The Method of Equality: Interviews with Laurent Jeanpierre and Dork Zabunyan

The Method of Equality: Interviews with Laurent Jeanpierre and Dork Zabunyan As Deranty (2010) points out, it has taken decades for Rancière’s work to reach a wide audience. Now, however, he is ‘one of the key references in contemporary political thought’ (Deranty, 2010, p. 1), and a number of books on Rancière have been published in English within the last decade (see, for example, Deranty, 2010; May, 2010; Tanke, 2011). References to his thought are appearing in a growing number of disciplines; within community development, however, he remains relatively unknown, despite the fact that his work holds direct relevance to the field. The method of equality is a ‘long conversation’ (p. vii) between Jacques Rancière and two interviewers, who explain that the book ‘is meant to provide an introduction to the thought of a present-day theorist who is abundantly read and commented on’ (ibid.). It is also intended to emphasize the unity of his thinking (Rancière’s work is frequently divided into a ‘political’ moment, followed by a turn to the ‘aesthetic’ – a reading which he himself rejects). It is thus a useful introduction to Rancière’s thought; but is equally essential reading for those thoroughly versed in his work. The extended interview format allows for an unfolding story, over time; but also allows for key, potentially difficult, concepts to be teased out – the questions are probing, challenging, engaging. While Rancière’s style of writing is relatively ‘unacademic’, it is relatively dense and not always easy to read; The method of equality, however, is remarkably accessible. The book is divided into four sections: ‘Geneses’ (which covers the development of Rancière’s thought, through his years as a student heavily influenced by Althusser, the 1968 Paris moment and how this profoundly affected his thinking, and the trajectory his work took as result); ‘Lines’ (which covers his key concepts, the ‘lines’ which thread his work); ‘Threshholds’ (which compares his work with that of other contemporaneous thinkers, looking at connections and distinctions); and ‘Present Tenses’ (which considers the current scene and its possibilities in relation to Rancière’s thought). As the interviewers comment, the book could be read sequentially; ‘But nothing would be more in keeping with a theoretical approach that has stood from the outset for ‘rejecting hierarchical thinking’ than to work through them any way you like’ (p. ix). At the heart of Rancière’s thought is his axiom of equality: the simple, yet radical, assertion that human beings are all already equal: ‘His whole work is characterized by the consistent attempt to scrupulously follow the implications of the idea that human beings are equal in all respects’ (Deranty, 2010, p. 3). It is this simple assumption that set Rancière apart from Althusser and the orthodox Marxism of that time, and set him on the course of exploring a method consistent with an assumption of radical equality, that is, the method of equality, and the title of the book. Part of this method has involved intensive work in archives, researching worker history: ‘there was a big difference between the Marxism we’d been taught, the Marxism we’d taught, and the reality of the working class world. I needed to look more closely at that’ (p. 21). Once he started looking at texts written by workers, he found that, instead of an assertion of identity, the workers disrupted the ‘labels’ they had been given. The texts went beyond identity – ‘‘We are speaking as reasonable human beings and not as working-class brawn’’ (p. 24): From that moment on, what was important for me was attacking all ontologies of identity, the idea that it is not about working-class ideology versus bourgeois ideology, popular culture versus educated culture, but that all the important, explosive, phenomena in ideological and social conflicts are events that happen at the dividing line; they are phenomena that have to do with barriers that you see and that you transgress, crossing over from one side to the other (pp. 24–25). This is because, quite simply, people are not only equal in legal or moral terms, but in their intellectual ability – everyone can think, equally. Rancière expressed this thesis most powerfully in The ignorant schoolmaster (published in 1987; in English in 1991). In this, through the story of Joseph Jacotot (1770–1840), he argues that all people are equally intelligent; and pedagogy is precisely that which is intended to deny this. His method of equality requires a rejection of cause-effect rationality, which, he claims, assumes an inherently hierarchical relationship. ‘The question that remains central is what you think people are capable of’ (p. 29). Rancière applies the method to his own work, using indirect free style, ‘doing away with the hierarchy between the discourse