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The Human Body in Social Theory

The Human Body in Social
Theory: Reich, Foucault and
the Repressive Hypothesis
Russell Keat

Are human bodies human?

/ recurrent issue in both philosophy and the human sciences
has been the possibility of identifying distinctively human
characteristics – such as the capacities for language, purposive action and conscious experience; sodallty, historlcity,
and cultural diversity; and so on. Some of these proposed
differentiations have taken the relevant contrasts to be between humans and the ‘physical’ or ‘material’ world; others,
between humans and the ‘biological’ or ‘organlc’ world. But
what has been accepted in nearly all such proposals is that
it is not human bodies that are distinctive of humans.

Rather, it has typlcalJy been assumed that the bodlly features of humans are predsely what is non-distinctive about
them. Correspondingly, those who have denied the existence,
or at least the signiflcance, of distinctively human characteristlcs have typicalJy supported their position by emphasising the essentially boddy (either physical/material, or biologlcal/organlc) character of human beings.

Both the general issue of human distinctiveness, and the
shared assumption of the human body’s non-distinctiveness,
have had important impllcations for social theory; and it is
with these that this paper is primarily concerned. Here the
possibly relevant differences between the human and nonhuman worlds have usually been taken as holding between
humans and the (rest of) the organlc, or biologlcal world,
espedally that of (other) animal spedes. (In at least many
areas of (human) psychology, by contrast, the possibly relevant differences have been taken as holding between humans
and the physlcal or material world.) Hence, the question of
whether the bodlly characteristlcs of humans have a legitimate place i~object-domain of social theory has typlcally been identified with the question of whether the biologlcal characteristlcs of humans should have such a place.

That they should not be thus included has been maintained
by those who insist that social theory should restrlct itself
to what is distinctively human. Conversely, that they should
be thus included has been maintained by those who belleve
either that there is nothing distinctive about humans, or
that social theory should be concerned with both the distinctive and non-distinctive features of the human world.

But the assumption shared by these other wise conf licting
views of social theory – that human bodies are non-distinctive and, more specifically, belong to the biologlcal world is mistaken. To show the many respects in whlch this is so,
and why, would require an extremely complex set of (broadly) phllosophlcal arguments which I shall not attempt here.

Instead I shall draw attention to some important ways in
which the work of two particular socIal theorists, namely
Wilhelm Relch and tllchael Foucault, can be seen to challenge that assumption. Both of them, I shall argue, are concerned to identify various socIal processes involved in the
‘construction’ (i.e. the a.ctual shaping or forming) of human
bodies; and hence, at least implicItly, to demonstrate In thIs
respect the distinctively ‘human’ character of human bodies,


by removing them from the category of exclusively biological entities .

In other words, both Relch and Foucault can be understood as rejecting the view that human bodies belong to the
object-domain of sodal theory only to the extent that biologlcal entities belong there. More positively, they can be
seen to contribute to what is, I believe, the important theoretical project of understanding the various complex ‘mediations’ that obtain between biological and socIal processes.

For the conduct of this project must, I would argue, recognise that human bodies are themselves, in the very character
of their development and consequent patterns of activity, a
central ‘site’ or ‘location’ for these mediations. That is, the
(admittedly problematlc) relationships between biologlcal and
socIal processes are not to be understood as occurring between ‘the bodily’ and ‘the social’, but rather as internalto
the human body itself.

Whatever the merIts of these general claims about
human bodies, however, it may well seem highly implausible
to link the work of Relch and Foucault in this way. For, as
normally interpreted both by their respective critics and
admirers, the two supposedly represent utterly incompatible
theoretlcal standpoints; for Instance, ‘biological essentialism’

versus ‘discursive constructlonism’. But it will be a further
aim of this paper to question this orthodox contra-positioning of the two.

I shall begin by presenting what is an apparently strong
case for this orthodox view, in the form of a schematlc
account of Foucault’s critique of ‘the repressIve hypothesis’

in Volume I of The History of Sexuallty, and of its seeming
appllcablllty to Reich’s account of ‘sexual repression’. But I
shall then propose certain interpretations (and at times, reconstructions) of their work, which should serve to undermIne thIs orthodox contraposition by indicating the overall
compatibillty of their respective insights concerning the
social construction of human bodies. In doing so, however, I
shall also suggest that, despite these shared insights, there
can be found in each of them a residual (quasi-biologicai)
‘naturallsm’ about human bodies, especially in their artlculation of critlcal ideals. Further, and partly on this basis, I
will suggest that, instead of regarding Reich and Foucault
as entirely opposed with respect to ‘the repressive hypothesis’, the two can in some ways be seen as proposing different variants upon a single, more generally specified,
theory of ‘repression’.


‘The Repressive Hypothesis’: Foucault contra Reich?

In the opening sections of The History of Sexuality (Vol. I;
henceforth HS), Foucault sketches an ingenious critique of
what he terms ‘the repressive hypothesis’: very roughly, that
in the course of European history, and especially since the
17th century, there has been an increasing repression and
confinement of (natural) human sexuality. Thus, according to
its proponents, say Foucault,

A t the beginning of the seventeenth century a certain frankness (about sexuality) was std! common • …

Sexual practices had little need of secrecy • ••• It was
a time of direct gestures, shameless discourse, and
open transgressions, when anatomies were shown and
intermingled at wlll, and knowing children hung about
amid the laughter of adults: it was a period when
bodies ‘made a display of themselves’.,
But twilight soon fell upon this bright day, followed by the monotonous nights of the Victorian

Sexuality was carefully confined; it
moved into the home. The conjugal family took custody of it and absorbed it into the curious function
of reproduction. On the subject of sex, silence
became the rule • •.•
(HS, p. 3)
By emphasising in ‘this initial depiction of the hypothesis
its supposed implication of increasing silence and secrecy
about sexuality, Foucault is immediately able to present an
apparent difficulty facing its advocates. For, he claims, it
was precisely during the hypothesised major period of repression that there emerged ‘a veritable explosion’ of discourses about sexuality; in, for example, medical, psychiatric
and educational theories, and the practices that were both
informed and presupposed by these discourses – the investigation and classification of deviant sexualities; the sexual
diagnosis of mental and physical illnesses; the concern with
childhood masturbation; and so on. Never, in effect, had
there been so noisy a silence, so public a secret, as this
‘repressed’ sexuality.

Yet it would be a relatively simple matter for an advocate of the repressive hypothesis to deal with this apparent paradox. After all, if it is assumed that sexuality is a
powerful human drive seen by its enemies as a danger to
moral and political order, one would surely expect them to
display great vigilance, and to arm themselves with every
item of theoretical and practical equipment they could
muster in their self-appointed role as repressive legislators.

In other words, the silence and secrecy whose absence is
presented by Foucault as a problem for the repressive hypothesis is no problem at all: if anything, this absence strengthens the support for that hypothesis.

But although Foucault’s rhetoric at times seems designed
to obscure this obvious rejoinder, it is not one that need
unduly concern him. For his critique of the repressive hypothesis does not essentially depend upon contesting its supposed implications of silence and secrecy. It depends rather
upon arguing that its advocates necessarily accept a number
of fundamentally mistaken assumptions about the character
of power, truth, and sexuality; and that when these are rejected and replaced by others, the ‘veritable explosion’ of
discourses about sexuality takes on a quite different theoretical and political significance . In particular, it
emerges that the repressive hypothesis should itself be seen
to form part of the discursive armoury of ‘modern’ power.

