The anti-subjective hypothesis: Michel Foucault and the death of the subject

Philosophical Forum 31 (2):113–130 (2000)
The centerpiece of the first volume of Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality is the analysis of what Foucault terms the “repressive hypothesis,” the nearly universal assumption on the part of twentieth-century Westerners that we are the heirs to a Victorian legacy of sexual repression. The supreme irony of this belief, according to Foucault, is that the whole time that we have been announcing and denouncing our repressed, Victorian sexuality, discourses about sexuality have actually proliferated. Paradoxically, as Victorian as we allegedly are, we cannot stop talking about sex. Much of the analysis of the first volume of the History of Sexuality consists in an unmasking and debunking of the repressive hypothesis. This unmasking does not take the simple form of a counter-claim that we are not, in fact, repressed; rather, Foucault contends that understanding sexuality solely or even primarily in terms of repression is inaccurate and misleading. As he said in an interview published in 1983, “it is not a question of denying the existence of repression. It’s one of showing that repression is always a part of a much more complex political strategy regarding sexuality. Things are not merely repressed.”1 Foucault makes this extremely clear in the introduction to the History of Sexuality, Volume 1, when he writes
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DOI 10.1111/0031-806X.00031
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