In this essay I will
critically analyse and compare the extracts from Foucault’s “Scientia Sexualis”
and Said’s “Orientalism” to explain the context of both theories and argue
their credibility.

begin, both of the theories function primarily through discursive fields which embed
illusory “knowledge’s” into our societies. The quote from Foucault’s extract: “the
discourse on sex has been multiplied rather than rarefied” explains how the controlled discourse
on sexuality communicates from one viewpoint and finds evidence to validate this
perspective and turn it into a dominant ideology. The discourse on sex as
something that needs to be controlled began in the Victorian era when the need
to categorise became more overt than previous epochs. The era experienced a
growth of anxieties surrounding “gender
roles, promiscuity and sexuality in general”1 which justified sexual restraints. As a result,
sexuality became regulated and was accepted only as a tool of reproduction.

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This relates to Foucault’s claim: “the conjugal family took custody of
sexuality and absorbed it into the serious function of reproduction”2.

Thus, sex became a taboo topic which repressed subjects through silence. Because
sexuality was linked to fertility it imposed heteronormative attitudes which
implied that individuals should only pursue relationships with the opposite
gender to procreate and this entrenched the nuclear family as the backbone of
society. This persists in contemporary culture and heteronormativity is a
dominant ideology that has taught subjects that heterosexuality occupies the
‘norm’. Heteronormativity permeates most aspects of society and it’s the most
obvious way in which we view the world. This is shown in the way that we assume
all individuals are heterosexual until they ‘come out’. The requirement embeds
the idea that non-heterosexuality is aberrant as it needs to be publically
confessed. These enforced norms become more deep-rooted when they are
perpetuated in cultural images – for example: advertisements – as it presents
the heterosexual, pro-creative couple as a dominant model3
and the ‘natural’ way to live. This furthers what Foucault’s extract refers to
as the “solidification and implantation” of certain ways of thinking as most individuals are influenced by
the societal images and constructs surrounding them and conform to the ‘ideal’
to be accepted.

Similarly, the discourse of the Orient in
Said’s theory is a series of cultural and political images which are multiplied
to support the ideology that the West is superior to the East. The extract
claims that the field of Orientalism has a
“cumulative and corporate identity” and
this means that the study of the Orient is systemically constructed and
confirmed through traditional fields of academic learning within history,
culture and art. Because writings of the Orient have been produced by
intellectuals –  such as scientists and anthropologists’
– they are concealed under the guise of educational specialisation and society
accepts it as truth as it appears valid. Furthermore, missionaries, traders, soldiers
and travel writers also added to this orientalist discourse meaning that the
“knowledge’s” about the Orient built upon previous expertise’s and developed
them from the same perspective. Thus, the cumulative material – reinforced by
institutions such as: governments, universities – seem to provide rational
evidence for their standpoint. This relates to Said’s element of the extract: “the
result for Orientalism has been a sort of consensus: certain things, certain
types of work have seemed for the Orientalist correct”.  Because the Orientalists built upon aspects of
information they agreed with they distorted the academic field and reality as it
only offered a one-way discourse which has been used to benefit the sorts of
people that write about it: middle-class, white, Occident males.

Moving on, the concept of a biased ‘expert’
intelligence is comparable in Foucault’s extract. It claims that “science
subordinated in the main to the imperatives of a morality whose divisions it
reiterated under the guise of a medical norm”. This means that the
medico-scientific establishment enforced the ideology that heterosexuality is
biologically determined which generated conflicts towards non-heterosexuality. Throughout
history homosexuality has existed but it wasn’t recognised as a category until
the early 1900’s. It could be argued that when homosexuality could not be ignored
both the terms heterosexuality and homosexuality were socially constructed in
order to create a distinction between the two so they could be defined against
each other. Saraga argued that “(…) the sexologists were classifying and
distinguishing between many different forms of non-procreative sex, described
variously as ‘perversions’ and ‘deviations’4. Medical
professionals documenting non-heterosexuality as perverse meant that society was
taught that it was abnormal. The concept of the ‘normal’ within a culture
requires the presence of the ‘abnormal’, thus the solidification of
heteronormative attitudes was ostensible. Scherer further develops the negative
portrayal of homosexuality under the medical gaze with his claim:  “Homosexual sex was described as breaching
the proper biological function and purpose of body parts (…)”5.

