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Dr Geetanjali Joshi Mishra

Amity University

Repressive Hypothesis: The Approaches of Foucault and Freud

The term repressive hypothesis had been popularised by Michel Foucault who used it
to talk about the various means through which the society grants an individual the
liberty to talk about and discuss sex. Foucault is said to have used the method of
Discipline and Punish to discuss the evolving societys treatment of sexuality.
Repressive hypothesis is the common assumption that the attitude of the modern
society towards sex is negative. Society, the Victorian society in particular,
disapproves of sex in all forms but those that exist within the limits of the
monogamous marriage. Society opposed and repressed the other forms of sexuality in
order to eliminate it outside of heterosexual and socially approved union between man
and woman.
Foucault argues that the modern state used its muscle to categorise the abnormal
kinds of sexuality as against the heterosexual response to it. This categorisation had a
purpose: it was not to strengthen but to deal a blow to those who belonged to these
categories. Before we move further we ought to pause here. The societys power that
seems to repress sexuality cannot be dealt with by any form of opposition; rather the
very act of opposition and participation encourages the maturity of such power.
Foucault argues that modern power creates new forms of sexuality by creating
discourses about it. Same sex relations had been existing in history but
homosexuals as a category came to be around only recently in history thanks to the
knowledge/power system of the modern sciences. Foucault furthers this argument and
states veritable sexual explosion: talk about sex that began in the 17th century. The
Counter Reformation practice of confession explored not just sex outside of marriage
but the degree of sin involved in it. It did not even spare fantasies in trying to hit the
conscience of the fantasy bearers. Such forms of confession led to self knowledge
and this self knowledge depended upon the categorisation within which the self had
been placed.

Dr Geetanjali Joshi Mishra


Amity University
Basically Foucault stresses the role of the socio religious forces in the west in shaping
the sexual identity of the modern man. This identity according to Foucault is ancient
and inherited. Yet the modern science of knowledge stigmatises and criticises it and
groups its bearers so much so that the bearer may be eliminated and extremely
marginalised in the interest of the society. It is here that Foucault and Sigmund Freud
come very close to each other. For Freud insisted that all kinds of sexuality except the
one that culminates in productive heterosexual copulation is regarded abnormal and
is suppressed by the society in its own interest. The libido in Freudian theory is
tamed and channelised into psychic strength that civilisation presumes it needs to
develop itself further. The corollary of it reads that the most advanced and the most
developed of all the modern civilisations, the west, suppressed sexuality the most.
Freuds argument, however, lays emphasis not on the elements of western social and
religious agents that seek to mould, by repression mainly, the sexual identity of the
modern man but trace the social and the religious interference in the expression and
development of sexuality into the conflict between the id, ego and the super ego. The
Freudian argument contends that the ancient and everlasting force of the libido has
had to struggle against guilt in man. This guilt has been planted in human psyche by
the society that has had a reciprocal relationship between sexuality and development.
In other words, Freud argues that society considers as taboo any expression of
sexuality but that of man and woman for furtherance of its own ends.
Freudian theories did more than amply demonstrate that sexuality was never confined
to serving the ends of human reproduction. The manifestation of sex instinct in
children was a major breakthrough in proving that the existence of sexuality was
rather independent of human desire to multiply. Yet, between the child and the adult
there had come to exist a well brought up and nurtured temperation of instincts that
prevented us humans from giving the id a free run. Foucault in his work has tried to
trace precisely what elements of society bring about this temperation and how. He
links this temperation to the everlasting desire of power and knowledge to create
order and suppress any kind of resistance to it. Repressive hypothesis talks about
Foucaults charge against the various fora and media that modern society has created
to discuss what seems to it abnormal sex and the many categorisations of kinds of

Dr Geetanjali Joshi Mishra


Amity University
sexualities, which, far from legitimising them act in the social structure to weaken
their expressions.
In short it may be stated that Foucault is examining the very reasons that Freud
considered as the sources of the conflict between id, ego and super ego. Foucaults the
history of sexuality has been said to be much like his history of prison in that both
these works examine why and how marginalisation takes place. Interestingly,
according to Foucault Freud himself will contriubute in the formation of the
repressive hypothesis by indulging in the categorisation of the marginalised, ignored
and repressed forms of sexuality. As by the creation of such discourse, it becomes
easier for the society and the knowledge-power nexus to further marginalise, isolate
and finally abandon alternate expressions of sexual instinct.
Works Cited
Foucault, Michel. The Foucault Reader: An Introduction to Foucault's Thought.
Penguin UK. 1991. Pg 48. Print
Foucault, Michel. Sheridan, Alan. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.
Penguin Publication, 1991, Pg 120. Print.
Storr, Anthony . Freud: A Very Short Introduction .OUP UK. 2001. Pg 113. Print.