that explains and the discourse that is explained’ (p. 31). Rancière distinguishes between ‘politics’ (‘Politics exists because those who have no right to be counted as speaking beings make themselves of some account’ (1999, p. 27)), and the ‘police’ (that which fairly systematically tries to prevent politics); these concepts are explored in some detail in the book. He uses the concept of ‘sharing/distributing the sensible’ - the logic whereby the actions and voices of certain individuals or groups ‘count’, while those who are invisible and inaudible to this logic are separated out. He is increasingly applying this to the aesthetic, focusing on different art forms; work still based on his insistence on radical equality. Clearly, Rancière’s method of equality holds profound implications for community development; more especially so if, as Battacharyya (2004) has it, community development is essentially about agency and solidarity. Meade, Shaw, and Banks (2016, p. 2) show that community development remains a contested concept; and community development as ‘a process through which ‘ordinary’ people collectively attempt to influence their life circumstances’ is somewhat under siege in an increasingly neoliberalized context. Meade, Shaw, and Banks argue: the very naming of communities as disempowered or as requiring the intercession of a facilitating actor – qua the community development worker – is itself an expression of power. The identities and subjectivities of the powerless, poor, socially excluded or disadvantaged on whom community development is so typically focused is thus constructed, mobilised and recruited to participate in its processes (p. 9). They argue that in these times it is essential to consider community development in relation to power, and to politics. It is here that the link with Rancière’s work is so clear, and so crucial. What if, instead of considering people as poor, disadvantaged or disempowered, we saw them as thinking human beings? What if we applied Rancière’s axiom of equality; and his method of equality? This is not simply about accepting that people have agency; it is about assuming that their agency – and their thinking – is the same as that of ‘community developers’. ‘Equality for [Rancière] is primarily the equality people are afforded when they are taken seriously, as valid partners in a dialogue, as people who make sense’ (Deranty, 2010, p.11). Rancière also requires of us to go beyond the identity politics currently so entrenched, beyond the boundaries created by labelling. As Holloway (Holloway and Mondedero, 2017) argues, 'To be human to overflow’, including identity: ‘yes, I am indigenous, a woman, gay, black, Irish, a carpenter, a professor, whatever, but I am more than that’. This radical humanism is apparent throughout the book. I would argue that Rancière’s thought, as explored in this book, provides the field of community development not only with insightful, fundamental challenges, but also with really useful ideas for moving forward; and, crucially, with hope. As he says, in a time of neoliberal globalization, ‘The problem [isn’t] how to escape from the clutches of a sort of octopus-like monster, but how to conceive of the possibility of leading lives other than the life you [are] in the process of leading’ (p. 61); and yet, ‘every place can lend itself to a reconfiguring of places’ (p. 61); ‘any state of affairs is always a landscape of possibility’ (p. 64). References Battacharyya, J. ( 2004) Theorizing community development, Journal of the Community Development Society , 34 ( 2), 5– 34. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Deranty, J.-P. ( 2010) Introduction: a journey in equality, in Deranty, J.-P., ed., Jacques Rancière: Key concepts , Acumen, Durham, pp. 1– 14. Holloway, J. and Monedero, J. C. ( 2017) Prendre le Pouvoir? Ballast , 6, Printemps, 48– 77. May, T. ( 2010) Contemporary Political Movements and the Thought of Jacques Rancière: Equality in Action , Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Meade, R. R., Shaw, M. and Banks, S. ( 2016) Politics, power and community development: an introductory essay, in Meade, R. R., Shaw, M. and Banks, S., eds, Politics, Power and Community Development , Policy Press, Bristol, pp. 1– 27. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Ranciére, J. ( 1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation . (K. Ross, Trans.), Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. Rancière, J. ( 1999) Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy , University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Tanke, J. J. ( 2011) Jacques Rancière: An Introduction , Continuum, London. © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2018 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices) http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Community Development Journal Oxford University Press

