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Jacques Rancière's Contribution to the Ethics of Recognition Author(s): Jean-Philippe Deranty Source: Political Theor <a href=y, Vol. 31 , No. 1 (Feb., 2003), pp. 136-156 Published b y : Sa g e Publications , Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/02/2011 02:48 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the p ublisher re g ardin g an y further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Sage Publications, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Political Theory. " id="pdf-obj-0-2" src="pdf-obj-0-2.jpg">

Jacques Rancière's Contribution to the Ethics of Recognition Author(s): Jean-Philippe Deranty Source: Political Theory, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Feb., 2003), pp. 136-156 Published by: Sage Publications, Inc.

Accessed: 21/02/2011 02:48

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Jacques Rancière's Contribution to the Ethics of Recognition Author(s): Jean-Philippe Deranty Source: Political Theor <a href=y, Vol. 31 , No. 1 (Feb., 2003), pp. 136-156 Published b y : Sa g e Publications , Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 21/02/2011 02:48 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the p ublisher re g ardin g an y further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . . . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact Sage Publications, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Political Theory. " id="pdf-obj-0-60" src="pdf-obj-0-60.jpg">

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In 1965, at the

age of twenty-five, JacquesRanciere started his philosophi-

cal careerwith a coupde maltre.His name appeared next to the name of Louis Althusseron the cover page of Lirele Capatal(Reading Capital), the seminal

work by one

of the most influential maltresa penserof the time. However,

soon after, Ranciere parted company with the master and with orthodox Marxism. This gesture and the book that ensued, La lefon d'Althusser (Althusser'sLesson), announced what has since been Ranciere's place in contemporaryFrench philosophy: that of an original thinkerwho has devel- oped a distinctive position that makes it impossible to afilliate him with any of the mainstream philosophical strands. The concepts and arguments Ranciere has developed reflect some of the major intuitions of post-1945

Frenchphilosophy, but it is impossible adequatelyto label them with any of the usual tags. He is a thinkerdeeply influenced by Marx, who has totally rejected Marxist sociology. An existentialist who casts away the notion of self-consciousness. A theoristof postmodernsociety who rejects Lyotard's philosophy of language. A theorist of social domination who criticizes Foucault's definition of power. A sociologist and a historian focusing his interest on the misery of the world, but critical of Bourdieu's most famous paradigms.A thinkerof recognitionwho rejectsthe notion of understanding. A Deleuzian who puts the notion of the subject at the center of his political thought. The list goes on. Ranciere was out of place in the 70s, when Althusser's brandof Marxism was the ofElcialdogma of Frenchintelligen- tsia. He was out of place in the 80s, when the utopianmoment was weeded out of political philosophy.He is out of place today with his neo-Hegelian aes-

thetics and his reading of

literaturefocused on proletarianemancipation.

This knack of occupying a paradoxicalposition has actually enabled him to create,through the fifteen books he has publishedto date,his own conceptual world, a "system,"as it were, of impressivedepth and coherence.It must also be said that much of the appealof his work rests not only on Ranciere'sbril- liantcapacity for paradoxicaldialectics, buton his luminousprose that makes the most abstrusenotions seem evident and seductive. There are two distinct periods in Ranciere's work. The first, covering twenty years and encompassingeight books, is dedicatedto social andpoliti-

POLITICALTHEORY, Vol. 31 No. 1, February2003 136-156 DOI: 10.1177/0090591702239444 C)2003 Sage Publications




cal philosophy, from the first publication, La leqon d'Althusser(1974)

to the

final conceptual elaborationof La me'sentente(Disagreement) (1995). After this Rancieremoved on to aesthetic questions. Seven books have been pub- lished since La mesentente.Indeed, Ranciere has published a book every year since 1995.1However, a strongthematic unity keeps all these distinct works together. Ranciere's "system" combines two theoretical concerns. First, it gives an account of social and political dominationwhich is connected with an accountof the logic of social andpolitical emancipation. This firstconcern is rootedin the young Marxand in existentialism.(This may explain the diffi- cult relationship with those authors,like Althusserand his school, who took their cue from the late Marx.) Ranciere's second concern is one that causes problems with post-Nietzscheanphilosophy, andalso with old critical theory. It is the belief, put into practice in every one of Ranciere's political texts, that the role of the philosopher is not to give his/hervoice to the silent aspirations of the dominated,but to add his/her voice to theirs, therefore,to hear their voices, rather than interpretthem, and to help them resound. Politics in Ranciereis fundamentally aesthetic since it sets out to challenge the received perception of social reality, andto offer alternative expressions for a new per-

ception; thus, art accomplishes the same task as politics, namely to reorga- nize the accepted perceptions of reality.

