Algiers, French Algeria
|Alma mater||École Normale Supérieure|
|Institutions||University of Paris VIII|
|Theories of democracy, disagreement, visual aesthetics, "part of no part"|
Jacques Rancière (French: [ʁɑ̃sjɛʁ]; born 1940) is a Frenchphilosopher, Professor of Philosophy at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris VIII: Vincennes—Saint-Denis who came to prominence when he co-authored Reading Capital (1968), with the structuralist Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.
Life and work
Rancière contributed to the influential volume Reading Capital before publicly breaking with Althusser over his attitude toward the May 1968 student uprising in Paris; Rancière felt Althusser's theoretical stance did not leave enough room for spontaneous popular uprising.
Since then, Rancière has departed from the path set by his teacher and published a series of works probing the concepts that make up our understanding of political discourse, such as ideology and proletariat. He sought to address whether the working class in fact exists, and how the masses of workers that thinkers like Althusser referred to continuously enter into a relationship with knowledge, particularly the limits of philosophers' knowledge with respect to the proletariat. An example of this line of thinking is Rancière's book entitled Le philosophe et ses pauvres (The Philosopher and His Poor, 1983), a book about the role of the poor in the intellectual lives of philosophers.
More recently Rancière has written on the topic of human rights and specifically the role of international human rights organizations in asserting the authority to determine which groups of people, again the problem of masses, justify human rights interventions and even war.
Rancière's book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (original title Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l'émancipation intellectuelle, published in 1987) was written for educators and educators-to-be. Through the story of Joseph Jacotot, Rancière challenges his readers to consider equality as a starting point rather than a destination. In doing so, he asks educators to abandon the themes and rhetoric of cultural deficiency and salvation. Rather than requiring informed schoolmasters to guide students towards prescribed and alienating ends, Rancière argues that educators can channel the equal intelligence in all to facilitate their intellectual growth in virtually unlimited directions. The schoolmaster need not know anything (and may be ignorant). Rancière begins with the premises that all are of equal intelligence and that any collective educational exercise founded on this principle can provide the insights from which knowledge is constructed. He claims that the poor and disenfranchised should feel perfectly able to teach themselves whatever it is they want to know. Furthermore, anyone can lead, and the oppressed should not feel bound to experts or reliant on others for their intellectual emancipation.
Jacotot advocated the 'equality of intelligence' and claimed that an ignorant person could teach another ignorant person. Rancière developed this idea in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, saying that “there is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another ... whoever teaches without emancipating stultifies”.
In 2006, it was reported that Rancière's aesthetic theory had become a point of reference in the visual arts, and Rancière has lectured at such art world events as the Frieze Art Fair. Former French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal described Rancière as her favourite philosopher.
- Rancière's work in English translation
- Reading Capital (1968) (With Louis Althusser, Roger Establet, Pierre Macherey and Étienne Balibar - in the French original edition)
- “Reply to Levy”. Telos 33 (Fall 1977). New York: Telos Press.
- The Nights of Labor: The Workers' Dream in Nineteenth-Century France (1989) ISBN 0-87722-833-7.
- Nights of Labor
- The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (1987, tr. 1991) - ISBN 0-8047-1969-1.
- The Names of History: On the Poetics of Knowledge (1994) - This is a brief book, arguing for an epistemological critique of the methods and goals of the traditional study of history. It has been influential in the philosophy of history
- On the Shores of Politics (1995): ISBN 0-86091-637-5
- Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (1998) ISBN 0-8166-2844-0.