The Method of Equality: Interviews with Laurent Jeanpierre and Dork Zabunyan

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Oxford University Press
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© Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2018 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com
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0010-3802
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Abstract

As Deranty (2010) points out, it has taken decades for Rancière’s work to reach a wide audience. Now, however, he is ‘one of the key references in contemporary political thought’ (Deranty, 2010, p. 1), and a number of books on Rancière have been published in English within the last decade (see, for example, Deranty, 2010; May, 2010; Tanke, 2011). References to his thought are appearing in a growing number of disciplines; within community development, however, he remains relatively unknown, despite the fact that his work holds direct relevance to the field. The method of equality is a ‘long conversation’ (p. vii) between Jacques Rancière and two interviewers, who explain that the book ‘is meant to provide an introduction to the thought of a present-day theorist who is abundantly read and commented on’ (ibid.). It is also intended to emphasize the unity of his thinking (Rancière’s work is frequently divided into a ‘political’ moment, followed by a turn to the ‘aesthetic’ – a reading which he himself rejects). It is thus a useful introduction to Rancière’s thought; but is equally essential reading for those thoroughly versed in his work. The extended interview format allows for an unfolding story, over time; but also allows for key, potentially difficult, concepts to be teased out – the questions are probing, challenging, engaging. While Rancière’s style of writing is relatively ‘unacademic’, it is relatively dense and not always easy to read; The method of equality, however, is remarkably accessible. The book is divided into four sections: ‘Geneses’ (which covers the development of Rancière’s thought, through his years as a student heavily influenced by Althusser, the 1968 Paris moment and how this profoundly affected his thinking, and the trajectory his work took as result); ‘Lines’ (which covers his key concepts, the ‘lines’ which thread his work); ‘Threshholds’ (which compares his work with that of other contemporaneous thinkers, looking at connections and distinctions); and ‘Present Tenses’ (which considers the current scene and its possibilities in relation to Rancière’s thought). As the interviewers comment, the book could be read sequentially; ‘But nothing would be more in keeping with a theoretical approach that has stood from the outset for ‘rejecting hierarchical thinking’ than to work through them any way you like’ (p. ix). At the heart of Rancière’s thought is his axiom of equality: the simple, yet radical, assertion that human beings are all already equal: ‘His whole work is characterized by the consistent attempt to scrupulously follow the implications of the idea that human beings are equal in all respects’ (Deranty, 2010, p. 3). It is this simple assumption that set Rancière apart from Althusser and the orthodox Marxism of that time, and set him on the course of exploring a method consistent with an assumption of radical equality, that is, the method of equality, and the title of the book. Part of this method has involved intensive work in archives, researching worker history: ‘there was a big difference between the Marxism we’d been taught, the Marxism we’d taught, and the reality of the working class world. I needed to look more closely at that’ (p. 21). Once he started looking at texts written by workers, he found that, instead of an assertion of identity, the workers disrupted the ‘labels’ they had been given. The texts went beyond identity – ‘‘We are speaking as reasonable human beings and not as working-class brawn’’ (p. 24): From that moment on, what was important for me was attacking all ontologies of identity, the idea that it is not about working-class ideology versus bourgeois ideology, popular culture versus educated culture, but that all the important, explosive, phenomena in ideological and social conflicts are events that happen at the dividing line; they are phenomena that have to do with barriers that you see and that you transgress, crossing over from one side to the other (pp. 24–25). This is because, quite simply, people are not only equal in legal or moral terms, but in their intellectual ability – everyone can think, equally. Rancière expressed this thesis most powerfully in The ignorant schoolmaster (published in 1987; in English in 1991). In this, through the story of Joseph Jacotot (1770–1840), he argues that all people are equally intelligent; and pedagogy is precisely that which is intended to deny this. His method of equality requires a rejection of cause-effect rationality, which, he claims, assumes an inherently hierarchical relationship. ‘The question that remains central is what you think people are capable of’ (p. 29). Rancière applies the method to his