MACBA Interview with Jacques Rancière

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MACBA Interview with Jacques Rancière
1 no. 0 Summer 2005
Jacques Rancière (Algeria, 1940) is Emeritus Professor in Aesthetics and
Philosophy at the Paris VII University. In May 2002, Rancière gave a
seminar at MACBA entitled Aesthetics and Politics, a connection to
reconsider. Many of his ideas, explored in his texts as well as during this
seminar, inspired the exhibition Disagreements: On art, politics and the
public sphere in the Spanish State. The title of this exhibition, in fact,
is inspired by one of Ranciére’s key essays, which suggests that all
critical politics implies some form of ‘non-identification’, of substantial
disagreement with any type of pre-established social consensus.
Q. Your book ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’ can be understood as an
intervention in the debates on education in France in the mid-80s, and more
specifically a response to the pedagogical reforms based on Bourdieu and
Passeron’s sociology developed during the Mitterrand administrations. How
do you see the evolution of this debate, both in France and internationally?
Are the current debates on education framed in a similar intellectual
context? What remains and what has changed?
A. My intervention in this circumstantial debate was intended to introduce a
radically untimely point of view. At the time, a sociological vision, which
urged that education be adapted to address social differences and
inequalities, stood opposed to a “republican” point of view, in which
equality was provided by the universality of knowledge. However, both
coincided in seeing the educational system as the means to achieve equality.
The thinking of Jacotot offers the same response: equality is not an end to
be achieved through the perfecting of the educational system, rather it is
the starting point, a presupposition to be constantly revised as part of a
process of emancipation. The terms of debate regarding education may change,
but this gap between the terms of the debate is unalterable. The logic of
emancipation diverges, structurally, from the logic of systems of education
as such.
Q. In your book the notion of equality is central. You mention the “equality
of intelligence”. How do we deal with that notion of equality without
falling into universalism? In other words how do we deal with an egalitarian
pedagogy and not turn our backs on an ideal of a universal subject, as, for
example, the modernist humanist pedagogy does? This universal subject seems
to be beyond class, gender, race and so on. In this respect, isn’t there a
risk of equating the notion of “ignorance” with a pre-political dimension, a
kind of idealized pre-cultural stage, the ignorant as a kind of “good
A. The problem lies not in avoiding universalism. Rather it is a question of
knowing where to situate the moment of the universal. If we oppose the
common measure of law or universal knowledge with a summation of
differences, if we claim a distinct intelligence or culture for each social,
ethnic or sexual group, we will have remained within the classical
conception of the division between that which is universal and that which is
particular. We will have remained within the logic that attributes a
distinct form of intelligence to each group, that is, within the same
non-egalitarian logic used by those who separate the holders of that which
is universal from the masses mired in the particular. The equality of
intelligences rejects this logic of classes and properties. It brings into
play the equal capacity of all people. On the one hand, this equal capacity
plays the role of being a minimum condition, one that must always be
presupposed (the pupil must understand the master, and an inferior his
superior). On the other, it affirms itself by creating cases of universality
that are always disruptive with respect to an existing order of relations
between the social positions and the “capacities” that are associated with
them. The egalitarian subject is not the “good savage” but rather the
“civilised offender”, he who disrupts the established order of the
relationship between the universal and the particular.
Q. Can we relate or parallel the notion of equality of intelligence with the
notion of “general intellect”, with the idea of a collective intelligence
which is taken by Negri, Virno and others from Marx to refer to the
emergence of new forms of subjectivity in post-Fordism?
The notion of ”general intellect” supposes that one identifies the equal
capacity of anyone with the functional intelligence of an economic and
social system. Today this idea is supported by the identification of a phase
of capitalism where the former industrial worker is seen as having given way
to a “cognitive” worker, corresponding to a computerised dematerialising of
the processes of production of wealth. Behind the appearance of novelty,
this continues to be the same old Marxist theory of the universalising power
of the means of production, the same old supposition that a particular
technology defines at one and the same time, an age, a form of objective
common power and a corresponding subjectivity. However, the Fordist line is
only one of the means by which the collective intelligence of Capital has
imposed itself on the intelligence of its subordinates; there are thousands
of other forms of exploitation, such as home- working, sweatshops, etc.,
which are far from disappearing in this computer age. One thing is the
artificial intelligence that is technically functioning in computers; the
systematic realisation of the collective intelligence of Capital through
computers and their uses is another, while the application of the equal
intellectual capacity of the poorly paid South-East Asian workers who make
the electronic components is a different matter again. By wishing to
identify them in the same process, we produce what Jacotot calls
stultification: we confuse the equal capacity of anyone with its opposite,
the functional intelligence of the systems of domination. The former is
subordinated to the latter.
Q. Sergio Bologna has situated the debate on education as the central
political question of post-Fordism. Education is precisely the “missing
link” for the continuity of the middle classes and thus of a certain notion
of welfare in the context the new demands of permanent education related to
new forms of autonomous labour. Permanent education and self education are
related to market imperatives and become very technical and no more oriented
towards the constitution of an emancipating political culture. In this
context, it is not clear what the spaces of political culture and what the
institutions for this political education will be. Do you agree that
education in this context is the central political question?
A. Today, education is a central political question just as it was twenty,
or a hundred and fifty years ago. However, we considerably reduce the sense
of this political centrality if we tie it to the imperatives of the market.
An education system, before being able to adapt to changes in technology and
in the market, has a double social objective: on the one hand, it is
supposed to equip, both those who lead and those who serve, with the
necessary skills corresponding to their function, even at the risk of
promoting certain inferiors and relegating certain superiors. On the other
hand, it must ensure a minimal level of cohesion, of community, covering all
people. In short, it is at once an instrument of the rationality of a system
and an allegory for this rationality. All educational reforms today are
aimed at adapting education to the world of work. The statistical results in
terms of employment are still unremarkable. However, the importance is,
above all, ideological. To show that School prepares one for “life” is to
show the rationality of the life of the system. And today, when most of the
old forms of legitimacy are under attack, knowledge becomes the fundamental
source of legitimacy of domination. To demonstrate that the School is
rationally adapted to its objective is also to demonstrate that our masters
govern us simply because they are the best in the class. For its part, a
politics of emancipation must measure the irreducible distance between the
objectives of the “intelligence” of the system and those of the equality of
intelligences. Even if it works within the system, it can not identify its
own objectives with those of the system.
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