Notes on: Rancière, J.  (2011) Staging the People: The Proletarian and his Double.  Translated by David Fernbach.  London: Verso

[Very brief notes only here.  This text is a collection of most of the articles published in the journal Revoltes Logiques.  These almost exclusively address the French context in a great deal of detail, and often consist of disputes between various authors.  This volume has a social historical theme, and I have focused on the main theme of stressing heterogeneity against categories].

Chapter 1 The Proletarian and His Double, Or, The Unknown Philosopher

This study is neither philosophy nor history.  It is based on a small sample of workers in the 1830s, with the intent of finding out what they might have thought, to oppose to Marxist discourses about proletarian consciousness.  The study is not to be grounded in factory struggles or the development of working class communities.  What results might be seen as 'the agitation and chattering of [worker] intellectuals' (21).

Hoping to discover a unitary class consciousness nonetheless, what emerged was a split, a series of particularistic discourses.  There was a unifying theme though,  'the denial of the identity imposed by Others' (22), a rejection of the labeling of themselves as barbarians, a 'strategic identity'.  There was still the routine sort of resistance, over factory regulation or sundry 'illegal popular actions' (23) [including poaching].  There was no particular interest in utopias.  There was a sense of a systematic attempt to fragment labour, deskill and raise productivity, and to organize the whole of life, including leisure, and this did lead to some attempts to set up worker production after taking over factories.

The discourses used to express these views were clearly vulnerable to colorization or recuperation, however, and workers delegates were happy to support the 1851 Republic, or to argue that women should stay in the home [rescued a bit in later chapters], to reduce the supply of skilled labour,  a 'corporative Malthusianism' (24), and later to support Vichy.  However, all this could be rescued [by Marxists] by recruiting these worker spokesmen to the same side as revolutionary thinkers, against more plebeian proletarians.  However, this was not sustained by examination of the reports of Saint-Simonians, who took a rather philanthropic gaze, and supported 'apostolic devotion' [and some more material appear as when discussing 'Icarian'movements  --  there is a good side to derision towards theorists, and their habits of poaching at work could still be seen as a kind of plea for autonomous production, proper workmanship, mute resistance.  The generalized collectivism of political discourses is undermined, and so is the 'lightness' (25) of philosophy].

Encountering a collection assembled from Gauny was the turning point.  It offered a first person experience, and philosophical commentary.  It showed the despair of having to be merely a labourer, to work for others, to experience 'loss of identity', but the solution lay not in radical consciousness, but in insisting on proper encounters with poetry and Saint-Simonians, separating 'rebellious energy' from 'servile labour'.  There was no time for those radicals who called for further sacrifice instead of pleasure.  It was about personal emancipation but also 'the echo in one's self of the pains of others' (26).  These themes appeared in the other work, a sense of exile, skepticism towards bourgeois definitions of labour including skilled labour, dis-connections from conventional depictions of workers, and a desire to see what happens 'on the other side of the barrier'. Proletarians had little time for utopians [an aside about Saint-Simonians says that the working class apostles they recruited had only joined because they were 'egoists', fed up with proletarians].  Some sought utopia in America.

So this discourse can be seen as not avant-garde consciousness informed by Marxist science, nor a systematization of experience developed by a political group.  Instead, individuals somehow found themselves acting as spokespersons, and they seemed to work in networks, 'taking speech to the masses' (28).  However, attempts to collectivize were elusive for the same reasons, since rebellion was a personal struggle with egoism, impossible to universalize.  Organization restores workers to a subordinate position.  This is characteristic of the discourse of the workers at the time, insightful, but unable to establish identifications with others.

This is why we cannot bring to bear either philosophy or history. It is too unsystematic and sectarian to qualify for philosophy, and no specialists to extend or sanitize the discourses.  Artisans express their identity in practice, in the production of useful objects or in struggle.  Some philosophers then borrowed these practices to try and weave them together, develop a science of production and struggle.  Meanwhile other 'false philosophers and false workers' (29), tried to denounce it all as simulation and illusion.  Quite understandably, proletarians tried to develop their own forms of art and speculation, especially those that 'do not upset too much the academic existence of those who profess [alternatives?]'.  This can be seen as a deterioration of philosophy, and it does present many of the features of ideology.  But it can still be seen as an answer to the radical question of 'what does it mean to think?'.

