André and Simone Schwartz-Bart, 1967, by Georges Kelaïdites.
“Race” and “Sex”: Entangled conceptual histories, 1945-1968
278 :  Intellectual History
Spring 2024
Class No: 32934
William Burton
1:00 PM - 4:00 PM

In this research seminar, the students and professor will work together on elements of a conceptual history of “race” and “sex” in the period 1945–68. During these years, women across the French Empire gradually gained the right to vote (1944–58); the Second World War and the Holocaust ended (1945); the First Indochinese War took place (1945–54); and the Algerian Revolution began (1954). Both alongside and in the aftermath of these events, the concepts of race and sex underwent complex and interrelated rearticulations: these will be our object of study. Our focus will fall primarily on the pre-May 68 development of social-constructionist accounts (as opposed to essentialist ones). The first weeks of the seminar will be devoted to an introduction to the methods and problems of concept history, and then some general scholarship on the history of “race” and “sex.” Then we will read some text-moments selected for their importance or interest. These readings range across the fields of literature, philosophy, politics, and science, permitting us to see the mutations of our concepts across intellectual space-time. They represent a fraction of what our corpus could include; students will be encouraged to expand the scope through independent research as well.

Assignments will include two reading responses and a term paper. One goal of the reading responses will be to reconstruct the primary argument(s) of the author; their form is open (close reading, précis, or other). Reading responses will be due several days before class so everyone can read them and discuss. The term paper can be hermeneutic/interpretative and/or research-based. Students will briefly present their project for feedback during the last seminar meeting.

The class will take place in French, unless there is significant interest from non-francophone students, in which case we will make alternatives arrangements. Most (but not all) of the readings are available in English.


Jean-Paul Sartre, Réflexions sur la question juive (1946)

Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (1947) and Discours sur le colonialisme (1950)

Simone de Beauvoir, Le Deuxième Sexe (1949)

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949) and Race et histoire (1952)

Octave Mannoni, Psychologie de la colonisation (1950)

Jacques Lacan, “La signification du phallus” (Écrits) (1958)

Albert Memmi, Portrait du colonisé, précédé du Portrait du colonisateur, with pref. by Sartre (1957) 

Nathalie Sarraute, Le Planétarium (1959)

Frantz Fanon, Les Damnés de la terre, with pref. by Sartre (1961)

André & Simone Schwartz-Bart, Un plat de porc aux bananes vertes (1967)

Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères (1969)

Colette Guillaumin, L’Idéologie raciste (1972)