What are these supposedly mistaken assumptions? First,
there is what he terms a ‘negative’ conception of power,
according to which the exercise of power typically inv01ves
prohibition, limitation, restriction, removal, and such like.

‘Negative’ power is thus thought of as operating upon something that exists prior to, and independently of, the exercise
of such power; and its exercise involves various forms of
limitation of the pre-existing ‘object’. The concept of repression, says Foucault, assumes this (mistaken) view of
power . Second, advocates of the repressive hypothesis
assume that ‘truth’ is essentially liberating: they accept an
Enlightenment conception of knowledge as something that
can free one both from error and illusion, and from the
patterns of domination and subordination that depend upon
these. The repressive hypothesis is thus itself conceived as
emancipatory knowledge or truth.

Third, there is the
assumption that sexuality is some kind of instinctual force
or drive which lies at’ the root of much, or even all, human
experience and activity, and which can express itself more
or less directly in a great variety of (often necessarily dis-

guised) forms. These varying forms may well be soclohistorically specific – including, of course, those that result
from (historically specific) patterns of repression. But the
drive which is thus repressed is itself ahistorical, and in
some sense ‘na tur al’.

That assumptions at least reasonably similar to these are
in fact (and quite likely inevitably) made by proponents of
the repressive hypothesis is a relatively uncontentious claim.

Certainly their presence is identifiable in the work of one
such proponent whom Foucault seems to have in mind, namely Wilhelm Reich, especially in his so-called ‘Sex-Poll writings of around 1930, such as ‘Dialectical Materialism and
Psychoanalysis’, The Sexual Revolution, and ‘The Imposition
of Sexual Morality’. Consider, for example, the following
(characteristically grandiose) account of human history provided by Reich in the last mentioned of these:

From earliest gentile (clan based) society to the
present capitalist state the distinctive phases of
societal development have always exhibited two
interacting processes. The first process, spanning
from the stage of primitive economic communism to
the capitalist state, has to do with the development
of the instruments of production, with the expansion
and increase of production, and with the correspondingly awakened human needs. Ultimately this process
leads to a concentration of the ownership of production in the hands of a dominant soc.ial group, the
capitalists. On the other hand, another process leads
from natural sexual freedom, and from the gentile
(clan-based) family based upon consanguinity, to the
ideology of extra-marital asceticism and permanent
monogamous marriage. It moves along the lines of a
continuous confinement, repression, and distortion of
genital sexuality.

(p. 226)
Further, according to Reich it is this repression of
‘genital sexuality’, of the ‘natural’ form in wh’lch instinctual
sexual energy is expressed, that lies at the root of neurosis.

For Reich was one of several writers who have attempted to
combine (some version of) psychoanalytic theory with (some
version of) Marxist theory, so as to produce an overall
account of human history which, amongst other things, relates the development of sexual repression to that of capitalism – thereby constructing (some version of) ‘the repressive hypothesis’ . In addition, as a theorist and practitioner of psychoanalysis he was committed to the emancipatory value, not only of the truth of this repressive hypothesis and of the political practices based upon it but also
of a therapeutic practice in which the general truths represented in psychoanalytic theory come to be recognised by
patients in the painful recovery of their long and deeply
repressed pasts.

In Reich, then, one seems to have an exemplary advocate of the repressive hypothesis, and of the particular assumptions about power, truth and sexuality which Foucault
is concerned to challenge. Against these assumptions he
makes the following claims. It is a central feature of modern
European societies (i.e. roughly since the’ late 18th century)
that power becomes increasingly ‘positive’ or ‘productive’ in
character, by contrast with its earlier, predominantly ‘negative’ forms . Modern power operates through the construction of ‘new’ capacities and modes of activity, rather
than through the limitation of pre-existing ones. This productivity of modern power is achieved by, amongst other
things, a vast array of more or less institutionalised practices, which are typically informed by various theoretical
discourses, especially those of the ‘human sciences’ – including, for example, psychoanalysis and the ‘discourse(s) of sexuality’. Such discourses represent themselves as aspiring to,
and at times achieving, the status of ‘truth’, of systematically established and rigorously vaJldated knowledge. Yet
whilst these discursively informed practices (or ‘discursive
practices’) legitimate themselves at least partly by reference to the epistemological status of their respective discourses, the situation is, in crucial respects, rather the

reverse; namely, that these discourses actually presuppose
their respective practices, and therefore equally belong to
the weaponry, tactics and strategy of modern power .

Thus, advocates of the repressive hypothesis are to be
seen not only as making false assumptions about power and
truth, but also as engaging in a discourse of sexuallty which
is intrinsically tied to practices, such as psychoanalysis itself, that are exemplary Instances of modern power. In
psychoanal ytlc theory, ‘sexuall ty’ Is conceptuallsed in such a
way that it Is only through what Foucault views as the
quasi-confesslonal nature of psychoanalytic therapy that
patlents can recognlse thls ‘truth’ about themselves. An
Instlnctual force, yet equlpped wlth an Indeflnlte variety of
posslble dlsgulses, it reslsts dlscovery by almost every
means. Only through the Inslghtful appllcatlon of psychoanalytlc discourse by the analyst can these dlsgulses be
penetrated, and freedom through knowledge be galned.

In an Interview around the tlme of publlcatlon of HS,
Foucault is reported as maklng the followlng remark, whlch
perhaps encapsulates as well as any other hls opposltlon to
the represslve hypothesls: “‘Sexuallty” is far more a posltlve
product of power, than power was ever a repression of sexuality” (‘Truth and Power’, p. 120). Much later in this paper,
I shall draw attention to some possible ambiguities In this
claim. But for the moment it can be taken to indicate the
apparently fundamental opposition between Foucault and
advocates of the represslve hypothesis such as Reich, who
regard sexuallty as a biologically grounded drive that has
been subjected to various sociohistorically specific forms of
negative power. For Foucault, by contrast, ‘sexuallty’ is itself what is sociohistorically specific, and is in some sense
the product of discursive practices characteristic of posltive, modern power.


Given thIs systematic opposition between Foucault and
Reich with respect to the repressive hypothesis, it may then
seem implausible to suggest that the two can be seen as
adopting mutually compatible, indeed potent1ally complementary, accounts of the human body and its place in social
theory – especially It, as 1s commonly assumed, there is some
very close relat10nship between the human body and sexuality. But this is the suggestion for which I shall try to argue;
and in doing so I shall also, at least impllcitly, be querying
the ways in which that relationship between the body and
sexuality 1s often conceptuallsed.

I shall proceed as follows. In the next two sect1ons, I
shall give an account of Reich’s views about the human body
and argue that, far from being a ‘biological essentiallst’ or
‘reductionist’, his work provides important resources for a
theory of the social construction of bodies. In particular, I
shall show that there is a good deal more to h1s views of
the body than the theory of instInctual sexual energy for
which he is best known; and that this can quite easily be
abandoned without loss.

In Section 5, turning to Foucault, I shall note briefly his
account in Discipline and Punlsh of the construction of ‘disciplined bodies’ as an important aspect of modern power. I
shall then propose a possible interpretation of certain elements in HS, according to which one outcome of the discursive practices of sexuality is the construction of ‘sexualised
bodies’; and that this should, or at least can, be understood
as just as ‘real’ or ‘literal’ a construction as that of disciplined bodies, and not as a (merely) ‘conceptual’ construction
in discourses.