History [and social science] will not get very far either if they treat these emergent discourses as objects or cultural facts, and try to associate them with the other factors such as technology or lifestyles.  But this will involve them in assuming some cultural subject, and explaining its detailed evolution, and this will always refer to habitus, with conservative consequences [as with Bourdieu], and which conceals precisely what is singular.  A concern with practices not ideology is also a problem, and again we are denying the right of those engaging in working class practices to produce their own discourses and ideologies. As a result, this sort of discourse tended to disappear from history and from philosophy, as something insignificant, something that cannot fit categories.  This has consequences for R' s own account which must appear 'labyrinthine and evanescent' (30).  We can verify it using historical procedures, but applying historians' discourses would only make them disappear.

Instead we have a kind of poetry [described almost in terms of being an indirect free discourse, 31].  There is also an interesting allegory by Canguilhem about paths leading from the Sorbonne either upwards to the Pantheon or downwards to the prefecture of police—ending in philosophical idealism or in a dubious sociological materialism.  Instead, R recommends that we pursue side roads, transversal connections one might say, even rhizomes [steady Dave]: perhaps he is even saying that we should get lost like Lather.  He gets really arty here, and quotes a proletarian in a poem by Rilke who encounters a woman of the people and resists any sort of intervention, assuming that they will be able to think out what has happened for themselves—'Not disturbing the reflections of poor people' (32).  R says it is OK to disturb these reflections, in order to understand them and the paths that they actually take.

We end with Diderot, and his story about how the faces of children change into something much more unpleasant as they start work.  R's interested in those who 'did not want to change [their]  face'(33), who did not want to adjust to proletarian work by becoming sordid, bold and angry.  There is a 'hollowness' here, but an important one to tell us who we are and what we are doing.

Chapter 2 Heretical Knowledge and the Emancipation of the Poor

[Inspiring stuff about the determination of the French workers to educate themselves and thus to free themselves up from state institutions,using whatever intellectual resources came to hand.  This chapter puts Jacotot firmly in his context, and we have a very nice summary of his principles.  The discussion also extends to non professional medicine!]

We start with a lot of debates about what to call the textile workers of Lyons, who were a pretty radical bunch and who issued their own radical newspaper.  Apparently, they had to put up with the 'insulting nickname' canut [which Wikipedia tells me referred to a bare cane, without any embellishments, a sign of poverty].  Some alternatives were mentioned, but they were all controversial.  It was evidently an important issue, and it engaged all sorts of linguists as well as workers themselves, and a radical journalist, who also happened to be a promoter of '"magnetism…  knowledge of the vital spirit"' (36), to which we shall return.  The whole discussion shows the interpenetration of scholarly and popular ideas, 'encounters between semi schooled proletarians and semi proletarian scholars'(37), aiming at the emancipation of the proletariat, pursuing a notion of 'the plebeian "care of self"' that also involved solidarity. R notes that the struggles formed 'conflicts over recognition' after all (38) [ Valentine says he was apparently not interested in modern forms of these which were not proper politics]. [Some of these popular ideas look a bit wacky -- see below for a defence that borders on an apology]

[R tells us in footnotes that these terms also have specific meanings in ancient Greece.  Proletarian originally meant a worker who was so marginal to Greek society that they were not even allowed to have family names, to marry or to establish any sort of ancestry.  Plebeians on the other hand were those who are not allowed to speak.  It all turns on the idea that social divisions were ultimately divine.  This gives a kind of background to the disputes about naming or speaking, since Rancière tells us that these 'archaeological meaning(s) [were] quite contemporary during the period  I am discussing'.  It might even explain hidden meanings behind recent controversies when a UK politician called a policeman a pleb and denied his right to comment on the MP's behaviour!].

Plebs thought that they had equal intelligence, however, and that 'intellectual rehabilitation...was the first of all a battle for names' (38). This also fueled the demand for popular education, which sometimes took the form of demanding more instruction and less [domesticating] education, and sometimes a demand for useful knowledge.

