The History of Sexuality: An Introduction, Volume 1

by: Michel Foucault

Part Four, Chapter 2

Summary

Foucault's chapter on "Method" defines his theory of power. In the previous chapter, he criticizes the limitations of the "juridico-discursive" conception of power, which sees power as something ultimately exercised to dominate, subjugate, or render a subject subservient. Foucault sees power as all-embracing: everything and everybody is a source of power. Power exists in every relation, and subservience, silence, or subjection do not signify a lack of power so much as a different manifestation of power.

Foucault advances five propositions regarding power. First, power is not a "thing" that one can have or not have; rather, it is always being exercised from all points in any relation. Second, power is not simply applied externally to relationships of economics, knowledge, or sex. Rather, it is inside these relationships and determines their internal structure. Third, power does not simply come down from above, and not all power relationships are formed according to a ruler/ruled model. Rather, power relationships pop up at all levels of society independent of the ruling powers. Fourth, though it is possible to identify designs and strategies in power relationships, there are no individual subjects exercising this power. There is a rationality and logic behind power relationships, but there are no secret cabals or masterminds directing these relationships. Fifth, resistance is a part of a power relationship, and is not external to it. Furthermore, resistance does not usually manifest itself in a solid, steady form. Rather, pockets of resistance pop up in different places and move about as dynamics of power change.

Foucault's analysis of power shows that we cannot discuss sexuality in terms of one unilateral power relation. Rather, we need to examine more closely the diverse power relations that exist around our discourse on sex that lead it to manifest itself in the way that it does. Foucault sets up four rules that serve as guidelines in his investigation:

(1) Rule of Immanence: we must see knowledge and power as always connected. There is no such thing as disinterested knowledge. We must be aware that what we know about sex and the way that we come to learn about sex are both determined by the power relations that motivate our will to know about sex.

(2) Rules of Continual Variation: power does not manifest itself in static relations. Rather, Foucault identifies "matrices of transformation," where the nature of a power relationship may shift over time. Foucault gives the example of child sexuality, where initially children were excluded entirely and the discourse took place between parents and psychiatrists. Later, psychiatrists interviewed children directly, and suggested that the parents were often ultimately responsible for the child's disorder.

(3) Rule of Double Conditioning: all "local centers" of power are parts of larger strategies, and all larger strategies rely on local centers of power, but one does not emulate the other.