Interpreted in this way, then, Foucault’s social theory of
the human body is compatible with, and indeed potentially
complementary to, the (partly reconstructed) theory discernible in Reich. But I shall also suggest, in Sections 4 and 6,
that the two share a residual (though ellminable) ‘naturallsm’

about the human body, and that this partly undermlnes the
extent of their apparent opposition with respect to the repressive hypothesis, especially It, in addition, the legitimacy
of Foucault’s contrast between negative and posltive power
is questioned. Nonetheless, it must be emphasised that I am


not attempting to argue that ‘properly understood, there is
ooreal disagreement between Foucault and Reich about the
repressive hypothesis’. At the very least, their respective
vlews of ‘power’ and ‘knowledge’ are quite irreconcilable,
and I shall not address the issues raised by this. For my
main aim is to draw attention to the ways in which Reich
and Foucault can contribute to a more adequate conception
of the human body in social theory and philosophy.

3. The Trout Man: Character-analytic vegetotherapy at work
Reich’s account of the human body can best be understood
by examining the theory and practice of what he termed
‘character analytic vegetotherapy’. (As Reich later acknowledged, this rather unwieldy phrase has the unfortunate
effect of making the Engllsh reader think of vegetables. But
the term ‘vegetotherapy’ derives in fact from the ‘vegetative nervous system’, now more commonly termed the ‘autonomic’ system, which controls the operation of the glands
and internal bodily organs). The main features of this form
of (quasi-) psychoanalytic therapy were presented in Reich’s
two main works on psychoanalytic theory and practice: The
Function of the Orgasm (1927; henceforth FO), and
Character Analysis (1934; henceforth CA) .

Some initial grasp of what is involved in characteranalytic vegetotherapy can be achieved by considering briefly one of the case-histories in FO, which I shall call, with
due deference to Freud, ‘The Trout Man’. Reich’s account
goes like this.

The pat1ent was a 27 year old male alcohollc, with an
unhappy marrlage and a general sense of listless superficiality in his social contacts. Always pollte, friendly, and unaggresslve, he had an awkward, forcedly jaunty walk, an
expresslonless face, a small tight mouth, and a general air
of submission, ‘as If he were continually on his guard’ (FO,
p. 278). Relch says that he was initially’ faced with the
decision of whether to ‘first consider his psychic reserve or
hls very strlking facial expression’ (p. 279); and opting for
the latter, he pers1stently described this expression to the
patient, who eventually responded with twitchings of the
mouth that bullt up until ‘hls llps began to protrude and
retract rhythmically and to hold the protruded position for
several seconds … hls face took on the unmistakable expresslon of an infant’ (p. 279). This was followed by a tearless
crying, uttering sounds ‘like the outbreak of a long-suppressed, painful sob’ (pp. 279-80). Reich hypothesised that the
patient’s constricted mouth was a ‘muscular defence’ against
this infantlle crying.

Some weeks later, following a similar initial sequence,
the patient’s mouth ‘became distorted, the musculature of
hls jaws became stiff as a board, and he grit hls teeth’, sat
up shaking with anger, and ‘raised his fist as If he were
going to strike a blow, wlthout, however, following through.

The whole action dissolved into a whimpering kind of
weeping’, expressing the ‘impotent rage’ often experienced
by children (p. 281). Thls episode evoked previously longburied memories of the patient’s early relatlonship wlth his
brother, the aggresslve feelings towards whom had been
curbed through fear of parental displeasure.

In a subsequent session, the patient began talking of the
joys of trout-fishlng. He gave a lengthy and detailed descriptlon of this activity wlth just one significant omission the moment at which the trout bites into the hook. One
month later, as Reich contlnued to work on the patlent’s
muscular defences, a strange set of bodily movements
emerged. Spontaneously, the patlent sald that he felt llke a
fish. ‘His mouth,’ says Reich, ‘was spasmodically protruded,
rigid, and distorted. Hls body jerked from the shoulders to
the legs. His back was st1ff as a board’ (p. 287); and, ‘with
each jerk of his body, the patient for a time thrust his arms
foward, as If embracing someone’ (p. 288). Discussing this
episode, the patient recognised how he himself had represented the trout in his previous story; and he connected thls
to hls relationship wlth his mother, whom he saw as having
neglected and disappointed him, often unexpectedly punish-

ing him when he had hoped for something from her. Reich
comments: ‘His caution became understandable now. He did
not trust anyone; he did not wish to be ca1ght’ (p. 288).

The main thesis that underlles this (perhaps) seemingly
bizarre therapeutic practice is that the patient’s body somehow contains and expresses their emotional1y problematic
life-history; that, as Reich himself puts it, ‘every muscular
rigidity contains the history and the meaning of its origin’

(Fa, p. 269). In order both to understand and to elaborate
this thesis, one needs to explore its basis in three important
areas of Reich’s theoretical work; his concept of character-analysis, his theory of sexual energy and orgastic
potency, and his account of ‘the physiology of repression’.

The starting point for the first of these was Reich’s dissatisfaction with orthodox psychoanalytic technique. He was
struck by the ability of his patients to produce plentiful
material in the form of dreams, memories, associations, and
so on; to accept the interpretations offered; and yet to
remain quite unmoved and unaffected by the therapeutic
process. This, he believed, was due to the patient’s resistance to the analysis, and he decided that identifying and
overcoming this resistance must become the primary therapeutic task. Resistance, he believed, was rooted in the
patient’s character, ‘the person’s specific mode of existence’, ‘an expression of the person’s entire past’ (CA, p.

53); and its nature was indicated not so much by the content
of the material presented, but rather by the manner of its
presentation. In particular, Reich emphasised the importance
of such features as tone of voice, facial expression, handclasp, ‘quality of silences’, posture, and bearing, and he
would often proceed, therapeutically, by drawing the
patient’s attention to these ‘characteristic’ forms of behaviour, and to how they represented attitudes which kept the
analyst at bay.

Having initially introduced the concept of character to
the problem of resistance, Reich soon went on to employ it
more generally in his account of the neuroses. He rejected
the orthodox distinction between symptom-neuroses and
character-neuroses, according to which the unconscious
conflicts and defences that typically led to the formation of
neurotic symptoms might in some cases appear instead in the
form of character-traits or personality-structure. Against
this Reich claimed that ‘the symptom-neurosis is always
rooted in a neurotic character’, which ‘is formed, at least in
its principal features, by the time the Oedipal stage comes
to a close’. The symptom-neurosIs is merely that special
case in which ‘the neurotic character also produces symptoms, has become, so to speak, concentrated in them’ (CA,
p. 50, my italics). The neurotic character, he maintained, is
itself a compact defence-mechanism, serving as what he
termed – initially, in a metaphorical sense – an armour:

It is as if the affective personality armoured itself,
as if the hard shell it develops were intended to
deflect and weaken the blows of the outer world as
well as the clamouring of the inner needs •.. the ego
has become less flexible and more rigid; and .•. the
ability to regulate the energy economy depends upon
the extent of the armouring.

(CA, p. 374)
This energy economy was, for Reich, an economy of sexual energy. Unimpressed by Freud’s radical revision of his
earller theory of instincts, involving the introduction of the
death instinct in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), and
strongly opposed to its apparent political implications in
Civillzation and its Discontents (1930), Reich maintained
that this theoretical shift by Freud led to ‘a complete
llquidation of the psychoanalytic theory of neurosis’:

Until this point, a neurosis was looked upon as the
result of a conflict between sexual demand and fear
of punishment. Now it was said that a neurosis was a
conflict between sexual demand and demand for
punishme,lt ….

