NOTES on: Pelletier, C (2009) Rancière and the poetics of the social sciences.  Online: Pelletier2009Rancière267.pdf [also in IJRM 32(3) 267-81]

[Difficult rambling, full of special pleading... Also refs to untranlsated Rancière]

Methodology should be reconsidered as an aesthetic endeavour [ie someting which partitions reality], recognizing that research intervenes in social order and takes on political significance, as in the classic debates about science and ideology.  Rancière's own method is seen as arguing 'for a democratic research practice organized around a "method of equality".  He has to be compared with an 'openly ideological feminist ethnography' if we are to investigate affect and subjectification.

Rancière contrasts the idea of democracy as a form of government with that of 'an action which disrupts social altering', and this has been discussed in terms of education and democracy, for example in Biesta, who considers inclusion models of education as bringing into order those who are not already included, while Ruitenberg (2008) sees the dangers of making education a qualification for participating in democracy.  Rancière particularly argues that even the ignorant people can teach and therefore 'anyone can govern'(2).

A number of educational researchers [including Hey] have launched research which looks at how education orders people into more or less valuable and significant categories, drawing on Foucault and Bourdieu.  Rancière specifically defines politics as discussing how power and domination produces disqualified others [I gloss].  But what are the implications for research methodology?  Rancière himself seems to oppose any sort of methodology, especially if it is enshrined in academic disciplines like [Bourdieu's] sociology.  His interest [is a classically abstract one] 'to question the partition by which kinds of discourse - the discourse of research objects and the discourse of science - are differentiated from one another', and how this gives rise to specialist ways of knowing and techniques of research.  Rancière says that this sort of discourse claims to 'produce a discourse which is of a different order to that which is the object of study: non illusory knowledge, or knowledge which is not rooted in ideological fantasy'.  [So a dangerous relativism or indifference beckons as in Baudrillard's critique] [NB he goes on apparently to argue that academic research is also based on fantasy.  Of course, all this could apply equally well to his own work about which he remains confident, as argued below -- unlike reflexive feminists]

This can lend weight to some criticisms of critical pedagogy which implies the critique masters its object [better than the usual popular readings] and is therefore hierarchical.  Rancière's emphasis on poetics and aesthetics denies the particular privilege claimed by scientists in overcoming ideology [by seeing all discourses as poetic ones etc -- as in Foucault] .  The very claim to be scientific relies on an assumption that 'the domain of science is then cast as that which its object (ideological subjects) cannot know'. [cannot know ever, or cannot know until they begin to study?]   This is not relativistic, however because it wants to open the possibility of politics on the basis of equality, which in turn means challenging claims to epistemological superiority [but ordinary people claim superiority all the time for their local knowledges, as Jacotot noted].  Sociology in particular overemphasizes social locations and social attributes, which 'effectively denies the possibility of collectivity on the basis of the lack of social attributes—in other words on the basis of equality'[sounds like some liberal fantasy about how order emerges from enlightened self interest, while collective identities are oppressive].  Nor does it help to acknowledge the location of social science in the social order, because this is 'simply reconfirming its hegemony, or its lack of difference from itself' (3) [so the only alternative is a reductive populism, with no possibility of critique?].  The way to challenge this is to rethink 'the equivalence established between discourse and social location in both the object and the subject of study—in other words, by challenging the idea that a statement, or discourse, is the expression of the sociological condition', especially position in the social order [an absurd denial of the social location of philosophers,in effect,who think they have escaped the effects of their social location. A fantasy of the autonomous intellectual].

This is a fundamental challenge to the idea of scientific knowledge of social order, and also the categories commonly found in sociology, such as woman or carpenter.  Butler argues in a similar way in suggesting that 'sociological categories (notably a feminist "we")'hold a constituency together by means of exclusion of some part of that constituency' [she seems to mean subdivisions among women on the basis of colour or sexuality].  There is, however,  always a 'supplement, or excess', and we might read Rancière as the attempt to make this supplement visible, but not by just adding qualifications, such as 'lesbian woman'(4).  His work is therefore in affinity with Zizek and other Lacanian feminists on the dangers of 'any effort to posit identity' [cf the absurdities of the nomadic subject in Deleuze and Guattari-- all this happens in the world of thought occupied by autonomous academics, but in cold reality, institutions impose identities all the time -- as Bourdieu notes] .  Rancière argues similarly that 'repressions and foreclosures' accompany any attempt to establish specific academic disciplines: there is always what Butler calls '"the failure to complete"', and in the case of Rancière, this leads to an emphasis on '"displacement, indistinction, de-differentiation or de-qualification"'[quoting Hallward] [Where?  Is this a gloss on Proletarian Nights?] [ Reminiscent of familiar critiques of positivism like Adorno's in Negative Dialctecics] .  This involves rejecting methodology 'as an ordering mechanism' perpetuating particular disciplinary categories.  While he is there, he is also 'profoundly antithetical to a conception of discipline' [So what remains is free-floating virtuoso thought?] .

