Evelyne Axell, Ice Cream

Is Sexual Liberation Possible? Freedom, Repression, and Capitalism

Instructor: Jeffrey Escoffier
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Is sexual “liberation” possible in a capitalist society? Or, is repression, beyond any political impediments to sexual freedom, an inescapable function of the structure of capitalism—of laboring, domestic reproduction, and commercialization? Can anything be done to improve the quality of sexual life in capitalist society? Or is sexual behavior simply a product of biological factors?

In this course, we will read an array of thinkers, both within and outside the psychoanalytic tradition, as we grapple with questions of sexuality, repression, social conditioning, and the meaning and possibility of sexual liberation in capitalist society. We’ll begin with Sigmund Freud, who, in his book Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, argued that sexuality was not merely a biological instinct, but a form of behavior shaped by family dynamics and other social forces. We’ll then turn to the writings of psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and Frankfurt School theorist Herbert Marcuse, who fused Freud and Karl Marx to delineate a vision of sexual freedom and the undercutting of the power of capitalism. Finally, we’ll turn to Michel Foucault, a critic of Freud, Reich, and Marcuse, for whom the advent of capitalist modernity, far from occasioning repression, in fact spelled “the proliferation of specific pleasures and the multiplication of disparate sexualities.” Does sexuality, as Foucault suggests, in fact dominate how we think of ourselves and others, and if so, are other modes possible? Are repression and a proliferating sexual discourse indeed incompatible? What might a politics of sexual liberation look like? Readings will be drawn from works by Sigmund Freud,  Wilhelm Reich, Herbert Marcuse, Michel Foucault, Barbara Ehrenreich, Juliet Mitchell, and Lauren Berlant.

Course Schedule

Wednesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
October 20 — November 10, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open

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