NOTES on: Pelletier, C.  (2009) Emancipation, equality and education: Ranciere's critique of Bourdieu and the question of performativity.  Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 30 (2): 137-50.

by Dave Harris

Rancière has written widely on a number of topics.  In English work , he has been associated with history, but his work on democracy and subjectification as disruptive links in with Badiou, Zizek, Laclau et al.  The style of writing is also difficult to classify—The Ignorant Schoolmaster [IS] is a novel, an archival study, and a treatise [indirect free discourse, I reckon].  Its focus on another era made it look irrelevant to the contemporary debate in France [and is open to DeCerteau's critique that, like Foucault's history, it is so obscure that no one can challenge it].  Among the things that make him relevant is his critique of Bourdieu [in the French Empire of Sociology, in Philosophy of the Poor, and in the essay that I think appears in Biesta's book].

says that Bourdieu has an ethics, that is political effects, and features a tension between 'the denunciation of domination and the modeling of its ineluctable reproduction' (138).  The common criticism that there is no political agency in Bourdieu is at the heart of it for
Rancière, that is because the poor are objects of study and not intellectual subjects.  This is what makes Bourdieu similar to Althusser, despite his denials.

says that he has had to reject two traditions in Marxism—one that says class consciousness only develops with the assistance of an external science, and the other that says consciousness would emerge from working class activities and culture.  The latter misrecognises experience and has 'celebrated a popular authenticity'.  Both see the working class as incapable of thinking beyond the limits imposed by their way of life.  [Not true of the latter, surely, at least in the hands of British gramscians who somehow thought these experiences would spontaneously escalate into a challenge to the system, an argument also found in Hardt and Negri?].  IS does not refer explicitly to Bourdieu, but it can be seen as negating him.

The argument with Bourdieu is similar to the one with Althusser.  Science is split from ideology, and ideology is a discourse which affects the thought of political and social actors, as 'controlling illusions' (139).  Ideological representation prevents access to science.  Such access will bring about emancipation.  However, science has to operate with 'specialized, exclusive methods', which justifies scientists in delivering a 'lesson'.  The dominated cannot emancipate themselves from ideology.  Only science penetrates social illusions because of its purity and reflexivity.  Setting up the role of science like this reproduces a distinction between intellectual and manual workers, and gives the former their importance.  In Bourdieu, this can be seen in the notion of misrecognition and sociology 'as a science of the hidden. Schools [regulate ambition], and what they teach is alien to working class students: success is seen as a result of a gift.

does not refute the pervasiveness of the notion of giftedness, but he takes exception to the argument that working class students are fooled by this [argued not very well in this article by referring to 'what everyone knows': 'Yet who are these people who believe schools offer equality of opportunity?  Who believes giftedness is divorced from social background?'Actually, I've met quite a few who believe in both]. 
Rancière thinks mystification only exists in the discourse of the demystifiers [ridiculous idealism: the practice of assessment is far more important]. 

Mystification is special pleading for people who want to establish a discipline separate from politics and economics.  Finding working class exclusion, the effects of economic inequality and different tastes are not sufficient: it all has to be bound up with misrecognition and being hidden, so the only sociologists can reveal them.  Bourdieu's argument actually goes through several stages:

The working class are excluded and do not recognize the real reasons for this [in the Inheritors]; this misrecognition is produced by the system itself as a structural effect [as in reproduction].  Each proposition supports the other.  Neither party can see what's going on.  Only sociology offers radical critique and the possibility of reform.  The claims are based on an argument that 'the social order could [never] produce anything else than its own misrecognition', and only elite sociologists can see through this.

This explanation was good in explaining the collapse of radical politics after 1968.  Bourdieu is able to be critical, while condemning others for being naively optimistic, for denouncing the system while admitting it is likely to be perpetual.  This produces '"an unusual militant science", and a perpetual mourning for the socialist and democratic hopes in Durkheim (140).  [So sociologists are incapable of perceiving this for themselves and this requires an external philosopher to point it out to them].  Bourdieu represents a nostalgia for class struggle: the elite display a bad faith and hypocrisy, while the poor console themselves romantically by remaining closer to nature and necessity, 'eating only to stave off hunger'.  Only sociologists have the intellectual insight and 'the ethical superiority 'to display this truth.  'In this respect, Bourdieu upholds the very hierarchy he describes', preserving sociology as something that denounces and explains why it is eternally unpopular [maybe.  Althusser is pretty good at that as well]

This is a caricature of texts like Distinction, but the point is not to question the validity of the research [well, he couldn't really could he, having no research of his own] but point to its 'performative effect' (141).  It is not just there is a contradiction between misrecognition and reflexivity, but rather that there is an unfortunate image of the subject projected.

It is the image of the social that is in question, in sociology and in literary texts.  This similarity turns on understanding texts as performative, attempting to 'enact realities into and out of being', especially making some political arrangements more or less probable and real.  This is similar to the work of Law, who suggests that we sees social science methods as '"the enactment of presence, manifest absence, and absence as Otherness"'. 
Rancière says that social mixing is simply absent and other in Bourdieu, so that each group can maintain its role.  This is Platonic, with some people able to see truth, while others can only see appearances, where everyone acts according to what is proper in their place [but Bourdieu is describing this is an effect of modern capitalism?  It is not his view?  It is a difficult empirical matter, as we can see with later studies, like Bennett et al on social mixing in leisure].