(Fa, p. 112; my italics)
For Reich, the instincts were exclusively sexual; instinctual energy was sexual energy; and neurosis resulted from
the repression of instinctual impulses, and hence from the
blocking of sexual energy. Further, it was only through genital sexuallty that satisfactory discharge of this energy could
be achieved. Thus, the severity of psychic illness was
related to the severity of genital disturbance, and its cure
required, and in some sense consisted in, establishing the
capacity for full sexual gratification, or what he called
‘orgastic potency’, defined as:

the capacity to surrender to the flow of biological
energy, free of any inhibitions; the capacity to discharge completely the dammed-up sexual excitation
through involuntary, pleasurable convulsions of the

(Fa, p. 90)
a process which Reich described, together with various
pathological deviations from it, in loving detail.

In talking about the instincts, Freud had himself distinguished between their (as yet unknown) sQmatic sources;
their aims; and their highly variable objects . Reich
belleved it important to identify the first of these; and
recently publlshed work by neurophysiologists on the operations of what was then called the ‘vegetative nervous system’ convinced him that this could be done. The vegetative
system controls the operation of the internal bodily organs
and glands, including the heart, blood vessels, digestive
tract, genitals, and so on . It is divided into two
‘branches’, the parasympathetic and sympathetic, whose respective activation has antithetical effects upon these: for
example, decreasing v. increasing the heart-beat rate, and
expanding v. contracting the blood vessels. Reich maintained
that parasympathetic activity corresponded to sexual excitation and pleasure, whilst sympathetic activity corresponded
to anxiety, and that this anxiety itself resulted from the
repression of sexual pleasure, the failure to discharge sexual
energy. Further – and with each step here, he departed increasingly from orthodox (both then and now) scientific
views of the autonomic system – he claimed that the respective activation of each branch of the autonomic system was
itself somehow produced by the flow of ‘sexual energy’, a
quasi-electrical force that was, in his later work, to be reconceptualised as cosmic, orgone energy .

What, though, happens to the anxiety supposedly produced by the repression of sexual impulses? Reich’s answer
was that it becomes ‘bound’ in the form of hypertonic rigidities in the skeletal musculature, and hence, as he put it,
‘the spasm of the musculature is the somatic side of the
process of repression, and the basis of its continued preservation’ (PO, p. 271). These muscular rigidities, the organism’s
way of deallng with the unpleasant anxiety resulting from
the blocking of sexual energy, are to be understood as the
bodily constituents of the character armour that Reich had
identified in his analysis of resistance. Psychic defences
correspond to muscular defences, and character-rigidity to
bodily-rigidity. Thus, the initially metaphorical concept of
character ‘armour’ had now acquired a far more literal


But Reich did not talk of bodily defences only in generallsed, quantitative terms, with ‘degrees of rigidification’

corresponding to ‘degrees of repression’. His descriptions of
character-armour also involved far more specific, differentiated accounts of what he called ‘the physiology of repression’. This has already been seen, to some extent, in the
case-history of ‘The Trout Man’. Elsewhere Reich tries, for
example, to identify particular bodily processes through
which children may defend themselves against emotionally
problematic situations. Thus, he describes how they may
learn to suppress or control the expression of feelings made
dangerous through anticipated parental responses, by holding
or reducing their breath, and how this pattern may lead to
more permanent, physiologically grounded blocks upon complete exhalation, involving abdominal tension, prevention of
the head falling back, and a raising and tightening of the
shoulders. He suggests also how certain facial and vocal
characteristics may be generated by the inhibition of drying:

there is
… a mask-like facial expression. The chin is thrust
forward and looks broad; the neck just below the
chin has a lifeless appearance •.. the floor of the
mouth is tense. Such patients often suffer from
nausea. Their voices are usually low, monotonous, or
‘thin’. This attitude can also be tested on oneself.

Imagine that you are suppressing an irrlpu lse to cry.

The muscles of the floor of the mouth become very
tense, the entire musculature of the head will be put
in a condition of continued tension, the chin will be
thrust forward, and mouth wlll be tight.

(FO, p. 273)
There is nothing obviously sexual about the feelings
being controlled in these ways, and even when Reich does
talk more directly about bodily controls over sexual feelings,
his descriptions are (at least at their best) in terms not of
gener alised rigidity, but of specific patterns of immoblllsation and postural fixity. He focuses, for example, on the
formation of what he terms ‘the dead pelvis’ (FO, Chapter
8, Section 5), involving its inability to move independently
of the thighs and upper abdomen, and often associated with
a sense of ’emptiness’ or ‘weakness’ in the genital area. This
he presents as part of a more general pattern of the body’s
being ‘held back’, with the back arched, the shoulders pulled
back, the abdomen and chest arched forward, and the pelvis
withdrawn – the whole syndrome being a way of controlling
problematic sexual excitation, and he connects this to what
he regarded as the sexually suppressive nature of the typical
military attitude or bearing:

The neck has to be rigid, the head stretched forward; the
eyes have to stare rigidly straight ahead; the chin and
mouth have to have a ‘manly’ expression; the chest has to
be thrust out .•.

(FO, p. 323)

Reich without sexual energy

Most commentators on Reich, whether sympathetic or
hostile, have assumed that what he says about human bodies,
their muscular ‘armouring’, and the origins of this in childhood experiences, stands or falls with his theory of instinctual sexual energy. As a result of this assumption, those who
– in my view quite rightly – find much that is objectionable
about his sexual energy model, tend automatically to reject
also the other elements in his account of the human body.

But this is mistaken. Reich’s theory of sexual energy is
quite independent of the rest of this account, and hence the
rejection of the former does not entail the rejection of the
latter .

That this is so is supported by the following considerations. Although Reich tries to provide a theoretical explanation of muscular rigidities by reference to their supposed
function in binding the anxiety caused by undischarged
sexual excitation in the autonomic system, none of the descriptions he provides of the origins of specific muscular
formations actually depend upon his theoretical claim. This


is most obvious in those cases of problematic feellngs that
have nothing apparently ‘sexual’ about them; for example,
his account of the bodily processes involved in the suppression of crying. But the same is also true in those cases
where the problematic feelings are of a specifically sexual
kind. For Reich’s descriptions of the bodily defences involved in the repression of such feelings do not entail that
the feelings are themselves the result of sexual energy
‘flowjng’ through the autonomic system; nor that these muscular formations are a response to the postulated ‘overloading’ of the sympathetic branch of that system supposedly
caused by undischarged energy accumulations .

I shall not attempt here to articulate what I regard as
the failings of Re ich’ s theor y of sexual ener gy, since my
main concern is to note that his actual descriptions of what
he calls ‘the physiology of repression’, and of the ways in
which the muscular structure of bodies may partly thereby
be formed, do not depend upon this theory. My suspicion is
that the widespread tendency on the part of Reich’s critics
(and admirers) not to see this is due to their assumption that
to be concerned with human bodies is to be concerned with
human ‘biology’, in the sense–oTWhat is supposedly innate,
instinctual, or suchlike, and hence that if instinctual sexual
energy, a ‘biological force’, is rejected, so too must the rest
of Reich’s account of human bodies . But this, I am suggesting, is precisely to miss the overall theoretical significance of his work; the recognition that human bodies, far
from belonging exclusively to the ‘biological’ (as distinct
from the ‘social’) realm, are themselves a major site or location for the interactions between biological and social processes – that they are, as it were, ‘bio-socially’ formed or

Once this is recognised, a considerable number of significant theoretical possibilities are opened up. For instance,
it could be the case that the historical reproduction of specific structures of social relationships involves, amongst
other things, the ‘bio-social’ reproduction of pppropriately
constructed human bodies – of bodies, that is, which are
‘equipped’ to enter into those relationships. Hence one might
expect there to be bodily differences corresponding to different structures of social relationships, as distinct from
their being more or less identical, biologically reproduced,
a-social bodies which then enter into a variety of sociohistor ically differentiated structures .

