Sartre, Fanon, and de Beauvoir: Politics, Existential Ethics, Gender, and Colonialism under the Lens of Twentieth-Century French Philosophy

Restricted (Penn State Only)
Nya, Nathalie Yonga
Graduate Program:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 19, 2014
Committee Members:
  • Kathryn Teresa Gines, Dissertation Advisor
  • Kathryn Teresa Gines, Committee Chair
  • Robert Lambert Bernasconi, Committee Member
  • Shannon Wimberley Sullivan, Committee Member
  • politics
  • existential ethics
  • gender
  • race
  • sartre
  • de beauvoir
  • fanon
ABSTRACT I argue that despite the advancement in Sartre and Fanon’s works on French colonial philosophy, a thesis such as mine that attempts to describe and analyze the gender dynamics within French colonial and intellectual history cannot unfold without the serious consideration of de Beauvoir’s body of work, even if her inclusion is only mentioned as a form of criticism. In addition to presenting the work of de Beauvoir, I include the works of Sartre and Fanon in my thesis because I find them to be just as important as de Beauvoir for my studies. Through their writings, I present three distinct arguments. The first chapter, which mostly covers the work of Sartre, argues that while Sartre’s analysis on French colonialism portrayed the colonial system as racist and un-freeing, what his analysis had to offer to the condition of both colonized women and female “colons” was very limiting. In the second chapter, in which I supplement Sartre’s view on the Manichean nature of the colonial system, I present the views of Fanon in order to claim that the subject position of women within the colonial system was just as important to acknowledge as the subject position of colonized men and male colonizers. Next I turn to the colonial situation of women colonizer and colonized women, in the third chapter. Here I include the gender and racial analyses of de Beauvoir in order to present an alternative position to and a female perspective on the subjects of Fanon and Sartre’s inquiries. In the third chapter then, I argue for the inclusion of the feminist perspective — of de Beauvoir’s perspective in particular—to Colonial/Post-colonial Studies. In these three main chapters, I examine the following topics: (1) I show how each thinker understands the political development of colonialism as it affects politics. I explain how the colonial system affects the possibility of freedom and political rights within the system. Then I look at how the theoretical focus on colonialism affects the concept of human freedom within the philosophy of Sartre, Fanon, and de Beauvoir. (2) Along with my analysis of the political development of the colonial system, I examine the structure of the colonial system as it relates to the problems of reciprocity and to the problems of racial, gender, and sexual alterities. As a part of this analysis, I address the following questions: How does the colonial system subjugate and affect the relations between the colonized and the colonizer? How do such relations affect the racialization process and the gender dynamics within the colonial system? How does the colonial depiction of these thinkers either include or exclude women? (3) Finally, since the body of my thesis will focus on war and colonialism, I will examine the concept of violence in the thinking of Sartre, Fanon and de Beauvoir. The ethical and political concepts of freedom and violence will be presented in the body of my thesis. Thus, it will be through the concepts of violence and freedom that my analysis on ethics (on existential ethics more specifically) will be developed. I conclude and show that de Beauvoir, like Sartre and Fanon is an important colonial thinker who can contribute to the theoretical studies of French colonialism, especially during the last stages of French colonialism; from post World War II until the end of the Algerian War (1945-1962).