A Macat Analysis of Michel Foucault's The History of Sexuality: Volume 1: The Will to Knowledge


Michel Foucault had already written extensively about medicine, madness, and prisons. But in the latter days of his career he turned to the subject of sexuality, planning six volumes on the subject. He completed three before dying of an AIDS-related illness in 1984. Foucault’s History of Sexuality Vol. 1 is a study of the evolution of cultural ideas about sex in the West since the end of the seventeenth century. Volume 2 looked at attitudes toward sex in ancient Greece; Volume 3 investigated sex in ancient Rome. Like Foucault’s earlier works, The History of Sexuality Vol. 1 was groundbreaking and controversial. He challenged the accepted idea that the rise of modernity and capitalism led to moves to repress talk about sex. On the contrary, according to Foucault, sex became the object of scientific study and sexual practices were labeled either “normal” or “deviant.” Governments passed laws regulating sexual practices, thereby strengthening control over their citizens. Foucault claims sexuality is not so much the result of biological instincts as it is a social concept. He has since become a key influence in gender and gay studies.

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