Drawing on Michel Foucault’s writings as well as the writings of feminist scholars bell hooks and Jane Gallop, this paper examines faculty–student sexual relations and the discourses and policies that surround them. It argues that the dominant discourses on professor–student sex and the policies that follow from them misunderstand the form of power that is at work within pedagogical institutions, and it examines some of the consequences that result from this misunderstanding. In Foucault’s terms, we tend to theorize faculty–student relations using a model of sovereign power in which people have or lack power and in which power operates in a static, stable, and exclusively top-down manner. We should, however, recognize the ways in which individuals in pedagogical institutions are situated within disciplinary and thus dynamic, reciprocal, and complex networks of power, as well as the ways in which the pedagogical relation may be a technique of the self and not only of domination. If we reconsider these relations in terms of Foucault’s accounts of discipline and technologies of the self, we can recognize that prohibitions on faculty—student sexual relations within institutions such as the university are productive rather than repressive of desire, and that such relations can be opportunities for development and not only for abuse. Moreover, this paper suggests that the dominant discourses on professor—student relations today contribute to a construction of professors as dangerous and students as vulnerable, which denies the agency of (mostly female) students and obscures the multiplicity of forms of sexual abuse that occur within the university context.
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