As an example of this general theoretical possibility it
could, I think, plausibly be argued that the acquisition and
(his tor ica!) reproduction of socio-histor ically specific gender
differences typically involves the gender-differentiation of
male and female bodies. That is, assuming the standard
(though not unproblematic) distinction between biologically
determined ‘sex’ (male v. female) and socially determined
‘gender’ (masculine v. feminine), specific forms of masculinity and femininity wlll involve the construction of masculine
and feminine bodies; the development of characteristic differences of bodily structure, patterns of movement, and so
on – including, I would argue, related differences in forms of
experience and perception. There may weJl be, in other
words, an embodiment of gender. More specifically, to the
extent that there are gender differences with respect to
‘sexuality’, these may themselves be connected with characteristic bodily differences acquired through the operation of
differentiated social processes upon male and female bodies


Whether or not this is actually so, the important point is
to recognise its theoretical intelligibility, and this requires
one to reject the normal assumption that any account of
bodily differences between men and women is ipso facto
concerned with their biological differences. For this is to
rule out the possibility of gendered bodies, of socially constructed bodily differentiation. Further, it must be emphasised that the concept of ‘social construction’ I am employing
here is to be understood in a fairly straightforward, ‘literal’

sense. In particular, I do not mean by this some kind of conceptual ‘construction’, involving the socially determined
ascription of ‘meanings’ to male and female bodies, their




social ‘interpretation’ as gendered.

No doubt this also
occurs, and has some sign1£icance. But it is entirely distinct
from the ‘real’ construction of bodies with which I am concerned, and to the understanding of which, I have been
arguing, Reich’s work can be seen to contribute.

In the next section of this paper, I shall try to show
how Foucault’s work can likewise be interpreted as contributing to this. But before leaving Reich, there is one
further issue about his account of human bodies to be
addressed. This is what I referred to earlier as his ‘residual
“naturalism”‘. Despite what I have claimed to be his positive
insights about the bio-social character of human bodies,
there is a recurrent tendency in Reich’s work to lapse into
naturalistic, biologistic language, especially where he is
attempting to articulate and apply critical norms or values.

In particular, frequent appeals are made to the ideal of
‘natural’ bodies, with their ‘natural’ sexuality, which turns
out to consist in a rather closely specified form of heterosexual genitality.

There are, I believe, two d1£ferent, though connected,
senses of this naturalistic vocabulary employed by Reich. In
the first, and most obviously unacceptable, the ‘natural’ is
at least implicitly defined as that which is non-social; and
hence, for example, ‘natural sexuality’ is that which is exclusively biological in its origins. Yet it should already be
clear that Reich’s own account of the human body makes
this conception of ‘the natural’ quite unacceptable. For, if a
‘natural’ body is one whose formation involves no social processes, then there simply are not, and could not be, any
such natural bodies; and ‘naturalism’ as an ideal is therefore

The source of Reich’s error here is, I think, fairly clear;
a tendency to identify the category of ‘the soc.ial’ with that
of ‘the repressive’, and hence to identify ‘the non-repressive’ with ‘the non-social’ and ‘the natural’. It is the first of
these ident1£ications which is primarily at fault; for unless
the concept of repression is to be given an almost unlimited
sense (and thereby rendered almost meaningless), what is
repressive cannot be taken to include all that is social.

However, once this fault is noted, one can also understand
the second sense in which Reich uses this naturalistic vocabulary: namely, such that ‘the natural’ is whatever results
from processes marked by the absence of repression. In this
latter sense, what is natural is not identified with what is
non-social, but only with what is not brought about by ~­
ressive social processes. ‘Naturalism’, In thls sense, becomes
the ideal of non-repressed bodies.

Yet this latter version of Reich’s ‘naturalism’ is also
highly problematic, despite avoiding the absurdities of the
former version. The central difficulty .is this. Even if the
concept of (social) repression is reasonably clearly defined
(and Reich hardly ach.ieves this), there is every reason to
expect that the category of the non-repressive is extremely
heterogeneous; and that within th1Slieterogeneity, there wlll
be a good number of normatively relevant differentiations to
be made. In other words, the normative ideal of ‘natural’

bodies is at best a negative one, which leaves open a vast
array of possible forms of non-repressive bodily llfe, about
which additional normative questions may arise that have
nothing to do with ‘repression’ . But Reich seems not to

recognise this. Instead he talks as 1£ what is ‘natural’ in the
sense of non-repressed represents a single, determinate
ideal, and hence, in particular, maintains that there is a
single mode of ‘natural’ sexuality, namely genital heterosexuality, whose ideal-ness is supposedly, but mistakenly,
grounded solely in the absence of repressive social determinants in its development.

Nonetheless, neither of these two problematic forms of
na tur alism are entailed by the account of the human body I
have claimed to be present in Reich’s work, and hence they,
along with the model of sexual energy, can be removed
without loss. And it is this partly reconstructed version of
Reich’s position which, I shall now argue, is in many respects both compatible with, and complementary to, the conception of human bodies to be found in at least some parts
of Foucault’s work.


Disciplined bodies and sexualised bodies

As noted in Section 2, one of Foucault’s main objections to
the repressive hypothesis is its reliance upon a negative
conception of power as prohibition or limitation. Against
this he maintains that since the 18th century power has become increasingly positive or productive, involving the careful construction of new capacities rather than the repression
or removal of pre-existing ones. Hence, for example, ‘power
over life’ comes to consist not so much in the threat of
death as in the management of llfe itself; and this management takes as one of its central concerns the human body:

… its disciplining, the optimization of its capabilities, the extortion of its forces, the parallel increase
in its usefulness and its docility, its integration into
systems of efficient and economic controls …

(HS, p. 139)
In order to produce these docile and useful bodies, says
••. a real and effective ‘incorporation’ of.. power was
necessary, in the sense that power had to gain access
to the bodies of individuals, to their acts, attitudes,
and modes of everyday behaviour. Hence the sign1£icance of methods like school discipline, which succeeded in making children’s bodies the object of

(‘Truth and Power’, p. 125)
A striking example that Foucault uses to llIustrate this
thesis in Discipline and Punish (henceforth DP) is that of
military training. In the course of the 18th century, he says,
a major transformation took place in the nature of the military body. Previously, the physical characteristics already
acquired by a man marked him out as suited to this profession – the breadth of his shoulders, the strength of his
hands, the thickness of his thighs. But by the end of that
..• the soldier has become something that can be
made; out of a formless clay, an inapt body, the
machine required can be constructed; posture is gradually corrected; a calculating constraint runs slowly
through each part of the body, mastering it, making
it pliable, ready at all times, turning silently into the
automatism of habit; in short, one has ‘got rid of the
peasant’, and given him ‘the air of the soldier’.

(DP, p. 135)
To illustrate this transformation, he quotes from various
military training manuals which specify, for example, the
precise details of the marching step, or how recruits shall
become accustomed to
•.. holding their heads high and erect; to standing
upright, without bending the back, to sticking out the
belly, throwing out the chest and throwing back the
shoulders. •.. Likewise, they will be taught never to
fix their eyes on the ground, but to look straight at
those they pass … to remain motionless until the
order is given, without moving the head, the hands,
or the feet.

