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Experimentation, Authority and Situation in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex

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posted on 12.12.2019, 23:27 by Emma McNicol
In this thesis I read Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex through the lens of her early (and only recently published) writing on Claude Bernard’s experimental approach. In the 1924 essay “Analysis of Claude Bernard’s Introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine,” Beauvoir endorses Bernard’s critique of “theoretical authority” and certain elements of his experimental approach. The Second Sex redeploys this early criticism of theoretical authority and valorisation of experimentation to produce a critique of patriarchal authority. Throughout The Second Sex, Beauvoir develops distinct experimental literary-philosophical strategies, namely a “proliferation” and “reintroduction” of perspectives, ideas and sources. She uses these strategies to expose the ways in which patriarchal traditions construct and maintain essentialist definitions of women. For Beauvoir, these traditions transmit oppressive definitions of women through two distinct though interrelated levels: (1) through “mythic” inscriptions of femininity in literary and philosophical canons; and (2) through essentialist determinations of women’s social role (women’s “situation”). In tracing this trajectory, this thesis contributes to contemporary scholarly attempts to excavate the distinctness of Beauvoir’s philosophical enterprise.


Principal supervisor

Alison Ross

Additional supervisor 1

Christopher Watkin

Additional supervisor 2

Stella Sandford

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre



Master of Arts

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

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