However, the work actually depends on social science, if only by exploring what is disavowed.  This helps form alliances with other critics such as feminist and Foucaldian ones, who have also looked at how discursive categories in social science contain [ie control]  an excess.  The exclusions required to maintain disciplinary identity are better seen as 'denials, repudiations - the rejection of an abject other' [why abject? NB Ranciere does a bit of this by ignoring 'older workers', for example in Proletarian Nights, says Reid in his intro] . This is useful for anyone researching the connections between 'body, speech and subjectification in research practice'.  The writing itself 'works as a claim to affect', seeing research as combative, 'to make visible what has been denied, to argue with widely used systems of categorizations' []Foucault's recovery of the excluded eg 'herstories'] .  This is however a 'very different in tone to feminist accounts which foreground the uncertainty of their own claims to knowledge'[there is a reference to Lather 2007, who seems to have realized that if we take all this seriously we can actually write about very little other than 'fragments' etc.  Of course any critique of the categories of others is a claim to knowledge].

The interest of researchers in education is addressed by seeing education as a social science discipline, not something with specific objects in mind, although there are some 'alignments' especially with feminist researchers who have apparently 'been working on similar intellectual terrain for the last 20 years'.  Research is seen as a democratic practice [not in the usual sense of collaborative authorship, but in the sense that the excluded are to be given a voice?] , which links with the ideas of methodology as subversive.

The aesthetics of knowledge means how discourses 'constitute themselves as coherent, valid, and credible, in opposition to the forms of ignorance' (5).  Any account of knowledge produces a form of ignorance [including his?] .  Scientific accounts must involve a category of accounts which are non scientific, and ignorance has a role, 'as a necessary corollary of knowledge production'[must apply to Rancière as well then].  Rancière's account developed out of a critique of Marxism especially the concept of ideology, which apparently has been defined 'as a set of false beliefs, or post Althusser, as a set of practices which bring about false judgments/perceptions/sensibilities/actions - as in Bourdieu's notion of practice' (5) [lots to discuss here], things which are not necessarily untrue, but sustain domination, and this argument runs from Marx and Engels to Bourdieu.  Perceptions are limited by social location and by 'ignorance of the means in fact of domination'.  This is expressed in Bourdieu and Passeron, where a school actually produces ignorance of domination, ignorance of how the social order works [ is Rancière denying that groups do this in order to legitimate their rule?].  Making this claim involves extricating yourself from that social order, and this is what the concept of reflexivity amounts to in Bourdieu, when his knowledge takes place as somehow outside of the social order.  Specifically, Rancière sees Bourdieu as placing knowledge outside the division of labour in order to study ignorance.  Reflexivity involves somehow placing one's self outside of that social order,  and this is performative [i.e. produces desirable effects] in the sense that ignorance, '(the logic of practice)' is a product of Bourdieu's own discourse [only? Not convinced by the examples eg of the common failure to appreciate the real importance of kinship in the preservation of a dominant group?  All must be like the insightful workers in the 1830s?] .  This analysis is available only to sociologists and the ignorant are excluded.  The effect is to secure the domain of knowledge rather than describe a state of affairs, and sociology can safely criticize while knowing domination will always persist [so can Rancière who has made a tidy living as a contrarian?] .

Rancière also criticizes those attempts to develop the idea of authentic popular culture as autonomous from dominant values, those social histories which talked about working class culture, resistance and agency.  The implications are conservative, since people should remain authentic to their own culture and avoid 'middle class "intellectualism"' (6) [apparently outlined in the introduction to The Philosopher and his Poor].  Any intellectual readings made by ordinary people become merely Morley's 'populist ventriloquism', since popular people cannot think authentically while remaining popular: they must stick to their own domain of knowledge, which serve to protect intellectual knowledge, and maintain a split between science and popular knowledge. [I think Pelletier has an unusual meaning of the term ventriloquism here -- Morely used it to show how media experts claimed to talk on behalf of ordinary people]

The common issue is that there is a claim to know about 'the poor' [which could include women and black people, says Pelletier], and in this way we can see that 'sociological knowledge emerges as the surplus value of the poor's labour' [nice -- but fair? Reminds me of the idea of the 'knight's move' in ethnography -- or Bourdieu on the symbolic violence of ethnographic accounts] (6), but which has to be interpreted by scientists.  The whole argument depends on assuming some connection between sensibilities and social location, so that social location determines understanding of social practices.  This is what current sociology does.  It ignores the contingency or arbitrariness, even of domination [but Rancière asserts it and overpredicts it].  'Consequently, and tautologically, the fact of being in a certain social location (e.g. being poor) becomes the reason for being in such a location, since people can never do anything else but "be" an instance of a social location' (7).