- Short Voyages to the Land of the People (2003): ISBN 0-8047-3682-0
- The Politics of Aesthetics: The Distribution of the Sensible, ed. and transl. by Gabriel Rockhill (2004): ISBN 978-0-8264-8954-8
- The Philosopher and His Poor, ed. Andrew Parker, co-trans. John Drury, Corinne Oster, and Andrew Parker (2004): ISBN 978-0-8223-3274-9
- The Future of the Image (2007): ISBN 1-84467-107-0
- Hatred of Democracy (2007): ISBN 978-1-84467-098-7
- The Aesthetic Unconscious (2009), transl., Debra Keates & James Swenson: ISBN 978-0-7456-4644-2
- The Emancipated Spectator (2010): ISBN 978-1-84467-343-8
- Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics (2010): ISBN 978-1-84706-445-5
- Chronicles of Consensual Times (2010), tr. by Steven Corcoran: ISBN 978-0-8264-4288-8
- The Politics of Literature (2011), tr. by Julie Rose: ISBN 978-0-7456-4531-5
- Staging the People: The Proletarian and His Double (2011), tr. by David Fernbach: ISBN 978-1-84467-697-2
- Althusser's Lesson (2011) - The first English translation of Rancière’s first book, in which he explores and begins to move beyond the thought of his mentor, Louis Althusser (tr. by Emiliano Battista) ISBN 978-1-4411-0805-0
- Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics (2011), tr. by James Swenson: ISBN 978-0-231-15103-0
- Mallarmé: The Politics of the Siren (2011), tr. by Steven Corcoran: ISBN 978-0-8264-3840-9
- Aisthesis: Scenes from the Aesthetic Regime of Art (2013), tr. by Zakir Paul: ISBN 978-1-78168-089-6
- Bela Tarr, the Time After (2013), tr. by Erik Beranek: ISBN 978-1937561154
- Modern Times (2017) : ISBN 978-953-7372-31-6 - 4 essays on temporality in art and politics, originally written in English
- A coffee with Jacques Rancière beneath the Acropolis (2018) Babylonia Journal
- Selected articles in English
- "Ten Theses on PoliticsTheory & Event 2001
- "Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?" The South Atlantic Quarterly, Volume 103, Number 2/3, Spring/Summer 2004, pp. 297–310
- "Is there a Deleuzian Aesthetics?" Tr. Radmila Djordjevic, Qui Parle?, Volume 14, Number 2, 2004, pp. 1–14
- Further reading
- The Lessons of Rancière. Samuel A. Chambers. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
- Jacques Rancière: An Introduction, by Joseph Tanke. (New York & London: Continuum, 2011).
- Jacques Rancière: Politics, History, Aesthetics. Eds. Phil Watts and Gabriel Rockhill. (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2009). Also includes an afterword by Rancière: "The Method of Equality: An Answer to Some Questions".
- Politica delle immagini. Su Jacques Rancière, ed. by Roberto De Gaetano (Cosenza: Pellegrini, 2011). Includes essays by Rancière.
- "Representation Against Democracy" Jacques Rancière on the French Presidential Elections, 2017
- "We Are Always Ignorant of our own Effects", Jacques Rancière interviewed by Pablo Bustinduy, in The Conversant, 2013
- "Democracy Means Equality", interview in Radical Philosophy
- Politics and Aesthetics, Jacques Ranciere interviewed by Peter Hallward, 2003
- Eurozine interview with Ranciere, 2006
- "Art Is Going Elsewhere. And Politics Has to Catch It", Jacques Rancière interviewed by Sudeep Dasgupta, 2008
- 'The Politics of Aesthetics': Jacques Rancière Interviewed by Nicolas Vieillescazes this interview piece was first posted: 12-01-09 at the website of Naked Punch
- , Jacques Rancière interviewed by Rye Dag Holmboe for The White Review
- "Aesthetics against Incarnation: An Interview by Anne Marie Oliver," Critical Inquiry, 2008
- (in French)"Jean-Luc Godard, La religion de l'art. Entretien avec Jacques Rancière" paru dans CinémAction, « Où en est le God-Art ? », n° 109, 2003, pp. 106–112, reproduit sur le site d'analyse L'oBservatoire (simple appareil).
- Jacques Rancière: Democracy, Equality, Emancipation in a Changing World at B-FEST (International Antiauthoritarian Festival of Babylonia Journal) 27/05/17, Athens
- Jacques Rancière Faculty Page at European Graduate School
- With and Around Jacques Rancière. Art and Research. Volume 2. No. 1. Summer 2008
- Thomas Campbell. Rancière's Lessons.
