Simone De Beauvoir: New Perspectives for the 21st Century
June 3-4, 2021, Leuven, Institute of Philosophy
Organizers: Ashika Singh (KUL), Julia Jansen (KUL), Karen Vintges (UvA), Liesbeth Schoonheim (KUL)
Keynote: Qrescent Mali Mason (Haverford), Jennifer McWeeny (Worcester Polytechnic Institute)
Scientific Committee: Sophie Withaeckx (Maastricht), Chia Longman (U Gent), Maren Wehrle (EUR), Nathalie Grandjean (U Namur), Grâce Ndjako (UvA), Michiel Leezenberg (UvA)
Recent years have witnessed a revival and renewed interest in the philosophical and personal writings of Simone de Beauvoir. Yet, few studies have exposed how her political commitments have shaped her writing as well as her public interventions: existentialism, Marxism, anti- colonialism and, finally feminism. This conference, starting from Beauvoir’s social and political engagement, asks to what extent she provides important tools to understand major political events of the 21st Century. Examples include, but are by no means limited to the rise of the new far-right and other forms of extremism; the growth in prominence of the Black Lives Matter movement; and the responses to the recent Covid-19 pandemic. What we want to discover, in particular, is whether De Beauvoir continues to provide us with a conceptual and practical toolkit to respond to such events, to act in solidarity with those marginalized and in resistance to oppressive
In this endeavour, when the call for racial justice grows in global prominence because of the world-wide Black Lives Matter movement, it’s time to reflect on Beauvoir’s critical observations of anti-black racism in post-war U.S.A. (L’Amérique au jour le jour (1948)) and her public engagement with and in Algeria’s struggle for independence (“Préface”, Djamila Boupacha (1962)). Moreover, when living through a pandemic crisis that compounds socio- economic and political inequalities, we might find resonances with De Beauvoir’s critique of utilitarian thinking which persisted from her earliest fiction (Les bouches inutiles (1944)) to her later work on aging (La vieillesse (1970)).
That said, we must remain attentive to the socio-historical developments that distinguish her era from ours. By critically assessing her conceptual legacy along with her activism, we might ask if the existentialist concepts of responsibility and freedom can counter today’s neoliberal invocation of these terms that perpetuate the fiction of a self-sufficient agent; or, we might interrogate what Beauvoir’s qualified appraisal of Marxism and socialism might teach us in an era deprived of social utopias, of which the third way that most social-democratic parties opted for in the nineties is symptomatic; or, what her support for the anti-colonial struggle offers us in conceiving how to act in solidarity with post-colonial subjects who continue to suffer from exploitation, othering and marginalisation across the world; or, what we might learn from her participation in the women’s movement when resisting the rhetoric and political tactics of the alt-right and their renewed naturalisation of gender roles.
This conference aims, among other things, to connect Beauvoir’s life and legacy to ongoing debates in the phenomenological tradition, largely understood. For instance, how does Beauvoir’s social critique relate to critical phenomenology, which rethinks the lived experience of those situated at the margins of various axes of differences due to gender, race, class and ability (eg. Sara Ahmed, Linda Martín Alcoff, Gayle Salomon; Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, and Lisa Günther)? What often-neglected lines of influence can be exposed in her encounter with black existentialism (e.g. Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, bell hooks, Cornell West, and Lewis Gordon) and Arab existentialism (e.g. Abdur Rahman Badawi, Taha Husayn, Mahmoud Amin el-Alem)? How does Beauvoir’s appropriation of Marx compare to the materialist phenomenology of social theorists (e.g. Pierre Bourdieu, Joan Scott, and Lois McNay)?
We invite submissions that draw on Simone de Beauvoir’s writings and activism in combination with insights from other activists and philosophers, and from scholarly fields such as critical phenomenology, post-colonial and feminist studies, intellectual history, (French) social theory, and literary studies.
A non-exhaustive list of topics includes:
– Phenomenological accounts of anti-black racism and BLM;
– Covid-19 and phenomenological approaches to the intersection of social inequality and physical vulnerability;
– Existentialism and critiques of the neoliberal subject on freedom and responsibility;
– Feminism and international solidarity;
– Critical phenomenology and the status of lived experience;
– Beauvoir and her contemporaries (e.g. Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison) on anti-colonial struggles for independence;
– Beauvoir on Marxism and socialism;
– Social critique and different genres of texts, such as (auto)biography, fiction, poetry, travel reports, philosophical essay and exposés drawing on the social sciences;
– Diverse lineages of existentialism and Beauvoir’s travels to China, Egypt, and Brazil, amongst others;
– Politics and social suffering in Beauvoir’s (female) contemporaries in
the phenomenological tradition, such as Simone Weil and Hannah Arendt;
– Representations of Beauvoir in pop culture (film, literature) and the
narrative construction of identity;
– Beauvoir’s position in debates on second wave feminism and its relation to third wave feminism (and beyond).
Please upload an anonymized abstract at
https://hiw.kuleuven.be/ripple/events/de-beauvoir/cfp by January 30, 2021
for a presentation of 20 minutes.
The results will be communicated by February 20.We can provide a limited number of small travel grants (PhD students and independent scholars only). Please indicate in your submission if you wish to apply for this grant. We closely monitor the pandemic situation and will develop a back-up plan in case travel restrictions will still be in place by June.