The fact that homosexuality is non-procreative develops the concept that it’s
biologically aberrant and the interchange between the academic – which Foucault
describes as: “rarefied and neutral” – and reality made this case

The span of knowledge gathered in
Orientalism contrasts to Foucault as the hegemonic discourse is seen in a dispersed
sphere, from academic studies to political speeches and voyager writings in the

As well as this, other mediums like art have been used to recognise the East.

The theory suggests that there’s no set ‘truth’ but only representations. This
is a more discrete way of exercising power as the Occident defines the Orient
through stereotypes perpetuated in a range of different associations and uses
these stereotypes as a model on how they should be treated. This juxtaposes to Foucault’s
theory which works primarily through the “discourse of scholars and theoreticians” as
opposed to other forms like art and design.

Moving on, comparable to the categories
of heterosexual and homosexual the Orient only exists as an image by which the Occident
is contrasted to and this discourse enables Western self-recognition. Said’s extract
claims that “Being a White Man, in short, was a very concrete manner of
being-in-the world, a way of taking hold of reality, language and thought”. The
 self-recognition of the West is distorted
and depends on the fantasies of the East and this results in it regarding
itself as: civilised, developed and powerful which is defined against the
misrepresentation of the East as irrational, backward, depraved and aberrant7.

The development of the field began with the goal of Western power in mind and
the illusion that the Occident is intrinsically superior to the Orient has
approved pursuits such as: enslavement, imperialism and colonisation. In
contemporary society we still have an apologetic stance towards European
colonialism and other forms of imperialism8
which highlights the prevailing power of discourse.

Building upon this, Orientalism also
functions through the process of Othering individuals from “inferior”
geographical locations and viewing them as commodities or subhuman. These
manifested differences work within a framework that’s conscious of its objective
of subordination and this is what Said means when he claims that: “The
relationship between the Occident and Orient is a relationship of power, of
domination, of varying degrees of a complex hegemony”9.

Because Orientalism is from the perspective of the West there’s no
counter narrative that can disprove the knowledge’s that have been embedded.

These ‘knowledge’s’ aren’t an accurate reflection of reality as – due to the
influence of power – it digresses from neutrality but is deemed ‘legitimate’ as
it’s concealed under the semblance of impartiality. This results in
Eurocentrism, which is a worldview centered on and biased towards Western

This still functions in society as we accept the Western-enteric map, which alludes
an imagined centrality of Europe and Britain and isn’t truthful about it’s minute
size. In doing this, the perceived importance of Eurocentric values is
proliferated, which ‘justifies’ their domination over the rest of the world.

This supports

the idea that the ways the world is understood is the
product of discourse as opposed to the culture being inherently ordered.

The fact that Said’s theory comments on
the repressive power the West has over cultures whose location is different to
it makes it contrast to Foucault. The ‘knowledge’ is produced from an outsider
perspective as opposed to Foucault who comments on the subordination of certain
types of sexuality within an existing culture where the knowledge is produced
about it and directly from it. The fact that the discourse on sexuality is
produced from an insider perspective means that it claims to defend the
‘interests’ of it’s own civilisation and culture. This is highlighted in the
element of the extract claiming that prohibited sexuality was deemed “dangerous
for the whole of society (…)”. This element of mass panic produces a
normalising gaze which subjects can regulate themselves to; making them watch
and control each others behaviour in order to conform. This notion prevails in contemporary
society as there’s still homophobic attitudes towards non-heterosexuals and
this means that, separate from state power, ordinary people are telling others
what isn’t acceptable. This means that Said’s theory understands power as solid
and highlights that there is agency (the West) that holds colonial powers over
the East. This conflicts with Foucault who implies that as well as
institutional power cultural subjects also regulate themselves because they
conform to the ‘norm’ relating to the ‘truth’ which “stirred up people’s fears”.