(DP, pp. 135-6)


Mllltary trammg, that is, came to involve the construction of mllitary bodies – of bodies which are controlled not
by external threat or coercion, but by their acquired, internalised modes of automatised operation. And Foucault claims
that simllar processes of training and regulation of human
bodies emerged during this same period in a wide range of
specific institutional locations – in schools, factories, prisons, and so on. The over all outcome of these disciplinary
practices were bodies that were both useful and docile, both
productive and subjected – bodies that had, amongst other
things, been enabled to provide the labour-power for capi talist enterpr ises.

Whether or not any of this is actually true (and the
‘ev idence’ provided by F oucaul t is far from conclusive) ,
the sense in which power is here being claimed to be positive or productive in relation to bodies seems fairly
straightforward. This is not to deny that there are problems
with what often appears to be, in Foucault’s work, a dubious
reification of ‘power’ itself, but only to say that the specific processes of bodily construction being described, and the
idea of ‘control through the acquisition of bodlly capacities’,
are reasonably intelligible once one accepts the possibllity
of socially constructed bodies. Nonetheless, it should be
noted that the interpretation I am adopting here of Discipline and Punish is by no means the only possible one. In particular, it may be argued that DP should not be read in this
simple-minded, ‘realist’ manner, but rather – and in this respect consistently with many of Foucault’s other, especially
earlier, works – as essentially concerned with various (modern) discourses, including those of ‘military training’,
‘punishment’, and so on.

These exegetical issues cannot be pursued here; but,
briefly put, my position is this. I believe that the interpretation of DP I am adopting is at least defensible, as an interpretation. But if I were wrong about this it wouldnot greatly concern me. This is because my more general philosophical commitment to realism, as against most forms of discursive conceptual constructionism/conventionalism, is such that
ultimately I would only be interested in those elements of
Foucault’s work that were open to a realist {re-)’interpretation’, even if this is strictly (i.e. exegetically) speaking a
mis-interpretation of the relevant texts .

– – The preceding remarks were addressed to the problems
of interpreting DP, but they are equally applicable to the
final stages of this paper, which concern mainly Volume I of
The History of Sexuality and other closely associated writings. For what I will suggest is that one important theme in
HS is ‘the sexualisation of bodies’, understood so that bodies
are being said to become ‘sexualised’ in a sense closely analogous to that in which they are said in DP to become ‘militarised’, ‘disciplined’, and so on; that is, that a ‘real transformation’ in the character of human bodies is being claimed
to have taken place, thereby displaying another facet of the
producti vi ty of modern power . That F oucaul t is claiming, or
can be read as claiming, something along these lines is
supported by the following textual considerations.

First, there are several passages in which he talks of
the various practices supposedly aimed at investigating a
sexuality that exists independently of those practices, as
themselves involving sustained and subtle forms of sexual
excitement and incitement. For example, he says that ‘ …

the power which thus took charge of sexuality set about
contacting bodies, caressing them with its eyes, intensifying
areas, dramatizing troubled moments’; and that it ‘implied a
physical proximity and an interplay of intense sensations’

(HS, p. 44).

Second, Foucault emphasises that his concern is not primarily, or at least exclusively, with identifying the development of sexualised ‘interpretations’ or ‘conceptualisations’

of the human body, with the ‘meanings’ that came to be
ascribed to it. Rather, he says,
••. the purpose of the present study is in fact to
show how deployments of power are directly connected to the body – to bodies, functions, physiological
processes, sensations, and pleasures. … Hence I do


not envisage a ‘history of mentalities’ that would
take account of bodies only through the manner in
which they have been perceived and given meaning
and value; but a ‘history of bodies’ and the manner in
which what is most material and most vital in them
has been invested.

(HS, pp. 151-2)
In other words, and employing the distinction I made earlier
between ‘real’ and ‘conceptual’ construction, Foucault can
be taken here to be declaring his concern with the former,
rather than the latter – though, as will shortly be seen,
there is an important connection between the two, the
crucial mediation being performed by discursive practices,
and in particular the discursive practices of ‘sexuality’.

Finally, in the interview already referred to, discussing
The History of Sexuality, Foucault says this: in the pedagogic and medical manuals of the eighteenth century,
••• chlldren’s sex is spoken of constantly and in every
possible context. One might argue (in line with the
repressive hypothesis) that the purpose of these discourses was precisely to prevent chlldren from having
a sexuality. But their effect was to din it into parents’ heads that their children’s sex constituted a
fundamental problem … and to din it into chlldren’s
heads that their relationship with their own body and
their own sex was to be a fundamental prublem as
far as they were concerned; and this had the consequence of sexually exciting the bodies of chlldren
whlle at the same time fixing the parental gaze and
vigllance on the peril of infantile sexuality. The
result was a sexualizing of the infantile body, a sexualizing of the bodlly relationship between parent
and child, a sexualizing of the familial domain. ‘Sexuality’ is far more a positive product of power than
power was ever a repression of sexuality.

(‘Truth and Power’, p. 120)
I will now elaborate the character of the thesis here
being ascribed to Foucault, and its relationship to his views
about power, truth, and sexuality noted earller (Section 2),
by considering how the last sentence in the passage just
quoted may best be interpreted. There are, I suggest, three
distinguishable, mutually consistent ‘layers’ or ‘levels’ of
meaning that can be identified.

First, one may interpret this sentence as expressing the
claim that the concept, and more gener al~ the discourse(s),
of sexuallty, are to be understood as a positive product of
(modern) power; and that it is a mistake to think of this
concept as referring to an a-historical entity which has been
subjected to the repressive effects of negative power.

Second, one may add to this initial level of interpretation by
taking Foucault’s use of the term ‘sexuality’ as including not
only the concept and/or discourse(s) of sexuality, but also
the discursive practices which are informed and presupposed
by these – medical, pedagogic, psychiatric, and so on.

The third level of interpretation can be arrived at by
pursuing the following line of thought. In Discipline and
Punish (according to my reading of this) Foucault is concerned with the actual production or construction of disciplined bodies, regarding these as the effects or outcomes of
various (discursively informed) practices such as milltary
training and school discipllne. What, then, corresponds to
these bodily outcomes in the case of the discursive practices
of sexuality? The answer would surely be: sexualised bodies.

Hence Foucault can be taken to be claiming, in this sentence,that amongst the products of positive power are
human bodies which are ‘equipped’ with the characteristic
features of (modern) sexuality. ‘Sexuality’, that is, does not
refer to an a-historical drive with the various characteristics ascribed to it in the modern discourse(s) of sexuality.

Rather, sexuality is not only historically specific, and of an
at least partly somatic nature: it is also a product of those
very practices which present themselves, through their selfinforming discourses, as directed at something that exists
a-historically and independently of them.

Whether this claim is actually true is, of course, another

matter, and one which does not concern me here – though I
think it unlikely that the discursive practices of sexuallty
are the major social determinants of whatever is distInctIve
about modern, embodIed, sexualIty. What Is Important here Is
the theoretical Intelllglbl1lty of the claIm, and thIs, I
belleve, is quite well-grounded in the mor,e general view of
human bodIes and theIr susceptIbIlIty to processes of (real)
socIal constructIon whIch I have been advocatIng, and
ascrIbIng to both Foucault and Reich. TheIr posItIons are,
then, in thIs respect mutually compatible and potentIally
complementary. Compatible, of course, not with respect to
the actual truth or falsIty of at least some of theIr specifIc,
substantIve claIms – especIally, perhaps, those concernIng
sexuallty – but rather In theIr shared rejectIon of exclusIvely biologlstic, a-socIal conceptions of the human body.