Ranciere's fundamental political concern is the denial of experienced by the dominated. The purpose of this essay is

recognition to offer an

accountof Ranciere'swork as a contributionto the ethics and politics of rec- ognition. By putting this issue at the heartof political theory, Ranciereindi- rectly highlights some of the abstractionsof the consensus model used in the theory of deliberativedemocracy. By opposing the logic of the social to the logic of the political, social identity to political identity,he also helps us dis- cover some problematic featuresin Axel Honneth'sreliance on processes of

identity-building in political struggles. Ranciere's theory of the political sub- ject also poses a serious challenge to some of the tenets of the philosophy of

multiculturalism.His assertionof radical equality as the central principle of political theory certainly leaves many questions unanswered.He does not support his political theses with full-fledged sociological, legal, and psycho- logical theories. However, this is not a real shortcoming since his explicit

claim is that there is a specific logic of the political that is not derivedfrom

social or developmentallogics. Indeedhis main contributionis to isolate and

emphasize the democraticmoment in politics and to

denounceall reductions

to the social. Ranciere gained most of his historical material and theoretical insights while immersed in extensive research into the "archivesof the proletarian dream."2The result of this research can be read in his second book, The

  • 138 POLITICALTHEORY / February2003

Nights of Labor (1981). This book and La leqon d'Althusserwere crucial in the definition and delineation of his political project. I will focus on them first, before analyzing the key concepts of his political thought in relationto the ethics and politics of recognition. The gestureby which Jacques Rancierebroke free from the orthodoxy of Althusserianism,in La leqon d'Althusser,signaled right from the start the

constellation of themes that he would Interestingly, it also demonstratedthe

continue to pursue in his later works. same theoreticalconcerns that would

draw some thinkersof the ethics of recognition away from Habermas.The

threadof Ranciere'scriticism of Althusserseems

at first glance to be unilater-

ally political. It looks like a typical gauchiste attack on a philosopher that remained within the orthodoxy of Marxist science. It seems that Ranciere

holds a grudge against Althusserfor his ambiguous attitudetoward the stu- dent movementsof the late 60s which culminatedin the events of May 1968. Ranciere establishes a genealogy of Althusser's writings in which the ground force of Althusser'sdevelopment is the constantfear of losing his par- adoxicalposition within the CommunistParty. His was a marginalposition in

thatit was bereftof any executive power, buta position of


prestige. A crucial effect of his constant tactical maneuvering within the


discourse is Althusser's projection of the division of labor into

the relation of praxis and intellectuallabor. The famous notion of "coupure

epistemologique," the autonomy of the process of knowledge from processes of praxis, is interpretedby the young Ranciereas the theoretical justification of the symbolic power of the "maitrea penser" and as a way to secure and defend this position: "across all the texts [of that period], correlativeto the denial of any creative capacity of the masses, is drawna certain figure of theo- retical heroicism: if masses can make history, it is because the heroes make the theory of it."3Althusser is portrayed as a guardian of communistortho-

doxy and academic purity against the two revolutionsthat threatenhis


intellectual identities: the Maoist revolution in world politics and the stu- dents' rebellion in the French academia. However, it would be unfair to

Ranciere,and we would be missing something important in our topic, if we were to reducehis firstbook to a sad example of the odd outburstsof ideologi- cal fanaticismthat inflamed Frenchintellectual life in the 70s. The personal and political attacksare made on the basis of a serious conceptualobjection to Althusser's epistemology and philosophy of history, an objection which is in fact quite similar to the kind of objections thinkersof recognition have for- mulated against their own traditions.What Ranciere objects to most pro- foundly in Althusser are his antihumanist, antidemocratic, and antisubjectiviststances, as these threetheoretical gestures sever the Marxist

