Minutes from the Ranciere discussion

May 12, 2011 § Leave a comment


We began by discussing what Daniel took to be Rancière’s one big idea, which receives different iterations in many of his major works.  This is the idea of equality as a starting point vs. equality as an endpoint.  Inherent in this reversal is a critique of certain forms of critical theory, liberalism, progressivism, or other view in which we understand society to be unequal and this chase equality as a goal (but we never really get there).

Democracy points to instances where equality surfaces, and thus is not a system of government, a method, a pedagogy (in the sense of what is taught in schools of education), or a party.  These are all various forms of policing the distribution of experiences, roles, or “the sensible,” whereas democratic politics marks a break with this order.  Democracy cannot be institutionalized.  Emancipation cannot be institutionalized.  Rancière is saying it happens all the time, but in needs a shift in perception.  An like many students of Althusar, Rancière is interested in the momentary, “evental” character of these instances of democracy (as opposed to someone like Derrida, for whom Democracy always lies “to come” in an unrealizable future).

Equality for Rancière is explicitly rooted in pedagogy, but The Ignorant Schoolmaster is his only work explicitly about pedagogy.  The relationship between pedagogy and equality is best seen in the distinction between the Emancipator and the Explicator.  This shifts us away from an assumption of the inequality of intelligence (amongst students and between students and teachers).  As we see with Jacotot, requests for explanations assume an inequality in intelligence, whereas Jocotot is more interested in negotiating inequality of the will.


Critique and Explication

Rene pushed back on Rancière’s skepticism of critical theory as inevitably breaking down into explication.  He suggested that we can genuinely approach someone in the spirit of equality, but recognize that they have some knowledge or experience that we don’t have.  This led to two considerations.  First, the distinction needed to be made between knowledge (which naturally will be unequal given people’s different formations and life experiences) and intelligence (which is radically equal, as demonstrated in The Ignorant Schoolmaster).  Second, it was asked whether we should read Rancière’s work as explications or translations.  Another way to say this is whether he is giving an account or telling a story.


Eduarto raised the issue of time: Emancipation could be seen as an event that happens in the future, a movement from one state to another (e.g. Kant’s emergence from self-imposed tutelage in What is Enlightenment).  What is the temporality as something that is already there (is it more in line of a return, a falling back into a primordial unity)?  Tyson responds that it has to be a messianic theory of time.  Equality is a preexisting condition, and it is redemption of this democracy, equality, or communism marks.

Kant, Equality, and Maxims

Megan questioned Rancière’s relationship to Kant, especially in his reading of equality.  Kant uses the word “the same” to describe our noumenal selves (whereas phenomenally we are different).  It didn’t seem to her that Rancière is different on this matter.  Furthermore, Rancière seems to be using equality in two ways, sometimes in a non-relative way, sometimes as a way to qualify intelligence.  If it is more the latter, and there is a radical equality in intelligence, how is he different than people who are interested in promoting self-esteem in the interests of promoting learning?

Tyson responded that Rancière is a Kantian, but more in the sense of the third critique, where Kant asserts we all have taste, and operate on the assumption of an equality of taste (the aesthetic community becomes an ideal for a communist community in this respect).  Rancière also says that equality is a maxim to be tested (though this point was contested and we discussed the relation to Kant’s use of a maxim in the Groundwork.  Some suggested that the maxim for Rancière was more like an axiom, a premise, or an a priori).

Intelligence (p. 168)

We looked at a passage on p. 168 (“Secondly….equality of intelligence”) as a way to investigate what Rancière means by intelligence.  Eduarto noted that instead of a cognitive way of measuring intelligence, the communism that Rancière is describing asks us to think of intelligence as more related to participation.  Daniel elaborated on this and noted that the attempt is to reclaim the notion of intelligence from the assumption of equality vs. the ways it is determined in extant discourses about education (e.g. improvement, deficit thinking, or other concepts bound up with behavioral psychology).

The Real, Ideology, Politics of Late Capitalism

Rachel asked about the requirement/preconditions/forms of underlaboring that are required for these instances of equality (in the context of education) to occur?  And how does this occur in the context of structural inequalities?  This led to a discussion of the Real, which was a way to ask how Rancière reads the Allegory of the Cave (given his ungenerous reading of Plato and Socrates elsewhere).

Michael raised the question of Rancière’s rejection of an Althusarian notion of ideological interpolation, and whether this hurt his political project (e.g. looking at recent student protests, how do they understand what they are doing without a rich, textured, critical laying bear of the extant ideological structures of an institution like a university).  David brought up the distinction between stories and ideological critique, noting that stories have a different argumentative structure and different temporality than critique.

Critique was again discussed, and perhaps the resistance of criticism premised on the acceptance of inequality was a matter of resisting a form of hubris (say on the part of militants, organizers)?  Or, as Rene asked, is it a form of quietism?  This discussion had to do with the kinds of ignorance we could champion today given the contemporary ideological condition of late capitalism and the modes of political dissatisfaction therein?  Perhaps that political outcome may be to bring about a better police (e.g. an active, effective discourse on human rights, given the contestation over the putative universality of their origins and applicability).


There was a question of how to use The Ignorant Schoolmaster pedagogically:  Daniel described it acting as an interruption for students in how equality functions ideologically today (a set of rituals and performances where we espouse a belief in equality, but we know all along that this can’t be true).  David gave the example of Banjo camp and Tyson gave the example of an unplanned course as examples of an ignorant pedagogy opening a space for new educational possibilities and relationships.  One reading of Rancière on this was that such possibilities are opened up when teachers and administrators do not dominate students or educative situations (which is a relatively uncontroversial point).  But another reading looked at what Rancière licensed, which was a kind of spontaneity, but also a means of “occasional verification”.  By this term we meant that the fact that it happens once is proof enough of something, and you continue in that spirit.  There was a question as to whether it was the spirit that is most important, so that the process of verification may in fact be of lesser important.

Loose Ends

p. 173 – What is the hypothesis of confidence vs. the egalitarian maxim.

A fatalism about institutions, society cannot be emancipated, etc.  (question about optimism and pessimism).  Question of how individual emancipation tracks something like collective emancipation.

Key distinction.  “What could we build?”  versus “What have we built and what are we building?  (Rancière’s key advance).  This is a way to get out of the cycle of ineffective, instrumental critique.

Where is Rancière’s theory of the imagination?  Some think that this might be what is missing in his turn away from a Lacanian informed version of ideology?

There might be a discussion of the subjectivity of the student that may be absent (perhaps the injunction against the student to never say “I can’t”).

Where does the element of persuasion come into the picture?  Rancière gives us one image of stultification, but there are actually multiple forms.

Rene gives a talk on Robbie

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

Guest Lecture to Honor Robbie McClintock


Please join us for a guest lecture to honor Robbie McClintock by

René V. Arcilla

Associate Professor of Educational Philosophy
at NYU Steinhardt

“An Existential Basis for Study”

Thursday, May 12th, 2-4pm
Cowin Center Auditorium
Teachers College, Columbia University
525 West 120th Street, New York, NY 10027

Reception to follow lecture.

Please RSVP by Friday, April 22nd, 2011 at http://www.tc.edu/events/9233.

For inquiries, please contact (212) 678-3405.

Our new space

May 11, 2011 § Leave a comment

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