Further, it should be noted that ‘even’ in the case of sexualIty, theIr apparent substantive dIsagreement is significantly
reduced if one accepts the following points: first, that In
rejectIng Relch’s model of instinctual sexual energy, one is
not thereby committed to rejecting any kind of ‘bIological’

component in human sexuallty; and second, that Foucault’s
vIew of the historicity of ‘modern’ sexuallty does not
commit one (and is probably not intended by him to commit
one) to regarding every feature of this sexuality as historically specific.


Foucault’s ‘repressive hypothesis’?

In Section 2 of this paper, I outllned an apparently strong
case for the orthodox contra-posItIoning of Reich and
Foucault with respect to ‘the repressive hypothesis’. To the
extent that thIs opposition might reasonably be expected to
affect their respectIve conceptions of the human body, what
I have so far argued about the latter may be seen partly but only partly – to undermine the contra-positioning of the
two. I shall now try to take this ‘undermining’ process a
llttle further, by suggesting that in certain respects
Foucault too can be seen to endorse a ‘repressive hypothesis’, which mirrors Reich’s in an unfortunate manner.

Nonethe less, as noted earlier, I am not proposing a ‘complete
reconciliation’ of the two, above all because of their radical
differences about the relationshIps between truth, power,
and discourses.

There are two main steps to be taken here, each of
which wl11 be sketched only very briefly. First, I suggest
that there can be found in Foucault, as in Reich, a ‘resIdual
naturalism’ about the human body. Second, I doubt that
Foucault’s contrast between positive and negative power can
do the theoretical work required of it.

Whilst Reich’s naturalism (in both its versions) is most
evident in his normative judgments, it also occurs in his historIcal claims about the development of sexual repression,
specifically in his descriptions of ‘early, pre-repressive’

societies, where natural bodies and their sexuality supposedly flourished (see, e.g. the quotation from Reich in Section 2
above). Of course, the historical claIm that ‘once upon a
time there were natural bodies’ is not required by his normative naturalIsm – as such the latter is equally compatible,
for example, with a more ‘optimistic’, ‘progressivist’ account
of the history of human bodies. Nonetheless, the making of
this historical claim does require commitment to the theoretical-conceptual assumptions of naturallsm which, I argued
In Section 4, are highly problematic (though also eliminable,
‘without loss’ to the rest of his account).

Now, according to Foucault (according to me), sexualized and disciplined bodies are amongst the outcomes of
modern power. So one may reasonably ask of Foucault the
question, ‘What were human bodies like before this – in, as
it were, pre-modern times?’. And one answer which he occasionally seems to give is, in effect, that they were ‘natural’.

Consider, for example, the following passage, from a lecture
given in the early 1970s:

It Is false to say ••• (as does Marx) that the concrete
existence of man is labour. For the life and time of
man are not by nature labour, but pleasure, restless-

ness, merry-making, rest, needs, accidents, desires,
violent acts, robberies, etc. •.. And this quite explosive, momentary and discontinuous energy must be
transformed by capital into labour-power, something
which implles compulsion .•..

(‘Power and Norms’, p. 62; my italics)
Furthermore, it is apparently this same natural body,
with its ‘discontinuous energy’, that is invoked in The
History of Sexuality as Foucault’s alternative to the normative conception of sexual liberation associated with ‘the
repressive hypothesis ‘. Thus:

It is the agency of sex that we must break away
from if we aim – through a tactical reversal of the
various mechanisms of sexuality – to counter the
grips of power with the claims of bodies, pleasures,
and knowledges, in their multiplicity and their possibillty of resistance.

The rallying point for the
counter attack against the deployment of sexuality
ought not to be sex-desire, but bodies and pleasures.

(HS, p. 157)
or, as he put it in a later interview, ‘ … one should aim instead at a desexualization, at a general economy of pleasure
not based on sexual norms’ (‘The History of Sexuality’, p.


In other words, Foucault at times has his own ‘repressive hypothesis’ which, incidentally, has a somewhat similar
historical dating to the one he opposes. Once upon a time
there were natural bodies; then they became ‘repressed’

through discipline and sexuallty; and now we have to overturn this repression and regain our natural bodl1y condition.

It’s a similar story to Reich’s with (merely) a different specification of the ‘natural’ characteristics of bodies, and it is
open to similar objections. I shall not spell these out here.

But they could, for example, be developed by considering
the significance of the fact that the pre-mllltarised bodies
of the 18th century armIes were themselves ‘~Iready’ socIohIstorically formed, albeit through processes that did not, at
least In Foucault’s vIew, display the characteristics of
modern power.

The second main step can be introduced by responding
to a possible objection to the first: namely, that what I have
called ‘Foucault’s (version of the) repressive hypothesis’ is
quite rightly so called, sInce he rejects the exclusively negative conception of power typically assumed by its advocates. But I doubt that this objection can be adequately sustained, for the following reasons.

First, to the extent that there is a reasonably clear distinction between ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ power, it seems
implausible to claim that Reich – or, indeed, most other advocates of a/the repressive hypothesis – conceIves of repression in exclusively ‘negative’ terms. What, after all, could
be a more ‘positive’ product of power than a Reichianly
armoured body? For, although Reich does not approve of
this muscular apparatus, it could hardly be said merely to
limit or reduce one’s capacities – it also makes possible
many ‘new’ patterns of movement, experience, and suchlike.

And siml1ar poInts could be made about the ‘positive’ character of the ‘repressive’ processes and outcomes that were
the concern of other advocates of ‘the repressive hypothesIs’ – for example, the ‘authoritarian personality’. Second,
it is far from obvious that Foucault’s distinction is a reasonably clear one; or, at least, that his own examples of
modern power are distinctively ‘positive’. After all, he himself talks frequently of the ‘subjugation’ of bodies, of the
‘controls’ imposed upon them, of their being rendered
‘docile’; and also, of their (?’natural’) capacities for ‘resistance’ to such exercises of power over them. These terms
seem surely to belong to the vocabulary of negative, repressive power.


(This article started life in some papers written in 1982 whilst a visiting
fellow at the Humanities Research Centre, A.N.U., and since presented in
too many places to be mentioned. Amongst .the numerous people who have
helped with their comments and responses, I am especially grateful to Paul









Other social theorists whose work has, I think, a similar significance
include Norbert Elias, Marcel Mauss, and iargaret Mead (see Bibliography). Philosophically, the most important contribution is perhaps
Mer leau-Ponty’s in Phenomenology of Perception.

My account of Foucault omits consideration of how his quasiNietzschean ‘genealogy’ differs from other forms of ‘critique’. On this
issue see Smart, especially Ch. ~.

Here, as throughout, I rely mainly on my own readings of Discipline and
Punish, The History of Sexuality, Vol. I, and the essays collected in
Power /Knowledge. But see also Dews, Dreyfus and Robinson, and Smart.

On these var ious attempted ‘syntheses’ by Reich, Marcuse, Roheim, and
others, see e.g. Robinson, Sedgwick, Poster, and Weeks.

Here I ignore the complexities surrounding Foucault’s (various) ‘periodisations’ of history, and adopt the rather loose concept of ‘modernity’.

(Judging from reviews of Vols. 2 and 3 (in French) of The History of
Sexuality, it seems that Foucault may have changed his view in Vol. I
about the ‘modernity’ of ‘sexuality’.)
This is a very simplified account of Foucault’s view of the relations
between ‘discourses’ and ‘practices’, even restricting oneself to his
1970s writings. On this issue, see e.g. Dreyfus and Robinson. Note, in
particular, that I do not mean by ‘discursive practice’, the practice of
‘discourse’ as distinct frOm other, non-discursive practices.