heritage from its potential for effective emancipation.Against




criticism of humanismand historicism as categories of bourgeois ideology, even against the grain of many of Marx's writings, Ranciere maintainsthe humanist heritage of Marxism. This is fundamentalto an effective philoso- phy of emancipation. A philosophy of revolution,which claims that ordinary men and women do not have the ability to change the worldin which they are exploited, is in effect a conservative philosophy. The same applies to a philos- ophy that rejects the categories of subject and genuine social praxis.4 In effect, in practical, political terms, it is a philosophy that becomes unable effectively to conceptualizeemancipation. Finally, a philosophy that rejects the notion of democracy, that is, the radical equality of all individuals, is unable to represent the interestsof those who are denied social and political recognition. The most endearing featureof Ranciere'sthought appearsalready in this

brief outline.The cruxof his critiques and positive contributionsis

always the

consideration of the practical effects, in reality, of action and


Indeed,one consequence of this attitudeis thatdiscourse is to be approached

as a kind of practical interaction.Ranciere's philosophy could be


as methodological or practical materialism.To conceive of truthin

termsof a

dialectic of illusion anddisillusionment, of ideology and science, is to remain

within an idealist theory of discoursethat is, ultimately, a theory of


tation.A consistentmaterialism must not limit itself to a materialistic episte- mology. It has to be materialisticall the way, in its ontology, in its principles

and its methods, in its philosophy of history, in

its sociology and its poetics,

and finally in its model for a good life. It must believe in the materialnature

andthe materialeffect of language anddiscourse. It must approachsocial and political reality in terms of material, that is practical, effective, modes of dominationand exploitation, and not limit itself to the denunciationof the

ideological reproduction of

underlying relations of production. Conse-

quently it cannot reduce the fight against those relations of dominationto

forms of alienated consciousness. To take one

example: against the classic

denunciationof the ideology of human rights, Ranciere recalls that in fact, "when the bourgeois law erases the class differences, it is not out of natural

dissimulation,or through the sole evolution of the relationsof production, it is because workershave forced it to do so."5A serious study of the history of class relations shows that the exploiting minority has always tried to justify its position over the lower classes through the discourse of natural superior-

ity. The concept of universal equality had to be argued, and fought for, by

working and rebelling subjects. To deny the

existence and relevanceof these

fights is to

vindicate the bourgeois division

of humanity into those who can

speak and

act meaningfully and those whose speech and praxis are mere

sound and violence.

  • 140 POLITICALTHEORY / February2003

Two importantcorrelated principles accompany this fundamental posi- tion. The first is a methodological consequence. The division of labor that keeps apart the intellectual's science and ordinary consciousness is

denouncedas a counterproductive mistake that perpetuates the metaphysics of representation and therefore traditional relations of domination. This means that the analysis of domination can no longer be carried out from above or behind the back of the exploited but has to be carriedout imma- nently, in the exploited's own words and actions. For Ranciere, the herme- neutics of the social and political fields demand that the observertake the position of a participant. The same can be expresseddifferently, starting from

a positive basis. The of all individuals. If

fundamental principle of politics is this principle is taken seriously, in

the radical equality other words, if this

principle is to be an effective, practical, principle, it must be transformed from a political imperative into a methodologicalrule, thatis, the rule thatall individualshave the equal ability to express and defend theirown rights. The

confiscation of speech is the beginning of exploitation. The end of exploita- tion demandsthat speech be given back to the exploited. The role of the intel-

lectual is not to formulateon behalf of the exploited masses whatis inaccessi- ble to their consciousness, to educate and/or lead them. It is to help them express their own experience, their thoughts, and their desires for recogni- tion, by helping to pull down the barriersthat exclude their speech from the authorizedforms of speech. In fact, to learnabout domination and emancipa- tion, the intellectualwill have to be taughtby those who sufferand rebel. This is a point whereRanciere meets one importantaspect in the theory of recogni- tion. The methodological rule that social hermeneuticsbe conductedfrom the participant'spoint of view echoes one of Habermas'sessential tenets. Habermashas repeatedlyhighlighted the confusion in the Weberianmodel of sociological understanding, which stems from his inability to relatethe pole


interpretation to the pole of explanation.6 Habermas's project is an attempt


drawout a revised social hermeneuticsthat would synthesize bothmethod-

ological procedures and theirown theoreticaldemands. Also, one of the fun-

damental points in Habermas's model

Honneth's criticism of Habermas is the deficiency of in practically accounting for the moral experience of

denial of recognition.7 The theoreticaldemand is for the inclusion of the per-

spective of the exploited. The second correlated principle that already appears in this first book is one thatRanciere later calls "la logique du tort,"the logic of the wrong or the logic of the tort.This logic is not fully sketchedin La leton d'Althusser,but it

is already at play. In formalterms, it is a logic based on the


lation of universality and particularity within the polis. It is the problematic combinationof the two structuralfeatures of the political: the radicaluniver-



salityof equalityversus the hierarchy created by socioeconomicdifference.