Moving on, a power structure is evident
in Foucault’s theory through the extension of “taboos and prohibitions”.

Subjects were expected to regulate themselves in terms of ‘deviant’ and
‘non-deviant’ behaviour and the law system additionally regulated them. The law
is persistently involved in our perceptions of morality and the fact that
homosexual acts, whether in the public or private space, were illegal during
the nineteenth century established this idea of criminality. Punishing
non-heterosexuals could’ve been enforced because it threatened the dominance of
the patriarchy. The fact that homosexuality wasn’t recognised for women in this
era conveys its influence as it was unthought of that females would desire a
relationship outside of males and reproduction. Wintemute argued that
“Recognising homosexual couples thus implies recognising men as the passive, or
penetrated, partners in sex (…)”11
The influence of the patriarchy relies on ‘evidence’ that men are the superior
gender and therefore they need to conform to traditional masculine traits such
as: confidence, rationality and assertiveness. Due to homosexuality’s forced silence
these individuals could be perceived as lacking in confidence and furthermore, if
sodomy is related to passivity and is deemed irrational because it doesn’t
pro-create this has implications. If men were expected to use their advantage to
permeate the public space and control their women to look after the private
space, if they deviated from these relationships they disobeyed this prospect. Therefore,
the hierarchical placement of men would be disrupted; which could be why sexuality
was viewed as something that needed to be controlled.

In conclusion, it could be argued that
both Foucault and Said share the same theoretical concerns as they present power
as formed from the institution which uses knowledge as the agency of power.

They suggest that power structures influence how truthful an idea is and shapes
the canons of tastes and values; making them more persuasive. In terms of
credibility they could be critiqued for lacking validity as they write in a
rhetorical tone but provide no statistical evidence. In Said’s extract he
claims that: “Orientalism can thus be regarded as a manner of regularised writing,
vision and study”, yet he doesn’t provide any reference to the type of
writing he discusses. I believe his argument would be stronger if he included examples
of Orientalist writing that readers could identify as artificial
misrepresentations, thus educating themselves further on the matter. Similarly,
parts of Foucault’s extract have an element of inconsistency as “By
speaking about it so much” juxtaposes with “given its inability or refusal
to speak of sex itself”.  If he argues that the discourse on sexuality
is used as a way to subordinate certain individuals claiming there was a
refusal to speak of sex becomes unreliable. In his extract he refers to the
fact that scientists presented non-heterosexuality as perverse, so it seems
hesitant that he claims that society refused to speak about sex. It’s also
important to recognise that Said was born in 1935 and Foucault 1926, meaning
they weren’t alive in the periods they discuss. This means that they could only
make educated assumptions based on their prior knowledge which also has consequences
for validity.



1 Sean
Purchase, Key Concepts in Victorian Literature (Basingstoke:
Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) p.6

2 Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality (New York:
Pantheon Books 1978) p.3

3 Michel Foucault, ibid. p.3

4 Esther Saraga, Embodying the
Social: Constructions of Difference (London: Routledge 1998) p.175


5 Burkhard Scherer, Queering Paradigms Volume
1 (Bern:
Peter Lang, 2009) p.202

6 Dr. Fatih Varol, Edward
Said Vs Michel Foucault: The Divergence of Perspectives on Knowledge, Truth and
Power (Ankara University: 2017)


7 Ensieh Shabanirad,
Edward Said’s Orientalism and the
Representation of Oriental Women in George Orwell’s Burmese Days
(University of Tehran: 2015)




8 Jeffrey
N. Wasserstrom. Eurocentrism and Its Discontents. (2001) Available:

Accessed 14th Jan 2018


9 Edward Said,
Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books, 1978) p.5


10 John Hobson, The Eurocentric Conception of World Politics, (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 2012) p.185


11 Robert
Wintemute, Legal Recognition of Same-sex
Partnerships (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2001) p.400