Note that the work cited in theBibliography, The Function of the
Orgasm, from which the quotations that follow are taken, is not a
translation of the 1927 Die Funktion des Orgasmus but a quite distinct
work of intellectual autobiography published (in translation) in 19~2.

There is no English translation of the unrevised 1927 text. Nonetheless,
the passages I quote from FO are restricted to those which, as far as I
can judge, accurately reflect Reich’s theoretical position in the late
1920s. Similar remarks apply to my quotations from the third, 19~9 edition of CA, in relation to the first, 1933/~ edition.

The metapsychology of Freud’s instinct theories has been variously
interpreted. Ay view on this is presented in Chapter ~ of The Politics
of Social Theory, which includes some relevant bibliographical material.

On the autonomic nervous system, and its relation to the ‘voluntary’

system controlling the skeletal musculature, see any standard work on
the human nervous system, such as Noback and Demarest, upon which I
have relied at various points in what follows.

On Reich’s later work, see e.g. Boadella, Rycroft, and Sharaf. From my
standpoint, there is a crucial theoretical ‘break’ around 193~-5, with his
proclaimed exper imental discovery of ‘bions’, to be followed by ‘or gone
energy’, the construction and sale of ‘orgone accumulators’, and his
eventual death in prison in 1957.

Sympathetic commentators include Boadella, and Sharaf. His most sophisticated critic is perhaps ,1itchell. All three tend to assume what I am
rejecting here; whilst Rycroft only partly avoids it, since he ties
vegeto-therapy to ‘the orgasm reflex’. By far the best and most discriminating brief account of Reich’s work is the article by Edwards.

There is, in any case, a flaw in Reich’s neurophysiology here: he
assumes a probably non-existent ‘linkage’ between the autonomic and
voluntary sub-systems (see note 9 above; and Rycroft, Chapter 5).

Here, as throughout, I ignore the complexities in the conceptualisation
of ‘the biological’, ‘the innate’, ‘the instinctual’, etc: on this, see e.g.

Reynolds, passim. On some general problems with energy models, in psychoanalysis, see e.g. my discussion in The Politics of Social Theory,
Chapter ~.

Unfortunately, Reich’s own main attempt to use his theory of
character-formation in relation to historically specific social structures,
viz. The Mass Psychology of Fascism, hardly engages with the bodily
aspects of character-armouring.

Two interesting accounts of gendered bodily differences are Connell,
and Young. Examples of the normal tendency to identify. bodily with
biological differences are Nicholson, Chapter 2, and Reynolds, Part Ill.

For anthropological material on significant bodily differences that do
not obviously map on to the ‘repressive v. non-repressive’ dichotomy,
see e.g. lyIead, Part Two. Another fruitful area to consider would be
the differences between various contemporary dance techniques Graham, Laban, Cunningham, etc.


An obvious problem is Foucault’s almost exclusive reliance on the dicta
of ‘the disciplinarians’ as distinct from ‘the disciplined’ – though of
course this is only a problem for a realist reading of DP. For an excellent discussion of the corresponding problems with Foucault’s earlier
work on the history of ‘madness’, see Sedgwick, Chapter 5.

18 The so-called ‘British Foucauldians’, such as Heath, and Weeks, seem
often to endorse the kind of discursive-constructionist ‘reading’ of
Foucault which I am here opposing. Dreyfus and Robinson argue that
there was a major shift away from this in Foucault’s work in the 1970s.

Boadella, David, Wilhelm Reich: The Evolution of His Work, Contemporary
Books, Chicago, 1973.

Connell, R. W., ‘Men’s Bodies’, in Which Way is Up?, Alien &: Unwin, London,

Dews, Peter, ‘Power and Subjectivity in Foucault’, New Left Review, No.

I~~, 198~, pp. 72-95.

Dreyfus, Hubert and Rabinow, Paul, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism
and Hermeneutics, Harvester Press, Brighton, 1982.

Edwards, Paul, ‘Wilhelm Reich’, in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, ed. P.

Ewards, Macmillan and The Free Press, New York, 1967, Vol. 7.

J:lias, Norbert, The Civilizing Process, Vol. I: The History of Manners (trans.

E. Jephcott), Blackwell, Oxford, 1978.

Foucault, Michel, Discipline and Punish (1975), (trans. A. Sheridan), Penguin
Books, Harmondsworth, 1979.

The History of Sexuality, Vol. I (1976), (trans. R. Hurley), Penguin
Books, Harmondsworth, 1978.

‘The History of Sexuality’ (1977), (trans. L
Marshal!), in
Power/Knowledge, Ch. 10.

‘Power and Norms’, in D. F. Bouchard (ed.), Michel Foucault: Language,
Counter-Memory, Practice, Blackwell, Oxford, 1977.

Power /Knowledge, ed. C. Gordon, Harvester Press, Hassocks, 1980.

‘Truth and Power’ (c. 1977), (trans. C. Gordon), in Power/Knowledge,
Ch. 6.

Heath, Stephen, The Sexual Fix, Macmillan, London, 1982.

Keat, Russell, The Politics of Social Theory, Blackwell Oxford; and
University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1981.

1auss, Marcel, ‘The Techniques of the Body’ (trans. Ben Brewster), Economy
and Society, 2, pp. 70-88.

Mead, Margaret, Male and Female, Pelican Books, Harmondsworth, 1962.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Phenomenology and Perception (trans. C. Smith),
Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1962.

Mitchell, Juliet, Psychoanalysis and Feminism, .Penguin Books,
Harmondsworth, 1975.

Nicholson, John, Men and Women, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 198~.

Noback, Charles R. and Demarest, Robert J., The Nervous System,
McGraw-Hill, New York, 1972.

Poster, Mark, Foucault, Marxism and History, Polity Press, Cambridge, 198~.

Reich, Wilhelm, Character Analysis (1st edn. 1933/~), 3rd edn. (l9~8), (trans.

V. R. Carfagno), Pocket Books, New York, 1976.

‘Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis’ (I st edn. 1929), 2nd edn.

(l93~), in Sex-Pol, ed. L. Baxandall, Vintage Books. New York, 1972.

The FunctIOri()f the Orgasm (l9~2), (trans. V. R. Carfagno), Pocket
Books, New York, 1975.

‘The Imposition of Sexual Morality’ (1st edn. 1933), 2nd edn. (1935), in
Sex-Pol, op. cit.

“‘i’heMass Psychology of Fascism (1st edn. 1933), 3rd edn. (l9~2), (trans.

V. P. Cargagno), Souvenir Press, London, 1972.

The Sexual Revolution (I st edn. 19 30), ~th edn. (l9~9), (trans. T.

Wolfe), Vision Press, London, 1972.

Reynolds, Vernon, The Biology of Human Action, W. H. Freeman &: Co.,
Oxford and San Francisco, 1980.

Robinson, Paul, The Sexual Radicals, Paladin, London, 1972.

Rycroft, Charles, Reich, Fontana!Collins, London, 1971.

Sedgwick, Peter, PSYCl10 Politics, Pluto Press, London, 1982.

Sharaf, Myron, Fury on Earth: A Biography of Wilhelm Reich, Hutchinson,
London, 198~.

Smart, Barry, Foucault, Marxism and Critigue, Routledge and Kegan Paul,
London, 1983.

Weeks, Jetfrey, Sex, Politics and Society, Longman, London and New York,

Young, Iris Marion, ‘Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine
Bodily Comportment, Motility and Spatiality’, Human Studies, Vol. 3,

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