InLia le f

on, thislogic appearsonly in the specificcontext of a critiqueof the

mandarins,the typical 1968 mottoof the abolitionof relationsof power betweenteacher and student.8 It appears much more briefly in thecontext of a revisionof thehistory of the workers'movement.9 As we can see, Ranciere'sexample shows that one unexpectedconse- quenceof the Maoistcritique of orthodoxMarxism in Francewas a strong rejectionof the death of the subject.This death was perpetratedand announcedin all cornersof Parisianintellectual life in thelate 60s, and it gave a strongthematic community to otherwisevery different groups, from the Marxiststo the structuralists,the Nietzscheansto the Heideggerians.In Francetoday, at a timewhen all the schoolsthat perpetrated that murder are overshadowedby thereturn to Kantand the flight into liberalism, the strand thatis stillable to offera valuabledissenting voice is theheritage of thisMao- ist critiqueof Marxism,as symbolizedby JacquesRanciere and Alain Badiou.Their emphasis on processesof subjectivationand praxis enables theirworks to withstandthe challengeof changingtimes. Rancieredid not leave this critiqueat the abstractlevel of academic debate.Having denounced the hypocrisy of classicAlthusserianism for shy- ing awayfrom the real, practical consequence of politicaltheory, he applied practicallyhis hermeneuticrule by undertakinga long bibliographical researchinto the "archivesof theproletarian dream," in orderto uncoverthe forgottenvoices of nineteenth-centuryworkers who had called for emancipa- tion.Ranciere coherently chose a most significantexample of socialrebel- lion andemancipation in the utopianmovements in Francefrom the after- mathof the July Revolutionof 1830 until the 1848 Revolution.Against classicaland Marxist sociology, against the classical methods of historians, Rancierewas carefulto centerhis researchon one very specifictype of worker,and not those that fit thepreconceived cliche's of proletarianfolklore orthe classic topoi of therebelling workers. For Ranciere, the usual focus by historiographyon the heroicfigures of workersresisting as workersonly reinforcesthe divisionof laborbetween the workingclasses andthe idle classesthat can devote their free time to intellectualtasks.l° Instead, he fol- lowedthe dreamsand thoughts of thesemen and women who attemptedto conceptualizein theory,or expressin literaryworks, the moral,intellectual, social, aesthetic,and politicalexperiences of the exploited.llThese were individualstwice excluded from social integration: first as renegadesof their ownclass, second as nonbourgeoisdaring to undertakeoccupations reserved forthe bourgeois. In the lives and words of theseproletarian philosophers and poets,the logic of thetort is perfectlyembodied, since they voiced the univer- sal claimfor equalityas singularvoices, as trueexamples of politicalsub-

  • 142 POLITICALTHEORY / February 2003

jects. They were the representatives of the working classes against the exploiting minority, and as such they defended the rights of the universal

against the particularprivileges of domination.But they could only

act as the

representatives of the universalcause because they had somehow left it, as

idle proletarians,proletarians during the day and idle thinkersat night.12 This is an illustrationof Ranciere's ontological choice of focusing on paradoxical

processes of subjectivation,against the generalization and substantialization of social sciences. By reducing all the individualhistories of the workers' movement to general features of one anonymous, collective identity, the identity of a class, historians and sociologists attach the proletarians to an essence and a destiny. The question of whetheror not this identityunderlies a history of emancipation becomes irrelevantin view of the overridingpracti-

cal, political consequence of

such reduction.In the end, the proletarians are

unable to free themselves by themselves. As the etymology of the word tort

tells us,13Ranciere's logic, the logic of the tort, is twisted logic. It is not dia-