Enter Jacotot, who specifically addressed artisans.  The main point here is that you can start with anything and then relate it to everything else, implying self emancipation, an ability to write about anything, ultimately to redepict 'the surrounding universe'(39).  The heroic carpenter Gauny, described in Proletarian Nights, did just this, starting with the bags used for packing lentils.  Naming things would involve taking possession of them and their determinations.  In the case of Gauny, there was also a homegrown natural history project starting with pebbles and shells, and leading to speculation about the factors that have shaped them.  R sees this as an inheritance of Enlightenment and also 'the illuminist tradition of analogy'[and there seem to be hints of the Victorian object lesson].  Writing helps this process. Gauny went on to consider the linguistic properties of language by discussing issues with 'a young soldier'.  This is what is meant by 'translatability', between things and words, and between everyday experience and the world of science.

Translatability means an egalitarian relationship, and 'intellectual apprenticeship', based on common sense and a grasp of the analytic qualities of language.  This is what Jacotot meant by equality of intelligence, and it required no intermediate 'explaining schoolmaster' which would imply inequality.  A further implication was that parents could not teach their own children.  There is no priority for oral culture, however, because the apprenticeship was to lead to a second stage, writing.  Here the learner might know a song or a prayer by heart, and they were then invited to write down the corresponding letters.  In this way, learners acquired their own 'dictionary and encyclopedia'(41).  Unlike Plato, Jacotot saw writing as extending thought, and 'breaking the monopoly of any school or explainer'.  The third stage involved addressing a material thing as a third term, a bridge between minds.  Here, learned schoolmasters might be useful, 'but only on the condition of being precisely treated as a thing' (42), [talking textbook].

The underlying assumptions here are classic Enlightenment ones.  Apprenticeship is the same as the logic of invention, and both depend on rational analysis.  We are to develop 'a scholars' logic', taking small amounts of fundamental data to develop a world of knowledge.  However, there is also a deeper 'experience and thought of symbolic appropriation', which predates the Enlightenment.  Here, the universe itself speaks, reason can be found everywhere [sounds like a pre-philosophical version of the 17th century notion of necessary reason?], words and ideas develop from the resemblance between words and things.  This is what needs to be grasped through apprenticeship: it leads to revelation.

This looks Christian or occult.  The position was apparently called illuminism.  Socialist equality was definitely linked to these 'archaic visions of relationships between life, language and history', combining logical analysis with 'a super-rationalism of analogies'(43).  However, it was not simply a matter of holding contradictory views, but trying to conjoin them, sometimes in order to enable more people to appropriate reason, at the cost of a 'rickety philosophy' for socialism.  But the excluded could not enter 'the world of natural reason' in any other way. Gauny shows how speculative thinking about the origin of the characteristics of pebbles expresses a crucial 'right to reason'.

However, there is a clear risk of seeming to take sides against official sciences.  The battle also raged with medicine confronting alternative therapies, including homoeopathy.  Similar struggles were also apparent in devising various musical methods, [compare with the Victorian  Hullah method ] gymnastics or popular educational movements [so it's not a response to the risks of second modernity after all].  One impulse was that science was seen to represent 'the management of privilege', and popular science was intended to break this monopoly. 

To what extent did this depend on the occult, however?  [A material case already existed] Apprenticeship privileged knowledge acquired by the individual as opposed to that which is imposed on them, including surgical intervention.  There is always a danger that social privilege dominates over 'disinterested research and humanitarian commitment'(44).  The response was a demand to take independent charge of instruction and health.  Jacotot generalized exactly like this, aiming at general emancipation,  and wanted fathers to teach their own children, for example, after they were emancipated themselves.

A radical advocate of self treatment, Raspail, also argued that the proletarian should learn to read in order to 'become his own doctor' (45), develop their own medicine cabinet, in an 'autonomous practice of health'.  Intellectual emancipation would therefore lead to social emancipation, and was a model for it.  Each person was obliged to pursue this emancipation.