Both these critical approaches attempt to explain mechanisms of domination, and consciousness of domination, but claim that ordinary people do not understand it [this is partly in empirical question, surely—what sort of evidence does Rancière adduce?].  There is no understanding of domination, despite  Althusser arguing that ideology is a practice rather than a cognitive limit.  But any sort of knowing 'divides the world into two: people who are ignorant and people who know'.  R discusses this in terms of the aesthetics of scientific discourse, where all discourse divides the world up into those who speak and those who ventriloquise, those who act and those who simply obey, those who can discuss, and those who are too caught up in their own occupations and culture.  Normal attempts to gather knowledge about domination ignores 'the possibility of social disorder' in the sense that the poor can never do anything outside what is understood by the social sciences of domination [a fancy way of saying that social control is overdetermined?].

This leads to the methodological issue, which turns on 'presuppositions made in reading data, or more specifically, with the way a discipline positions its own discourse with respect to that of the object of study'[which obviously includes any academic discourse, including R's own].  There are some 'affinities' with Foucault on archaeology here, since disciplines constitute objects as objects of thought, and allocate certain roles, which are compatible with disciplinary thought and knowledge.  This happens with the very narration of the discipline itself.  This involves not methodology but aesthetics [because it offers a dramatized picture of the world].

Research either explains domination and poses as a remedy to ignorance, or ignores domination and offers knowledge of equality, which is R's alternative.  Knowledge production necessarily generates a type of ignorance, so the inequalities implied have to be challenged.  [Then a classic piece of idealism: 'If one is "ignorant" of inequality, if one denies the reality of inequality, one is in effect asserting and instantiating equality' (8)].  We have to be [nice and positive], not to research inequality but 'to "verify" equality'.

The first step is to ignore material inequality, and this runs the risk of simply overlooking or dismissing it.  Instead, we are not to assume inequality, for example by seeing art as the result of particular sociological conditions, such as being female in a patriarchal society: this only confirms inequality.  Instead we have to start with discourse [and research is itself only a discourse].  It is not a matter of respecting the words of others or celebrating them, but it turns on 'classifying words, by a reordering the way in which words take on meaning by virtue of the category/body to which they are assigned in the social order', ignoring any claims to legitimacy involving the social status of the speaker.  This might include rereading scientific statements as literary prose, or even reading history as a form of speech in the present, as R himself did in Proletarian Nights, aiming to break with the usual distinctions between popular culture and academic culture in favour of '"a poetics of knowledge", that claims to break with all subject disciplines'.  This poetics of knowledge starts with equality, and tries to find a research method to open the possibilities for equality, at least in one's own writing [yet Proletarian Nights is riddled with commentary, including realist conventions that allocate any quoted discourses to particular places].

There is admission that not much might be done, but it is better than intellectual speaking on behalf of others, which only delays equality endlessly, as in pedagogy.  The work must begin by disrupting inequality, and not waiting for it to be achieved later.  Again, some feminist writings also argue this.  There is also a new value given to actions which had transgressed categories, in this case popular culture.  Any data confirming inequality should be neglected or ignored [I think this means in the form of an assumption that speaking will be limited].  Data must be read differently.  It is like the redemptive reading of drag in Butler, which challenges the ontological status of gender [makes it performative?]  [so again a rather abstract philosophical project, illustrated in R's case by 'making prominent in one's analytic strategy discursive practices which make the contingency of inequality sensible' (9) [wha? -- explaining inequality as arbitrary and contingent? This sort of academic discourse itself reinforces inequality!!] We can see how this works by looking at one of the more substantive studies [I do hope so].