lectical logic leading to higher synthesis. As the

embodimentof that logic,

proletarianphilosophers and poets mostly had doomed fates; they were

rejectedby all the forces of the social field.14 But

their dreamsof emancipa-

tion reveal much about the logic of dominationand the fight against it. Having engaged directly with the voice of the dominated,Ranciere was then able to gather all the philosophical content of his previous books into a more explicit and systematicexposition, which lays out in full detail his the- ory of recognition and social and political integration. The central work where he fully explains the logic of the tort is La mesentente,as well as a series of key articles published as a book in Aux bords du politique (On the Shoresof Politics) (1998, second edition). To demonstratethe contributionof Ranciereto the ethics of recognition, one must understandthe fundamentals

of this logic. Ranciere's political philosophy and ontology are structured by a paradoxi-

cal logic. His thesis is that politics (la politique) is opposed in essence to phi- losophy, or thatthere is no such thing as political philosophy. It is not false to

say that Ranciere's political philosophy attempts to prove that political phi- losophy is a logical impossibility.

Typically, when turning its attentionto the organization of the polis, phi- losophy does so with the resourcesof rationality as a means of critically ana-

lyzing existing communities and normativelyestablishing principles, rules

of functioning, and so on, of what is in essence a political community, a polis.

Philosophy attendsto political mattersas it does

with all othermatters. It pre-

supposes that there are rational ways of accounting for

the existence, struc-

turing, and functioning of political communities. This in

turn means that

thereare underlyinglogical or ontological principles that give rational justifi-



cation for the social and political order.The presupposition of the existence

of an

arkhe,an underlyingprinciple, of the political communityimplies that

there are good reasons for linking certain groups of individualswith certain political functions within the polis. In other words, philosophy poses one or

several principles of the communityby somehow articulating the political to the social. Political philosophy has always been about giving reason for the

specific link between individualsas citizens, and between the communityas

a whole

and the particular individuals.Even

mate reasonbehind the structural principle of

in the liberal tradition,the ulti- the communityis a certainrela-

tion to a social order analytically reducedto atomisticindividuals. However, the ultimate consequence of this rationalistic approach to the science of the polis, is the denial of the polis as the product of its citizens' activity. If the task

of politicalphilosophy is indeedto orderthat is based on a stateof the

find a rational justification for the political social order,all this amountsto is a justifi-

cation of social hierarchy, and a justification of the projection of this hierar- chy into the political; in otherwords, a justification of domination. By defin-

ing its object in relation to social hierarchy,political philosophy ends up defining a nonpolitical object. This is evident in the classical metaphors of

the community as an organism, a geometricalorder, a well-oiled machine,or a Leviathan. Ranciere sets out to develop a thinking that opposes this movement by which the political momentis ejected out of politicalthinking, a thinkingthat

encapsulates the originallogic or the specific ontology of the political. To do


must rupture the traditionalrelation between the social andthe polit-

ical and oppose them. The social field is always the field of hierarchyand

domination,the absence and the ultimatedenial of an independentlogical or

ontological status of the political. Its basic logic is that of inequality. The

structurethat regulates the articulationand good

functioning of that field,

Rancierecalls the police, la police, in referenceto the broad,nonaxiological


of the term in eighteenth-century French political economy (the same


that can be found in the Hegelian Polizei). In essence,

garchic. On the other hand, the political works on the basis

la police is oli- of the opposite

principle, that of radical equality, the equality of anyone with anyone. La politique is therefore in essence democratic. Ranciere's political thinking

rests upon this opposition.51 I will now relate some of the argumentsput for- ward by Ranciereon the basis of this opposition. The social does not found the political; rather,the political notion founds


the social. The Ranciere gives

condition of possibility of inequality is equality. The reason for this has a strong resemblance to the logic of the master/

servant relationship in Hegel. The mastersdemand to be recognized as mas- ters by those they dominate.However, for this recognition of inequality to be

  • 144 POLITICALTHEORY / February2003

possible, the masters must recognize the ability of the dominatedto recog- nize at all. Underneaththe existence of social hierarchy, there lies the more fundamentalrecognition of pure, ontological equality. The same can be expressed in linguistic-pragmatic terms. Understanding has contradictorylayers of pragmaticmeaning thatare not well accountedfor by Habermas.In society, to understandis to understanda problem and also to understandan order. Understanding is mostly understanding the orders of those who understandthe problems. This understanding of ordersis there- fore, at this level of social domination,the denial of understandingas com- municativeaction. One telos of language is understanding, but it is under-

