Public debate

Elsa Dorlin

Feminism aims to revolutionize society.

From her first works on gender to her recent history of violence, philosopher Elsa Dorlin advocates a practical feminism based on social struggles that combat both sexism and racism.

Published on 24/04/2019

2 min

A contemporary philosopher and feminist, Elsa Dorlin embodies a generation of young thinkers who demand reflection which is practical and combative. Her philosophy PhD thesis, defended in 2004, focused on medical justifications for gender inequalities in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Primarily a senior lecturer on the history of philosophy and the history of science at the Paris-1 University, she has taught political and social philosophy since 2011 at Paris-8.

Her main research focuses on the creation of modern sexism and racism from historical, philosophical and epistemological perspectives. A large-scale work recognized in 2009 by a bronze medal from the National Centre for Scientific Research.

Continuing the research she began during her PhD thesis, in 2008 Elsa Dorlin published The Race Matrix. Sexual and Colonial Genealogy of the French Nation (“La Matrice de la race. Généalogie sexuelle et coloniale de la nation française”) in which she analyses the construction of the concept of "race" through representations of women, whose bodies were considered “sick” by physicians in the 17th century.

In Sex, Gender and Sexuality: Introduction to Feminist Theory (“Sexe, genre et sexualité : introduction à la théorie féministe”), published the same year, she questions the normalisation of "biological sex" in light of feminist theories of the last 40 years.

A politically-engaged philosopher and feminist, she elucidated a lineage of political self-defence in Defending Yourself. A Philosophy of Violence (“Se défendre. Une philosophie de la violence”) (2017), whose critical reflections resonate with contemporary social struggles.

To consider the relationships of domination that exist in modern societies, philosopher Elsa Dorlin goes back to the studies of American naturalists and analyses their influence on the emergence of the Western Nation, born from the ashes of slavery and colonisation. This historical perspective leads her to examine contemporary thinking from around the world, such as the post-colonialism of thinker Frantz Fanon from Martinique and the feminist theory of American philosopher Judith Butler.

In the wake of these intellectual resistances, Elsa Dorlin justifies the forms of defence used by minorities against the so-called “legitimate” violence of the dominant authorities, from the Warsaw ghetto insurgency to queer patrols, including slave rebellions and the Black Panthers.

  • 2004


    Elsa Dorlin defends her history of philosophy PhD thesis “At the Nation’s Bedside: Sex, Race and Medecine (16th-17th centuries)” (“Au chevet de la Nation: sexe, race et médecine (XVIIe - XVIIIe siècle)”) under the supervision of Pierre-François Moreau.

  • 2005


    Elsa Dorlin is appointed as a senior lecturer at the Paris-1 University.

  • 2008


    Two of her seminal works are published: The Race Matrix. Sexual and Colonial Genealogy of the French Nation and Sex, Gender and Sexuality: Introduction to Feminist Theory.

  • 2009


    Elsa Dorlin receives the CNRS bronze medal for her research on gender.

  • 2017


    In Defending Yourself. A Philosophy of Violence, the philosopher develops a phenomenology of violence based on the concept of self-defence.

The Institut français and the intellectual

Elsa Dorlin is part of “New French Intellectual Arenas” supported by the Institut français.


A speaker at the 2018 Night of Ideas, she also participated in the “Thought Workshops” organised in October 2017 in Dakar with the support of the Institut français.


 In 2019, she will take part in the Night of Ideas in Washington.

L'institut français, LAB