- Ben Davis. Jacques Rancière, The Politics of Aesthetics.artnet. Book Review. August 17, 2006.
- Audio Recordings of guest lectures given at U.C. Berkeley. February/March 2008
- Luka Arsenjuk. On Jacques Rancière. Eurozine, 1 March 2007
- (in Spanish) Adolfo Vásquez Rocca. Jacques Rancière; politics and aisthesis
- Eli Bornowsky. Notes on the Politics of Aesthetics. Fillip. Book Review. 2006
- Juha Suoranta (2010). Jacques Rancière on Radical Equality and Adult Education. The Encyclopaedia of Philosophy of Education
- (in French)"Jacques Rancière, l'indiscipliné". A special issue of the journal Labyrinthe, 2004 (in French)
- "Guantanamo, Justice, and Bushspeak: Prisoners of the Infinite", CounterPunch article (2002)
- Rancières view on Marx: The big bird promotes inequality. Katapult-Magazine. 11.05.2015
Gabriel Rockhill and Philip Watts (eds.) Duke University Press, Durham & London, 2009, viii+358pp., Paperback £16.99, Hardback £56.99, ISBN: 978-0822345060
In his contribution to this excellent edited volume, Alain Badiou situates the development of Jacques Rancière's thought in the intellectual milieu of 1960s France. The defining issue that had emerged in this context concerned the relation between intellectual authority and social action, that is, the problem of transmission of revolutionary experience. Badiou outlines how Rancière has engaged in a ‘struggle on two fronts’ in developing a response to this problem (41).
On one front, Rancière has struggled against a ‘scientific position that fetishized concepts’ (31). This was the basis of Ranciere's break with Althusser and the idea that social movements depend on intellectuals and the party to understand how to be emancipated. On this view, as Rancière puts it, the oppressed ‘are where they are because they don’t know where they are. And they don’t know why they are where they are because they are where they are’ (275). The role of the intellectual is to enlighten, through teaching, the masses what they do not know. In contrast, Rancière's concern is to understand the forms of knowledge produced by social movements that seek to ‘reframe common sense’ (277).
On the other front, Rancière has struggled against a ‘praxical position that fetishized action and the immediate ideas of its agents’ (31). Here, Rancière differentiates his approach from Negri and his valorization of the multitude. As Badiou puts its, ‘Rancière detaches politics from all its vitalistic identifications, maintains its status as a declaration, its discursive force’ (41). Rancière thus insists that the categories he employs are not ‘ontological determinations’ (287). Rather his approach ‘returns descriptions and methods to their status as weapons in a war between discourses’ (282).
Under the condition of a declared equality, ignorance is the point from which a new knowledge can be born.
Under the authority of an ignorant master, knowledge can be a space for equality (42).
Contrary to the scientific position, emancipation does not begin with knowledge of the true sources of oppression but rather ‘ “ignorance” of the logic of inequality’ (Rancière, 277). As such, the declaration of equality is a condition for the creation of a new configuration of knowledge and its transmission.
Yet, in contrast to the praxical position, equality has no ground in a ‘real’ political subject, a ‘truly vital energy’ that exists independently of the social order (Rancière cited by Citton, 130). Rather, equality is produced insofar as ‘the new configuration of knowledge brings about a space of equality that did not exist before’ (Badiou, 43). For Rancière (cited by Citton), ‘a political subject is a type of theatrical being, temporary and localized’ (130). For Negri, the constituted power of a social order is parasitic on the biopower of the multitude, implying that liberation of the multitude would mean overcoming constituted power once and for all. For Rancière the subject of action emerges from a torsion brought about by the presupposition of a universal equality (politics) and the particular forms of hierarchy inscribed within a given social order (police). As such, the political subject is constituted in its relation to the social order through staging a dissensus and, whereas politics can bring about transformation to a social order, there can be no final liberation from the police. Police is a condition of possibility for politics.
