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The History of Sexuality is the title of a three-volume series of books by French philosopher and historian Michel Foucault written between 1976 and 1984. Originally published in French, the volumes are individually titled The Will to Knowledge (Histoire de la sexualité, 1: la volonté de savoir), The Use of Pleasure (Histoire de la sexualité, II: l'usage des plaisirs), and The Care of the Self (Histoire de la sexualité, III: le souci de soi).


Volume One

Three volumes of The History of Sexuality were published before Foucault's death in 1984. The first and most referenced volume, The Will to Knowledge (previously known as An Introduction in English—Histoire de la sexualité, 1: la volonté de savoir in French) was published in France in 1976, and translated in 1977, focusing primarily on the last two centuries, and the functioning of sexuality as an analytics of power related to the emergence of a science of sexuality (scientia sexualis) and the emergence of biopower in the West. In this volume he questions the "repressive hypothesis", the widespread belief that we have, particularly since the nineteenth century, "repressed" our natural sexual drives. He shows that what we think of as "repression" of sexuality actually constituted sexuality as a core feature of our identities, and produced a proliferation of discourse on the subject.

In Volume One, Foucault points to a watershed in human history, between the Counter-Reformation and the Industrial Revolution, where the Catholic church and state sought to control people's sexuality for the stability of the church and the benefit of the economy, respectively. He points to a realignment of the Vatican's views on sexuality during this period as an attempt to make people feel the need to attend confession more often, thus increasing the power of the church. Simultaneously, he highlights a shift in focus by the French Government from viewing citizens as "subjects" to "a population", a scientific concept that could be manipulated according to the needs of the economy. This was a trend that occurred across Europe as the Industrial Revolution spread.[1]

Volumes Two, Three (and Four)

The second two volumes, The Use of Pleasure (Histoire de la sexualité, II: l'usage des plaisirs) and The Care of the Self (Histoire de la sexualité, III: le souci de soi) dealt with the role of sex in Greek and Roman antiquity. The latter volume deals considerably with the ancient technological development of the hypomnema which was used to establish a permanent relationship to oneself. Both were published in 1984, the year of Foucault's death, the second volume being translated in 1985, and the third in 1986.

In his lecture series from 1979 to 1980 Foucault extended his analysis of government to its "wider sense of techniques and procedures designed to direct the behaviour of men", which involved a new consideration of the "examination of conscience" and confession in early Christian literature. These themes of early Christian literature seemed to dominate Foucault's work, alongside his study of Greek and Roman literature, until the end of his life. However, Foucault's death from AIDS-related illnesses left the work incomplete, and the planned fourth volume of his History of Sexuality on Christianity was never published. The fourth volume was to be entitled Confessions of the Flesh (Les aveux de la chair). The volume was almost complete before Foucault's death and a copy of it is privately held in the Foucault archive. It cannot be published under the restrictions of Foucault's estate.[2]

See also


  1. ^ Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality, Volume 1. Victoria: Penguin Books. 
  2. ^ Michel Foucault, edited by Jeremy R. Carrette (1999). Religion and culture: Michel Foucault. pp. 47, 34. ISBN 0-415-92362-X. 
  • Foucault, Michel. [1976] (1998). The History of Sexuality Vol. 1: The Will to Knowledge. London: Penguin.
  • Foucault, Michel. (1992). The History of Sexuality Vol. 2: The Use of Pleasure. London: Penguin.
  • Foucault, Michel. [1984] (1990). The History of Sexuality Vol. 3: The Care of Self. London: Penguin.

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