standing as denial of intersubjectivity,through the denial of the

capacity of


who understand only too well the language of domination.However,

when those who understandthe problems assume that the rest only have to

understandtheir orders, they must also assume that they understand,and

therefore they implicitly recognize thatthe understanding of ordershides the possibility of a communicative reciprocalunderstanding.'6 To continueto present the relationof the political to the social in substan-

tialist terms, however, is still wrong. Indeed it is the very

logic that groups

individualsand gives them institutionalor "political"power in accordance with what they are sociologically, the fundamentalroot of the process of inequality, in reality and in thought. This is where the logic of the tort, the

logic of the wrong, develops. As the social hierarchicalorder is made possi- ble by the more radical ontological equality, this social ordermust be called

both wrong and wrung. It gives birth to a tort, a moral tort, and a logical or

ontological torsion, a logical order is morally wrong as it

or ontological twisting, or

wringing. The social

groups individualsinto a dominatingminority

and dominated majority as a matterof course when this, in fact, presupposes the bracketing of all domination.But this moral wrongness is just the appar-

ent side of the

ontological "wrungness" of that order. The social order is

wrung in thatit supposes thatone is not equal to one in the community, when

the only possible way of defining one is by posing that one = one. The social orderis wrung because it must arriveat ontologicalinequality since hierarchy is its basic arkhe, while at the same time this inequality is only logically pos- sible on the basis of radical equality.


we only had the head-on opposition between la police and la politique,

the possibility of political activity and political thinking would be nonexis- tent. Thus, we need a thirdterm to mediatebetween the two. This mediation, however,must not be thought of as a synthesis, since the logic of the tort is decidedly nondialectical. Ranciere calls this third term le politique, and defines it as the place where la police and la politique meet. Here struggle

takes place between the two diverging,yet related principles. Put in




formal terms, this struggle consists in the verificationof radical equality in any given system of inequality. Or expressed differently, it consists in high- lighting the wrongness and "wrungness" of a social order that is otherwise presented as naturally ordered.It thereforeidentifies victims of the tort and

those who perpetrate the tort. In simple words, le politique is always a demandfor justice. As Ranciere says, class struggle is not behindthe political as the Marxists claim, it is the political.17

Le politique is not a fight for the political capacity of categories or attrib- utes. It is a pragmatic verification(i.e., a verificationin practice andin speech

that is

always limited to a situation)of the

universality of equality andthere-

fore a denunciationof the wrongness and "wrungness" of a social order.18It opposes the unequal principle of domination to the universal principal of equality in a particularpragmatic scene. For example, it confronts the dis- course of the bourgeois denying the workersthe right to express their rights with the universalisticdiscourse of the declarationof human rights, and it

demandsthat this particular"wrungness" be redressed.This can only happen if the first discourse is made compatible with the second. The pragmatic

political fight aims at pragmatic outcomes andit is fought in pragmatic terms. The political struggle can thereforebe defined as a fight for rights,but only if

one remembersthat the newly acquiredrights are just one expression of a morefundamental new dimensionof recognition of equality, andthat the fun- damental torsion of the social order can never be fully redressed. This is

another point where Ranciere's political thought is close in spirit to the pro- gram of the ethics of recognition, and even to Habermas's analysis of politi- cal struggles in contemporary democracies.In all threecases, recognition can only be achieved throughstruggles for recognition. The differencebetween the models lies in the different conceptual lines thatdivide the political from


nonpolitical. In Honnethand other theorists of recognition, any genuine

struggle for the recognition of a valid featureof identity involves a potential


content. In Habermas the line runs between

the private

preinstitutionalsphere and the public institutionalized sphere. Ranciere's model is more plastic. Any struggle that seeks to vindicate the universal equality of speakers denied their right to express their voice is a political struggle. This meansthat some strugglescommonly viewed as political arein fact all about the assertion of a particular social identity and are therefore antipolitical, while some struggles rooted in the private sphere might have political meaning if they highlight a particular tort perpetratedagainst some individuals.A strikecan be antipolitical while the demandsof women in their homes can be political. The political is not attachedto a sphere butto a kind of speech.