The propagation of knowledge took place initially in a 1 to 1 relationship.  The teacher encouraged emancipation and also gave object lessons, for example providing a book.  The model was based on the common notion of initiation, again an attempt to build a social identity, found in widespread friendship societies.  The family was central, even to Jacotot, rather than developing institutions.  The mother was also involved in giving children knowledge even if they did not possess it themselves, and that included knowledge of keeping healthy.  This is a departure from other attempts to glorify families.  Those might have been driven by male power seeing families as compensation, or from attempts to imitate bourgeois families.  Here, the family is to emancipate.  Initially, proletarians were not expected to have families, so a demand for legitimate families was an early claim to possess 'a "sign of intelligence"' (48).  Rational beings lived in families.  Jacotot argued that if fathers could give children food, they should also be able to give them the knowledge.  The father should 'serve as "ignorant schoolmaster" for his son' (48).

The intention to expand care in the home was meant to challenge expanding clinical knowledge which tended to be concentrated in the medical profession and the hospital.  Hospitals were unpopular places that separated people from families and diminished their sense of self, turning them into objects for experimentation.  Autopsy prevented the worst example: a 'mass of flesh' was returned not a body, and it cost people 27 francs.  Visitors were sometimes appalled to see patients surrounded by medical students, and there was a lot of anxiety about 'medical mutilation' (49).  There was a need to get back control over your own body.

The expanded role for the family contradicted the development of specialized institutions, including schools.  It modelled the classic education of the artisan which extended to playing a suitable role in the family.  When achieved, education lead to emancipation, the realization of common intelligence and of interdependence, including relations between parents and children.  The family offers an expanded self, a 'different sociability' (50), based on reason and solidarity.  It opposed an alternative vision of socialism, where new public/State social organizations replaced egos and families.  The latter apparently arose with an interpretation of a widely known theory of Helvetius, that saw education as having a decisive effect on intelligence.  Benthamites and Owenites saw this as  arguing that circumstances determined intelligence, and that [public] education was needed to combat 'the anarchy of family egoism and obscurantism'.  Others read Helvetius as advocating self education, the struggle for individuals to become rational beings, to attain equal intelligence through emancipation, and an education system that passed intelligence on to family members.

However, Jacotot himself was skeptical about whether society would ever become rational, but one of his disciples, Ratier, was more optimistic.  Other people subscribed to the general view of transmitting intelligence, including a freemason master dyer (51) and a carriage manufacturer.  All were devoted to 'helping their kind'.

There was a unity between a science for emancipated individuals, and a science that made them able to help, in a whole 'web of practical socialism', which involved 'relief and charity', unlike the distinctions [between these activities and proper politics] introduced by both Proudhon and Marx.  The same distinctions are found in the medical disputes as well, for example among homoeopaths - some opposed more popular versions.  The same goes for the 'magnetists' (52), who divided between spiritualists and charlatans on the one hand, and those practicing 'sympathy between sentient beings' on the other.   The revolution of 1848 had opposed magnetism, and the charlatan clairvoyants had emerged afterwards.  The underlying notion of vitalism was strongly connected to 'belief in socialism' (53), however, and eventually a more secular version developed, claiming to offer both a science and particular moral or philanthropic effects.  The former tended to be emphasized in order to fight off the charlatans, but a lingering 'sentiment of humanity'retained the moral values.  A particular meeting even appealed to women, and one claimed to be interested in founding a 'new humanitarian church'(53).  Prominent members were prosecuted, however.  One development involved 'a course in somnambulic education' [!]  (54), and 'rational magnetism' was seen as conveying universal pleasures and insight.

There was a notion of people joining with their fellow creatures in an investigation of the unknown.  The unknown was to be pursued from a basis in what was known.  Jacotot turned this into a method as a way of harnessing 'sympathetic sentiment'(55), although for him there could be no 'pantheistic or spiritualistic excess'.  Others, including Gauny, retained some religious connotations.  The movement from known to unknown, in other words, could be connected to a number of particular options and types of rationality, with the notion of a humanity as 'the middle term'- all agreed on 'an idea of the ethical community' (56), as 'a stylization of individual life'.  A speaking being, an autonomous subject was to belong to 'a society of individuals in solidarity'. 

Chapter 3 The Gold of Sacramento: Capital and Labour's Californian Adventures

There was a move to set up a utopian community in the USA, the Icarians, but many French workers just left for California in the gold rush.  When they first arrived, they thought of it as a workers' paradise.  Not only was manual labour extremely highly paid, even for women providing domestic services - dressmakers did particularly well since there were so few of them, and men had to buy a new shirt each time instead of getting the existing one repaired.  There also seemed to be a spirit of equality, brotherhood, with the absence of crime.  There was initially no need for capital, since machines existed but were not as reliable as individuals working with pick and pan.  Gold mining itself required a certain solidarity in order to succeed.