own work, using indirect free style, ‘doing away with the hierarchy between the discourse that explains and the discourse that is explained’ (p. 31). Rancière distinguishes between ‘politics’ (‘Politics exists because those who have no right to be counted as speaking beings make themselves of some account’ (1999, p. 27)), and the ‘police’ (that which fairly systematically tries to prevent politics); these concepts are explored in some detail in the book. He uses the concept of ‘sharing/distributing the sensible’ - the logic whereby the actions and voices of certain individuals or groups ‘count’, while those who are invisible and inaudible to this logic are separated out. He is increasingly applying this to the aesthetic, focusing on different art forms; work still based on his insistence on radical equality. Clearly, Rancière’s method of equality holds profound implications for community development; more especially so if, as Battacharyya (2004) has it, community development is essentially about agency and solidarity. Meade, Shaw, and Banks (2016, p. 2) show that community development remains a contested concept; and community development as ‘a process through which ‘ordinary’ people collectively attempt to influence their life circumstances’ is somewhat under siege in an increasingly neoliberalized context. Meade, Shaw, and Banks argue: the very naming of communities as disempowered or as requiring the intercession of a facilitating actor – qua the community development worker – is itself an expression of power. The identities and subjectivities of the powerless, poor, socially excluded or disadvantaged on whom community development is so typically focused is thus constructed, mobilised and recruited to participate in its processes (p. 9). They argue that in these times it is essential to consider community development in relation to power, and to politics. It is here that the link with Rancière’s work is so clear, and so crucial. What if, instead of considering people as poor, disadvantaged or disempowered, we saw them as thinking human beings? What if we applied Rancière’s axiom of equality; and his method of equality? This is not simply about accepting that people have agency; it is about assuming that their agency – and their thinking – is the same as that of ‘community developers’. ‘Equality for [Rancière] is primarily the equality people are afforded when they are taken seriously, as valid partners in a dialogue, as people who make sense’ (Deranty, 2010, p.11). Rancière also requires of us to go beyond the identity politics currently so entrenched, beyond the boundaries created by labelling. As Holloway (Holloway and Mondedero, 2017) argues, 'To be human to overflow’, including identity: ‘yes, I am indigenous, a woman, gay, black, Irish, a carpenter, a professor, whatever, but I am more than that’. This radical humanism is apparent throughout the book. I would argue that Rancière’s thought, as explored in this book, provides the field of community development not only with insightful, fundamental challenges, but also with really useful ideas for moving forward; and, crucially, with hope. As he says, in a time of neoliberal globalization, ‘The problem [isn’t] how to escape from the clutches of a sort of octopus-like monster, but how to conceive of the possibility of leading lives other than the life you [are] in the process of leading’ (p. 61); and yet, ‘every place can lend itself to a reconfiguring of places’ (p. 61); ‘any state of affairs is always a landscape of possibility’ (p. 64). References Battacharyya, J. ( 2004) Theorizing community development, Journal of the Community Development Society , 34 ( 2), 5– 34. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Deranty, J.-P. ( 2010) Introduction: a journey in equality, in Deranty, J.-P., ed., Jacques Rancière: Key concepts , Acumen, Durham, pp. 1– 14. Holloway, J. and Monedero, J. C. ( 2017) Prendre le Pouvoir? Ballast , 6, Printemps, 48– 77. May, T. ( 2010) Contemporary Political Movements and the Thought of Jacques Rancière: Equality in Action , Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Meade, R. R., Shaw, M. and Banks, S. ( 2016) Politics, power and community development: an introductory essay, in Meade, R. R., Shaw, M. and Banks, S., eds, Politics, Power and Community Development , Policy Press, Bristol, pp. 1– 27. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS   Ranciére, J. ( 1991) The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation . (K. Ross, Trans.), Stanford University Press, Stanford, CA. Rancière, J. ( 1999) Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy , University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. Tanke, J. J. ( 2011) Jacques Rancière: An Introduction , Continuum, London. © Oxford University Press and Community Development Journal. 2018 All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: journals.permissions@oup.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)

Journal

Community Development JournalOxford University Press

Published: Mar 28, 2018

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