  • 146 POLITICALTHEORY / February 2003

The application of the antiontologicallogic to the political fight defines

antiontological subjects. The subjects that engage in the political fight as definedabove do not do so on accountof theiridentity. They do so on account

of their being in between two or more identities. The political subject is

defined sociologically contradictory natureis

as both dominatedand democratically as equal. This

what makes it possible

as a political subject. It exists

as such when it engages in the pragmaticpersonification of that paradoxical, or paratacticalidentity that is nonidentical."9It is a paratacticalidentity since

it defines subjects as bothbeing andnot being. This explainswhy the political subjectcan, or even must, claim an identity it does not have as an ontological

subject. For instance,it can claim to be a proletarian without being a worker, or conversely to be a poet without being a bourgeois. Ranciere gives political meaning to the 1968 catchphrase: "nous sommes tous des Juifs allemands" ("we are all GermanJews").20 In his laterarticles, Ranciere bemoans the fact thattoday one can no longer claim thatone is, say, a woman victim of preju- dice, if one is not a woman. He sees this contemporaryimpossibility as the symptom of the world of postdemocracy, in which the political has been finally ejected and political subjectivation made finally impossible, where the fight for emancipation has been reducedto the fight for identity. Ranciere opposes stronglyemancipatory movementsthat are based on identity claims to movements based on universality claims, in the nonontological sense defined above. In thathe remains very much within the universalisticFrench

tradition. The pragmatic verification of equality creates situations of speech and dialogue which did not exist previously. This is because the logic of the tort destabilizes and shortcutsthe whole power structureof the social order.The logic of the tortis a logic that addressesthe denial of recognition. This denial

is the denial of the ability andright of dominatedindividuals to engage

in dia-

logue with the dominating classes. By holding firm to the principle of univer-

sal equality,political subjectsreshape the whole

social situation.They make

themselves visible as speaking subjects where previously the dominating

classes only perceived the noise of the alienatedor rebellingindividuals, and they make the objects of theirrecrimination visible as worthyobjects of dia-

logue. Against the substantialist logic thathas

dominatedthe definitionsand

procedures of political philosophy, Ranciere argues that the political in its

specificity is in fact a form of aesthetics,in that it produces a rearrangement of social reality for a refreshedperception, where bodies andvoices thatwere neitherseen nor heardcan be included in a communicativecontext.2' There-

fore, the understanding aimedat in a genuinepolitical situation always has, as a conditionof possibility, a more fundamentalmisunderstanding or disagree-



ment (mesentente).22Indeed the political, as such, attempts to createscenes of dialogue which did not exist, but this polemic irruption of political speakers by definition must oppose, and impose itself, against all those that deny the exploited speakers the right to speak and the existence of the object of their recrimination.Ranciere criticizes the Habermasianmodel for presupposing unproblematically situationsof dialogue as given and the participants to the dialogue as preexistingsubjects recognized by all as valid speakers.23Quite the opposite is the case. The very contested object of political conflict is pre- cisely the existence of a situationof speech andthe identityof the valid partic-

ipants in that situation. The fight

of the dominated individuals consists in

appearing as worthy speakers and in making the situationof speech visible. This is why Rancierecalls these situationsof dialogue "polemic scenes"and makes la mesentente,the conflict over the understanding of the whole situa- tion of speech, the founding event of political communities.Political subjects are created within a wrung situation, a situation of tort, and throughtheir

effort to redress it. Since political subjects do not exist as such before the

political fight has started,it is impossible to claim thatthe

telos of language,

in the political context, is understanding.Moreover, since the logics of radi- cal equality and social inequality are always both incommensurableand interrelated,the treatmentof the litigation is indefinite.There can be no end

to the history of emancipation. Ranciere's political thinking is in many respects similarto the ethics


politics of recognition,despite their very differenttraditions. As in Honneth

and Hegel, the subject'sidentity depends on a conflicting interrelationwith

others where

the dimension of struggle is crucial for the subject's develop-

ment. In both cases, initial fundamentalequality is denied by subjectsassert- ing themselves as particular. The struggle for recognition is about reinstating the basis of equality. In all cases, inequality is made possible by an underlying equality.Language is the mediumin which the denial of recognition becomes manifest and through which the struggle for recognition is often fought. Against the unproblematic notion of understanding in Habermas,theorists of recognition and Ranciereboth think of recognition as the result of struggle. This struggle is infinitein its structure,since the very development of the self

consists in feeling unrecognized in particularintersubjective communities and in struggling to assert its nonrecognized individual features, thereby enlarging the content of consciousness in itself and the others.However, the logic of recognition also gives normative guidelines, which make it possible to differentiate critically between societal and political models and to give historical accounts of social development in terms of a widening of moral consciousness within a community (Honneth and Siep).24 Ranciere also acknowledges the notion of moral and historical progress in the recognition