We can compare R with Bourdieu esp. with Language and Symbolic Power.  Bourdieu found misrecognition in the speech of the exploited, because the role of symbolic capital and its exchange is misunderstood.  R by contrast found only disagreement [and misunderstanding, I think the French term translates as] .  He came to this view by looking at worker history and working class speech, which he saw as an attempt to locate an identity in common speech [that is an attempt to belong and not to develop a separate identity].  Thus the workers engaged in all sorts of cultural activities in their free time, poems, letters, newspapers and so on, speaking in ways which 'exceeded any coincidence with themselves as occupants of a specific social place'(10).  It was a demand for leisure, denial of the 'identity category' worker (11), insisting on subjectivation, a person not being explained by their work or by the absence of a role.  Workers are 'doing something else than their social identity' and this is to make a claim towards commonality, denying their conventional lack of identity [and there is a curious defence of indirect free discourse in the book by Parker, 2004 - it is apparently the result of 'the book's commitment to an equality legible even in the form of its Darstellung [narration]'].  The work leads on to challenging conventional social histories and reunderstanding them, for example the struggle over the time of day as a demand for humanizing leisure and a denial the workers are only productive work.  R replies to the criticism of non representativeness by saying his effort is simply to 'multiply the images of workers' not to challenge the more statistically based histories, and 'to evoke images which suggest the workers have something else to contribute to communal life'.  This is what is involved in disagreement rather than misrecognition, centred on 'the disputed status of speech': there is positive speech as well as ventriloquism, and the issue is whether speakers actually speak for themselves.  [Bourdieu is presumably being accused of taking the same line as did Marx on these unfortunate Proudhonists].

These debates are reminiscent of feminist research, particularly ethnography.  The criticism  has been that this work is openly ideological, standing in for others, adopting a position of mastery itself, especially as we know that knowledge and power are always entangled.  One solution might be to deliberately break with conventions of legitimate knowledge to produce what Lather calls '"doubled science", or new feminist ethnography, where the aim is to show the failures of existing representation and '"about troubling the very claims to represent"'(11).  Feminist ethnography has addressed these issues of 'textuality and disciplinary history' as well as using more personal data sources, to avoid writing which is exploitative and which ignores 'the power imbalances of research situations', aiming at transparency while avoiding a mastery.  In the case of Lather this produces a new landscape for research of partial truths suspension and undecidability, '" stammering"'.

R by contrast offers a partial truth [but without these hang ups] [he has certainly never lacked confidence!].  Hey explore some of the issues through 'academic melancholia', a Freudian term to describe the ways in which feminists write about their own working class origins [and they include Walkerdine].  There is a challenge from poststructuralist notions of the subject, but autobiography in research still maintains some sort of '"passionate attachment"'(13) kind of taking a melancholic form.  This resembles the 'research landscape in ruins' of Lather above.  Research is seen as 'bearing witness to the lives of marginalized others'[Lather seems to find in this sort of project a relief from post structuralist critique and to get back to emancipation, 13, displaying a 'tension between emancipatory desires and post structuralist suspicions'].

Rancière does not have this sort of scientific melancholia, rather developing 'a heroic allure' in the great project to redistribute the sensible.  He still sees a role for academic writing in politics and agency—'academic writing can instantiating quality by reconstituting the world', denying 'post' skepticism.  There is no self doubt, leading to no 'space for examining the effect of verifying equality beyond the text', just simply opening our eyes.  Academic work can 'instantiate quality by reconstituting the world' in the old ambitions before the posts.  There is no self doubt.  There is even some doubt about ideological post structuralist research, since, for R, 'there is nothing to understand, there are only things to be said about the world'[apparently in Ignorant Schoolmaster] [I think this is a denial of social science in general, a consequence of his totalizing critique].  [Amazingly] 'There are thus many similarities between Rancière's methodological concerns and those of contemporary feminist ethnography', although there are 'differences in poetics': both disagree with some strands of postmodernism.

Hey talks about melancholia, and this is similar because there is an important 'affective dimension of accounts' in R.  There is a similarity with Foucault in that affect is also distributed, along with the sensible, by discourses.  This helps him challenge Bourdieu, especially in Distinction.  Difference in the aesthetics is read as a protective strategy by the elite.  It is used to justify the position of the inheritors.  In this way, Bourdieu can be seen as helping to 'satisfy this rich clientele'(14).  What Distinction does is to force 'privileged readers to contemplate the fascinating horror of popular culture', while the lumpen proletariat can only reproduce it.  This is a version of the platonic fantasy that there is a difference between workers and thinkers.  It arises, despite Bourdieu's 'intolerance of hierarchy', because disciplinary theory itself expresses certain wants rather than modeling the world—'in other words [it is] structured by fantasy'(14) [presumably Plato's fantasy referred to earlier?].  The point is not to address fantasies at the individual level, but at the level of discourse.  To some extent, this might be the same as the passionate attachments described in Hey.  However, the point is 'not to get away from fantasy in academic writing, but to structure it in more egalitarian ways' [Bizarre and wriggly form of argument here to rescue Hey from the criticisms aimed at Bourdieu].