Of course there were problems including murder and disputes over claims, and some other local Americans resented the newcomers, and even attacked them [this was Mormons!]. Regular work seem to pay much better than gold mining.  Some commodities like housing were in ridiculously short supply.

Eventually, trade proved to be more profitable than gold mining so that the goods did the travelling not the people.  The French economy was reviving Apparently, Icaria encountered the same problems -'Things in America that were either too easy or too hard'(63).  Conventional class relations soon restored themselves.

[My own limited experience visiting gold mining sites in Australia tell a slightly different story.  In the first phase, it was every man for himself, with a genuine chance to strike it rich, since gold literally lay in the streams in large nuggets or on the surface,and, as with Sacrament, people of all social classes found themselves next to each other on the goldfields.  The Irish in Ballarat clearly had socialist ambitions, and the famous incident of the Eureka Stockade involved a clash with the English authorities trying to regulate them, charge for licences and collect land rents.  As those easy deposits were cleaned up, however, there was a need to dig down into the reefs to find the veins.  This required capital, and the independent miner was finished]

[I also have some limited experience with utopian communities setting off for the USA.  In the 1830s, a group of unemployed and dangerously disaffected agricultural laborers in the Wiltshire town of Downton were sponsored by the local parish and a local philanthropist to set off for the USA in a chartered ship.  Some of them went to utopian communities founded near Lake Ontario, while others headed into Pennsylvania, seen as a refuge for egalitarianism and Quakerism.  The emigration was driven by a series of extremely poor harvests which lead to parish starvation and also to outbursts of agricultural protest in the form of rick burning, by groups calling themselves Captain Swing.  The emigrants included two of my relatives, both named Bundy!]

Chapter 4 Off to the Exhibition: The Worker, His Wife and the Machines.

This is an account of the real complexities of the politics of the work and home.  Of course it is messy and sometimes contradictory, not guided by theory, but R's account is very good at demolishing many of the myths about industrial workers in the 1830s.  One was that they opposed mechanization in some sort of irrational manner, from conservatism.  These accounts, however show that there is a great deal of admiration for machinery, and a realization of its potential to remove the dull and unskilled parts of labour, the basic repetitive tasks, permitting more skilled inputs.  There could also be a moral and social implication of the use of machinery.  The right use of machinery would free up time that could be devoted to education and reduce the working day generally, perhaps even develop 'workers intelligence' (74), that is the intelligence needed to apply a craft, and increasingly to understand scientific inputs.  Above all, mechanization would reduce the divisive split between skilled and unskilled.  There is some utopian thinking about a mechanized future [R 2004 also discusses this in his critique of Marx and Engels - they rejected the hopes of a delegation of British workers who went to Scandinavia to see what the new machines could do, and argued that this would only prolong capitalist work {they were quite right as it turned out of course}.  As for their own utopia, in The German Ideology, it seemed not to include modern production at all, but developed a kind of rural idyll with all that pants about herding cattle in the morning and philosophizing in the evening]. At the same time, workers were not daft and could see that for the employers, the introduction of machinery was yet another strategy to reduce the importance of skill in the job: they saw all the problems of deskilling, rather before Bravermann did.

When it comes to women, again there are different arguments from the usual propagandistic ones that see working men as hostile to women, as patriarchal.  It was the capitalists who saw women as weaker, less suited to work, lacking discipline and the rest, and this enabled them to pay them less, arguing that this made them less skilled.  Sometimes, this also led to arguments that they should be excluded from the work place altogether, which seems to have been embraced by some disciples of Proudhon.  Some workers realized that their female colleagues were actually more combative when it came to resisting these restrictions.  Others saw the issue of women's labour as a part of a general struggle with employers.  In general, the demand was that if women are to work then they should be paid an equal wage.  In terms of increasing opportunities for women, it was noted that lots of men are also doing women's work in retail and fashion, for example, but should not be doing so.  This does involves seeing some occupations as male and others as female, but R argues this is not just an arbitrary judgment made by men—when it came to woodturners, for example an all female commission was consulted on what would be suitable female situations to guide apprentices.  The justification was that this would harmonise the complementary qualities of men and women

