 1) of bodies. Foucault thus expressed the basis of power, as exercised in a general social environment, to be based on the relations between bodies that derive influence from sexuality through relations(Hurley 1).

The characteristics of power as explained in the history of sexuality, volume one also includesa number of features. Inclusive in the features of power is its origin.

It was explained that power does not have a specified source. It was thus established that authority can be established by any personality or any group of people in a given society. Another characteristic of power is the nature and existence of reaction forces to an established authority.

Just as in the existence of action and reaction forces, an established power is characterized by a form of counter power that it has to incorporate. Power is also attributed to the development of personalities. This can be achieved through established structures of power that sets up mechanisms for the running of a society (Web 1).

Application of Foucault’s definition of power in the present American society

The constitution of the United States, which is the country’s guideline to the way in which power and authority is supposed to be exercised, has an outline of the powers that are offered to the state, those that are offered to societies as well as those that are accorded to individuals.

The component of the constitution that includes the bill of rights among other regulations has its basis on regulating powers that any particular entity can have.

The shift of sovereignty from the government to people in what is widely known as democracy was an illustration of Foucault’s idea of transformation of power. This transition has witnessed the liberalization of citizens through limitations of powers vested in the government and strengthening thesovereigntyof people.

Elements of authority as defined by Foucault is also evident in the country’s system of governance as the federal government is given the power to exercise authority over citizens as well as authority to check on its systems (Sidlow andHenschen 37).


The history of sexuality as written by Foucault expressed characteristics of power that were witnessed in the society. These aspects of power such as sovereignty are basically experienced in the American government system with a transition to sovereignty of the people.

Works Cited

Hurley, Robert. The history of sexuality: an introduction. Foucault, 2003.Web. May 2, 2011.

Sidlow, Edward andHenschen, Beth.America at odds. New York: NY: Cengage Learning, 2005.

Web.Michel Foucault: the history of sexuality. Web, n.d. May 2, 2011.

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