Foucault's power: a history of sexuality beyond the desires of French psychoanalysis

Wendy Grace

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis explores the critical intersection between Michel Foucault's history of
sexuality and Sigmund Freud's psychoanalysis, played out in French intellectual
discourse in the years from the 1950s to the 1980s. It attempts to extricate Foucault's
project from a general "French" reading of Freud, personified by Jacques Lacan's return
in the 1950s to Freud. It is argued that obscurity surrounding Foucault's relationship to
the Freudian movement has hampered a proper understanding of his distinct
methodology, which presents itself as a positive non-science, and may be described as a
critical ethnographic portrait of Western society.
In contrast to other accounts, the thesis interprets Foucault' s œuvre as a recuperation
and transformation of the two fundamental concepts of psychoanalysis: "sexuality" and
the "unconscious." On the one hand, "bodies and pleasures" are freed from
psychoanalytic theories of desire or sexuality, while, on the other hand, the
"unconscious" becomes a vast archive of "conditions of possibility" of Western
thought, not attached to a particular person or organization; not owned nor controlled by
any class nor institution- and, importantly, lacking any sex, male or female. Amongst
other benefits, its release from ahistorical "sexuality" gives the unconscious a
philosophical prominence it potentially had but soon lost in Freudian and even Lacanian
The result of Foucault's efforts is an ethnographic alternative to Freud's psychoanalysis.
Culture can be conceived as clusters of power and knowledge relations,
largely "unknown," which the cultural analyst sets out to illuminate. From a
methodological perspective, "know thy culture" replaces the psychoanalytic imperative
"know thyself."
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2010


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