There was also a view that women should work if they have 'neither father nor spouse'.  However, for the others, there was a view that the proper place for women was in the home, but again this took on a moral dimension.  This was sometimes put rather aggressively, 'with no beating about the bush' (79): the tailors argued that '" nothing can justify the use of women as agents or production"'. Basically, the home was seen as a necessary refuge from the relations of capitalism.  If women entered factory worker, they would be physically and morally degraded—they would have to become men.  If men were paid enough, women would be able to stay at home, and this was seen as emancipating them.  In particular, it would help everyone escape capitalist institutions like creches and hospitals, in 'a space closed off from the intrusion of the employers and the state'(81).  It would help male workers avoid 'the depravation of his [boozer] bar'(82).  It was a blow against the hypocrisy of bourgeois preaching about the sanctity of women, while exploiting them in factories.

Again bourgeois conceptions of the family had to be resisted, something that disciplined children, often combined with a rather negative view of working class families as unhygienic.  Workers' conceptions of the family were different: they did not see themselves as head of house 'analogous to the head of a business' (83), but as guarding and providing a refuge [lots of feminist in leisure studies would want to question this conception, of course].  If both parents worked, they would both become commodified, and so would their kids in the creche.  Families had to preserve 'anything that can escape the order of the employers'(84, including health (hospitals were seen as factories or prisons, creches as places to  discipline children).  Again, home and work would complement each other [reads like early Parsons].  The home was a source of resistance to attempts to totalize the lives of workers, a 'cell of autonomy' (87). Philanthropic efforts to provide housing were opposed on these grounds: workers also resented being expelled to the outskirts of towns, denying them shared political spaces.

There was resistance even in those days of accepting this view of male as provider and protector.  Resistance was seen as the result of women's 'defective education', but there was hope that women could eventually calculate the benefits.  R notes that Lenin had a similar line with respect to the peasants.

Finally, there was at least one 'bookbinder' (88) who fully asserted the right of women to emancipate themselves by their own means [and gave a women a prominent position in his own cooperative bank]. This was Eugène Varlin, who was unfortunately executed at the fall of the Commune before his ideas could gain further influence

Chapter five A Troublesome Woman

This is R disputing an earlier account of an organization formed by women attached to Saint- Simon, and the stories of particular individuals and their views.  The earlier accounts had been written by doughty feminists, including Fraisse, in response to an even earlier account written by a male historian.  The feminist account argued that this male history had imposed male categories, in the familiar way of mastering feminist accounts.  R was to challenge the feminist account itself, however, for reimposing its own version of master discourse, reading the stories of the women in a simple and dogmatic way, and, in particular, ignoring those bits where the women enjoyed heterosexual contact, and even saw some comfort in family life:

'To investigate [these matters by avoiding] the jouissance of servitude…  risks ending up reintroducing a male point of view…  [It] leads to a vision of women's autonomy that reproduces an old male point of view: the valorization of "women among women" as a bird cage of fleeting fantasies, complicit words, the unpredictable trajectories of bewitched bodies: an autonomy of women cosy among themselves, talking, dancing, imagining in the reclusion of a private space that is suddenly revealed to the voyeur's gaze' (98). 

The feminist hero is rendered as some Leninist, opposing sex and debauchery.  Here, it is this feminist account that makes an 'assertion of difference lost in an undifferentiated dissident mode'(99).  There is also an historical point, in that we must undermine 'the edifying discourse of recognition' and 'the dialectic of identifications and misunderstanding that characterizes today's genealogies as much as it did the Marxist classics'.  We should read such histories 'less by what brings them close to us than by what renders them foreign, far indeed from the frameworks of thought in which we move with either satisfaction or unease'.  We should not try to impose our own morality on them, or reduce their projects to our own interests in 'whether they started off as socialists or feminists', or whether we can classify them as ' either victims or accomplices'.  Their singularity 'can never be enclosed in a single identification'.

[Fraisse has critiqued Rancière in turn ( in Davis), accusing him of the reciprocal offence -- so interested in the universal issue of heterogeneity that he can't grasp the specificity of feminist work]