  • 148 POLITICALTHEORY / February2003

of minoritiesand their rights. Therefore,he escapes the criticism leveled by Habermasat Foucault'snotion of power;namely, thatit dissolves all norma- tive and differentiatingjudgments. Like Honneth and Hegel, Ranciere stresses the importanceof the law in anchoring the recognition of superior levels of universalityand equality within a community. However, Ranciere's position also enables us to highlight some of the shortcomings of the ethics of recognition. The logic of the tortis what differ- entiatesRanciere's thoughtspecifically from the traditionof recognitionand it implies as a consequence a different approach to relations of domination and exploitation. Proponents of the ethics of recognition, althoughthey all distance them- selves from Hegel in some way or another,continue to thinkof recognition in basically idealistic terms, because what they keep from Hegel is a dialectic understanding of intersubjective structures.For all these writers,Habermas

included,the groundbreakingcontribution made by

Hegel to moraland polit-

ical philosophy is, first, the drawing out of a formal or logical scheme of rec-

ognition, and, second, the fleshing out of this program in his theory of Sittlichkeit.They differ on their assessments of the realization of this pro-

gram, but they all agreethat the logic of intersubjectivity, thatcan be foundin the early Jena writings or in the Phenomenology,provides a valid starting point for any account of personalidentity in relationto others. This logic is perfectly summarized by Honnethat the beginning of Strugglefor Recogni-

tion: a subject knows that it is abilities or attributesand this

recognized by another subject in some of its constitutes a first form of community. This

community enables the subject to get to know some other aspects of its own

particularity, since it has developed more aspects of its ever,these aspects are still ignoredby the others, and the

own identity. How- subject must launch

into a new struggleto have these new aspects recognized, and so on.25This is a powerful model because it provides a coherentaccount of the formationof communities and of self-consciousness as interrelated processes, as pro- cesses conditioned by each other. Eventually, the I can only relate to itself

through otherYou's and through the We, but the We is made possible only by the relation of I's to themselves and to You's.26

However, Honneth is soon obliged to use the notion of reconciliation (Versohnung). Processes of recognition in the ethics of recognition are always thought of as processes towardreconciliation. The scission between

subjects is supersededby a widening of self-representation and of the repre- sentationof others,which is supposed to take the selves back to a situationof

commonality, to restore the communal, communicative context. Even if

these processes take the subjects to higherdegrees of self-representation and to higher degrees of communicativelife, the formal logic remainswithin the



frameworkof Spirit as a return,a only the formal expression of the

Riickkehr,to itself. The logical Riickkehris moral/socialnotion of reconciliation.Rec-

ognition understoodin this interpretation of the Hegelian frameworkremains the path toward reconciliation, the return of Spirit to itself through the negative. That reconciliationis religious and metaphysical. In the 1802 Systemder Sittlichkeit,which Honnethuses as the best example of the Hegelian scheme for intersubjectivity, the political is presented as the sphere where the first two reconciliationsof the family and of the sphere of the law aretied together into a superior reconciliationthat unites the emotive side of the family to the universal,abstract side of the law. This ultimate sphere,however, which hosts the ultimatereconciliation, needs an "absolute government" to be made pos- sible and functioning. The reason for this is thatthe circles of nonrecognized

difference need to be closed eventually if partialrecognition is to end up in

true reconciliation.But this "absolute government" that closes the circle


consecutive struggles for recognition, is explicitly defined by Hegel as "the appearance of God."Although Hegel's speculative logic changed from this early text to the laterJena writings, the teleological, metaphysical foundation of recognition was present as a necessary requisite and it remained

unchanged until the mature system. The problem thatthe thinkersof the ethics of recognition are faced with is

thereforea particular featureof the greaterproblem of the use of Hegel in a nonmetaphysicalage. Of course, they are well aware of this and they take it

into account in their revised application of Hegel's theory of recognition. Indeedthe whole Habermasian project could be describedas an attempt at a nonmetaphysical renewal of Hegelian Sittlichkeit.27But I would argue that, despite this awareness, the thinkers of