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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Sujaya Dhanvantari, Humanities

Beauvoir, Fanon, and the Existential Ethics of Liberation: An Anticolonial Inheritance for New Revolutions

Date & time

Friday, October 25, 2019
2 p.m. – 5 p.m.


This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Mary Appezzato


J.W. McConnell Building
1400 De Maisonneuve Blvd. W. Room LB 362

Wheelchair accessible


When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


Beauvoir, Fanon, and the Existential Ethics of Liberation investigates existential theories of liberation to provide an ethics for contemporary revolutionary movements. Existential humanism must now be mobilized for its politico-ethical critique, despite the many posthumanist critiques. Post-WWII liberation struggles were oriented by existential humanism and ethics, which offer important guidelines for the conduct of today’s liberation struggles. Yet, Beauvoir’s ethics and its linkage to Fanon’s anticolonial philosophy remain undertheorized. I argue that examining Beauvoir’s understanding of liberation in terms of her ethics and putting Fanon’s view of anticolonial liberation into the context of Beauvoir’s ethics can help to rethink liberation for today.

My account traces the concept of liberation via existential humanism across their works. I draw out a dialogical relation between Beauvoir and Fanon to show their critical intersections vis-à-vis liberation. I argue that Fanon redeploys Beauvoir’s concept of authoritarian seriousness to critique colonial power; mobilizes Beauvoir’s legitimation of revolutionary violence to argue for violent action against the colonizer; and, finally, advances Beauvoir’s concept of intersubjectivity to open up the question of the human beyond colonization. Yet, I claim, Fanon implicitly critiques Beauvoir for neglecting the colonized other’s agency. Fanon offers another concept of liberation, in which the colonized becomes instrumental to the goal of resisting the colonial permutations of oppressive power.

Following both existentialist thinkers, who account for concrete realities to substantiate ethical action, I develop an ethics attentive to the lived experience of the oppressed. In so doing, I demonstrate that their concepts of oppression, revolution and freedom provide possible historical and critical resources for interpreting contemporary social and political crises. In order to address violent ontologies, liberation must today be thought in relation to the resurgence of violence, the recurrence of oppressive power, and the longue durée of colonial racism. Drawing attention to the urgency of ethics, Beauvoir, Fanon, and the Existential Ethics of Liberation shows that existential humanism comprises an anticolonial inheritance for radical black politics, feminism, environmental justice, and anti-fascist and anti-capitalist movements.

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