This book draws together 16 critical responses to Rancière's work, which emerged from conferences held at the University of Pittsburgh and the Centre Culturel International de Cerisy la Salle in 2005. The book is organized around Ranciere's contribution to history, politics and aesthetics and includes interventions from Étienne Balibar and Jean-Luc Nancy, among others, as well as a reply from Rancière himself. For the purpose of this review, I will highlight two outstanding essays, which constitute critical responses from each of the two fronts identified by Badiou. Whereas Peter Hallward (following Badiou) defends the importance of organization and authority in waging effective political struggle, Yves Citton suggests that the vitalism of the multitude provides a basis for understanding those less dramatic moments of resistance that Ranciere tends to neglect.
In his contribution that was previously published in New Left Review, Peter Hallward highlights three limits to Ranciere's conception of ‘anarchic equality’. First, Rancière's conception of politics refers only to sporadic and intermittent events and therefore fails to attend the role of political determination and the issue of strategic continuity in social struggles (111). Second, far from constituting a radical challenge, the dramatic political moments that Rancière valorizes may, in fact, be easily accommodated by the liberal constitutional state and the society of the spectacle (152-155). Third, while Rancière provides a persuasive account of the enthusiasm that often accompanies and inspires political action, he ignores questions of organization, requiring knowledge, skill and mastery that make political action effective (155-157).
In an intriguing essay, Yves Citton, an editor of the French journal Multitudes, argues that Rancière's conception of theatrical politics is not as incompatible with Negri's neo-Spinozist politics of the multitude as Rancière insists (134). The category of the sensible that is central to Rancière's political thought is valuable, Citton argues, because it overturns the traditional distinction between passivity and activity. Indeed, for Spinoza, ‘our (active) power to affect and our (passive) power to be affected’ develop in direct proportion to each other (122). Yet, he points out, Rancière's theatrical conception of politics privileges the dramatic moments of (‘active’) political agency over the (‘passive’) molecular processes of ‘anticipating, espousing, and utilizing flows within an organic body’, which bring about infinitesimal changes in the distribution of the sensible. This second modality of political agency he calls ‘membrane politics’ because it emphasizes acts of ‘filtering’ or selective re-presentation over acts of expression (138). Yet, he suggests that if Rancière were to ‘theorize the dynamics of collective improvisation on which his model of theatrical politics implicitly relies’ he would probably have to fall back on the kind of molecular politics he rejects in Negri (134).
Hallward and Citton essentially draw attention to the same deficit in Rancière's political thought concerning his lack of attention to what Max Weber calls the ‘slow boring of hard boards’: the mundane and unspectacular instrumental action that brings about incremental change. What is fascinating about the critical responses from Hallward and Citton are the rival conceptions of political agency that they each propose to respond to this deficit: the molar politics of the militant versus the molecular politics of the membrane. Yet, neither really rings true with Rancière's own approach.
To understand the transmission of revolutionary experience via these slower, less dramatic processes from within Rancière's own framework, we should turn, as Citton suggests, to his historical research on the literary production of the nineteenth century worker's movement (134). Indeed, Rancière cites this historical work in responding to his critics. He quotes an extract written by a nineteenth century joiner, Gabriel Gauny, which was published during the French revolution of 1848 (274). Within the narrative of the joiner he discerns a ‘tiny shift’ that redefines the relationship between exploitation and delusion. The joiner's ‘delusion’ about the limited freedom he enjoys in his job would be explained by traditional radical critique as an incapacity that can only be overcome by gaining true knowledge of his exploitation. In contrast, Rancière insists on certain ‘efficacy’ in his delusion of freedom, the joiner's ‘ignorance’ of his exploitation, his decision to ignore social inequality and to think and act as if he is not exploited. This micropolitics that Rancière studied in his historical research underlies the concept of dissensus that he developed in his more recent work on politics and aesthetics.
© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2012