What follows for the practice of educational research?  We find no prescriptions in R: empirical research is fictional, 'the demonstration of fantasy' and can disclose no other material forces outside discourse.  This applies to constructivist epistemologies too which cannot deliver even partial truths through reflexivity.  These are common in ethnographic accounts.

R thinks his own research is 'unequivocally true, fictional and structured by the political fantasy of equality'.  The terms are not mutually exclusive, however.  Much of the work can be seen as a genealogy of research objects in the social sciences—the poor, the image, the school, the unconscious.  Genealogical approaches 'fuse "truth" and "perfection" by demonstrating the way in which truth emerges within historical "regimes" of thought' (15).  This method is not the same as Foucault, however, since there is no separation between the discourse of the past and the discourse of the present, the data of genealogies, and the writing of genealogies.  Genealogies are 'moments of enacted equality in the construction of research objects', not reconstructions as in Foucault, but interventions in contemporary debates which 'intervene precisely by collapsing the apparent oppositions in such debates - in other words, by creating a situation of mésentente'.  We can see this in the genealogy of the school, written as a deliberate intervention in debates about how to create a more egalitarian school system, with republican universalism on the one hand, and cultural inclusion on the other.  Both rationalized inequality.  The story of Jacotot revealed this contempt for the people in both positions.

The work on the unconscious can be seen in a similar way [French reference].  It is not that Freud reduces or cites dubious evidence.  The point is that he 'turns a literary "truth" into a scientific one', incorporating literary works to argue that phantasy is socially significant, and is not just ignorance or a series of false beliefs.  Oedipus is central not just because it features sex and incest, but because Oedipus does not know he is committing incest and has to learn.  This is 'the model of knowledge as affect', when knowledge is delivered in a particular situation [ie not anything abstract].  Freud then turns this into a common condition, the result of childhood trauma.  However, for R we see 'an image of the unconscious as a statement of equality', although it has been subsequently seen as a particular scientific object helping to 'secure epistemic mastery over research participants' (16).  The account also argues that equality can be understood as '"the capacity to be verified by anybody"', also found in Proletarian Nights, and the notion of equality as '" indifferentiation of collective speech, a great anonymous voice"', which 'invites comparison with Lacan's Real'.  The point is to show how phantasy can be seen as knowledge and as endemic to research, not the opposite of reality, and as something with political salience.  It is about scientific research not just Freud.

For R, science has a different status, and methodology is not just about discovering the properties of an object of research, but rather 'building a stage and sustaining a spectacle', an act, the configuration of the sensible.  We are interested in the affects of scientific statements the way they produce divisions between what can be seen and what can be said.  Ethics becomes more a matter of 'the poetics of academic discourse and how they performatively constitute the world' [very much like the abstract notion of ethics in Deleuze?].  Ethnographic accounts can reject positivism, and if science constitutes the world not just understands it, this removes the need for apology and any anxiety over partial truths [because they still turn on acknowledging positivism as the only way to generate truth?].  Again relativism is denied, however, but we are forced to display 'the labour of articulating one's fantasies, or the fantasies of one's disciplinary identity, and the "wants" satisfied in return for producing knowledge'[acknowledging the pleasures of academic work?].  We should also recognise that we are positing the other, addressing an ignorance [which research implies].

A lot of educational research assumes a knowledge of inequality and turns on policies or practices to help those who are rendered unequal, developing a fairer curriculum or assessment scheme.  'Rancière's work is an argument against these problematics'.

What he does do is help us investigate subjectification, to move away from the emphasis on habitus and issues like student background and how this leads to a different interactions in schools.  Arguments in favour of literacy, for example, have used Bourdieu to show that there are no universally valued forms of linguistic competence.  R would not disagree with the diagnosis, but offers a different research agenda.  It's more optimistic than 'the mournful tracing of an inescapable symbolic violence' (17),  not offering a better future, but 'exuberantly anarchic'.  This opens more possibilities for researching subjectification as the disruption of categories found in education, classifications between vocational and academic,  gifted and talented students and those with special needs, excellent and satisfactory teachers.  [Bourdieu on the arbitrary would do all this of course].  This is a parasitic endeavour.  It is unlikely to win research grants.  It does at least open possibilities for research in ways that no longer rely on 'an ethic of increasing effectiveness or of hermeneutic suspicion' [ie we can develop new research programmes etc]