“Remembering Foucault”

 

I’m in the middle of reading for my PhD qualifying exams, and I’ve been writing short summaries of each book or article that I read.  Instead of hoarding them all to myself, I thought I’d share them on here in case there are any other curious wanderers who can benefit from them!Gender-_A_Useful_Category_of_Historical_Analysis

Weeks, Jeffrey.  “Remembering Foucault,” Journal of the History of Sexuality, Vol. 14, Nos. 1 & 2 (Jan. 2005/April 2005): 186-201.

Subject: A look at Foucault’s place in queer studies.

Main Argument(s):  Week’s relatively short article is an attempt to give a summary of the social constructionist movement, particularly in the fields of gay/lesbian/queer/sexuality studies.  These scholars in the 1960s and 1970s were seeking to explore understandings of sexuality, and many were interested in the invention of homosexuality itself.  Weeks reiterates that scholars of queer theory were not out to deny the validity of modern gay experience by ‘disproving’ any false ‘gay lineage’ throughout history.  Instead, they wanted to validate the current understanding of homosexuality by exploring its historical creation, not a misguided past in which modern understandings of “gay” are forced onto history’s actors.

Weeks then puts Foucault into this context and explains that Foucault’s aim was never to destroy or get away from these constructed identities.  Instead, Foucault argues that the purpose of history is not to discover the roots of our identities, but to refuse the identities that are imposed on us as truth.  In other words, the task it not to realize the self, but to create the self.  For, identities (the self) are narratives; they are created.  But more important to understand is that they are necessary narratives.  Moreover, by studying the crafted nature of these identities, the identities themselves haven’t disappeared or lost power.  Instead, we’ve witnessed “an explosion and proliferation of identities” as some people seek to naturalize these identities (the search for a ‘gay gene’ for instance) and other seek to overthrow old identities and craft new ones.

Ultimately, Weeks concludes that it seems like social constructionists have failed – at least outside of Academia.  The result is a “geneticization of sexual theory,” a search for a biological (essential) explanation for homosexuality, rather than accepting its historical origins in the 19th century.  “It’s easier to believe in a gay brain or gay gene than to explore how we came to be where we are,” Weeks states.  He’s not pessimistic, though.  He aims to continue his work, and even ends with a challenge for scholars to “find ways of balancing the recognition of individual needs, desires, sensitivities with mutual responsibilities in order to establish some agreement [on values and ethics] on common human standards.”

 

 

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