Foucault's History of Sexuality, Volume I: Re-reading its Reproduction

Penelope Deutscher*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


This paper interrogates the status of the Malthusian couple and the policing and government of reproduction in the first volume of Foucault's History of Sexuality, Volume I (HS1), and the associated Collège de France lectures. Presented by Foucault as one of the four ‘strategic ensembles’ of the 18th century through which knowledge and power became centered on sex, what Foucault calls the socialization of procreative sexuality (HS1: 104) also constitutes a largely invisible hinge between the trajectories in HS1: biopolitics (vector of governmentality, management, administration and intensification of life) and sex (vector through which the repressive hypothesis is rejected). Particularly because it is one of the least discussed figures in Foucauldian commentary, my argument is that a reading of HS1 through the prism of its Malthusian couple produces unexpected results. A text that can be interpreted from the perspective of (a) its debate with psychoanalysis, or (b) its potential debate with those for whom sexual rights belong to a sexual subject, or (c) its status as a watershed text for biopolitical theory, enters into a fourth dialogue with the history of reproduction as politicized and biopoliticized, a problematic to date taken up most directly by Ann Stoler in Race and the Education of Desire. This allows for a revisiting of the complex relationship between the vectors of ‘sex’ and ‘life’ in HS1. Although reproductive sex, and reproductive life, are not the themes of the strongest importance in HS1, they serve as the invisible hinge at the interface of biopolitics and sex in HS1. Considering the status of reproductive life from this perspective becomes a departure point for reconsidering the reproductive woman, in her historical role as part of the problematized Malthusian couple and at the intersection of biopolitics and thanatopolitics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-137
Number of pages19
JournalTheory, Culture & Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Foucault
  • Malthusian
  • biopolitics
  • feminism
  • population
  • sexuality
  • women

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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