It is no good relying on 'a presumed given empirical reality', however.  Instead, we should see where 'what a proposition brings to presence'[massive idealism again].  Emancipation involves not just acquiring adequate knowledge, but 'changing the "distribution of the sensible"'.  For
Rancière, this means altering the perceptual world and how it is distributed, how people find out what's proper to their social function, how they relate the personal and the common, the private and the public [I'm paraphrasing here.  There is also a Foucaldian bit about cutting up what is visible, and "what is noise and what is speech"].  All discourses are therefore political.  There is no agreed totality of social relations, 'as implied in Bourdieu's notion of "field"', just antagonistic ways of knowing reality and making other's absent [again, is Bourdieu seeing the field as anything other than a social arrangement for mutual benefit, for example as in the scholastic field? Rancière's critique operates only by forbidding Bourdieu to do empirical work and insisting that he must be a philosopher with consistent axioms and all that].

So what is the relation between education and emancipation?  It is not a matter of knowledge or consciousness.  Bourdieu and scientific Marxism alike assume inequality, so that emancipation is the final stage in a process of gradual reduction.  Instead, 'there is no other means of achieving equality than to assume it, to affirm it, to have it as one's epistemological starting point, and then to  systematically verify it'(142) [by asserting equality as an axiom it saves all that nasty empirical investigation.  It is also what liberals and other ideologists do, and now we can't check their assertions, just assert right along with or against them.  So we choose between Ranciere and Nick Clegg by voting? Can't I just assert inequality, as racists do?].

This is 'dramatised' in IS.  The success of leaving students to read Télémaque for themselves surprises Jacotot and makes him revise his assumptions that teachers need to know things that they can then explain to students, using a student-friendly graduated pedagogic method.  He concludes that it is not a matter of transferring knowledge, but 'establishing a relationship of equality between master and student, between the one who demands that intelligence manifest itself and the other who develops his or her own intellect' (143) [interesting word that—'demands'.  On what authority?].

Rancière uses his literary skill {NB} to develop an argument more generally.  He develops a relation with Jacotot which demonstrates equality: 'the writing effects the collapse between subject and object of knowledge advocated in the narrative'[or appears to?  It is a pretty one sided indirect free discourse.  Jacotot is dead and cannot answer back.].  In practice, teachers have to maintain a distance between knowledge and ignorance, to demonstrate incapacity, to divide intelligence into inferior and superior varieties, to force students to rely on people who will explain things to them, and this 'stultification' affects the poor in particular.

There is no relativism.  Jacotot is methodical and demanding [but this seems to be good because 'knowledge and authority are no longer amalgamated'] if we start from the basis that there is equal intelligence, the problem then is not prove it but to see what can happen as a consequence [this is still a kind of proof through practice?].  There is no need to assume 'empathy or shared interests', and Jacotot would not accept excuses based on claims to be inferior.  Unlike Habermas,
Rancière [actually, it is supposed to be Jacotot who is speaking here] says there is no need to build consensus on mutual understanding—'rather it appears more as a kind of confrontation between the teacher's and the student's will'[so equal intelligence but unequal will?  Where do these unequal wills come from?].

We use this kind of approach, 'universal teaching' all the time, where we do not recognize intellectual superiors.  It is the educational system itself that instills a hierarchy and remakes incapacity.  Students have to accept this if they are to make individual progress [quite close to Althusser here then?].  This contradicts the public goals of mass education, such as making people ready for democracy.  Instead, it makes them ready for social order based on some predefined notion of progress.  The quality is to be realized, but 'perpetually deferred'.  Inequality is to be rationalised, just justified more progressively.  This is the role of education systems [a reproductive one then?  Why don't people see through it?].  Social progress 'is the idea of a pedagogy applied to the whole of society', and according to
Rancière '" Jacotot was the only egalitarian to perceive"' this representation and institutionalisation of progress [this is so obviously contradictory that needs no further comment—Jacotot is allowed to offer these marvelous insights based on his experience, but Bourdieu is condemned as an elitist and a waverer when he tries to do the same on the basis of empirical evidence!  This is really a philosopher denying the need for empirical evidence?]

Rancière and Bourdieu are skeptical about education as emancipation.  One argues that the reality of inequality is concealed, the other that it is naturalized,, or, in other words, for Rancière 'equality is not an illusion that conceals inequality; rather, equality (in the future) is precisely that which legitimises the presupposition of inequality (in the present)'(145) [Illusion for whom?Legitimates it for whom? Only sociologists seem to be taken in?] .  [I think that Bourdieu argues for the second one as well, maybe without explicitly distinguishing present and future].  Inequality is made to look 'utterly apparent and obvious—or "sensible", to use Rancière's term'.

critique of Bourdieu turns on claiming that inequality arises because sociology presupposes some 'epistemic difference' from everyday statements [he is not alone of course].  Sociology is needed because people cannot overcome their own incapacity, and 'they are captured by the logic of bodily practice'.  His analysis serves to explain [in the sense of justifying] inequality—the poor have an habitus that stops them formulating critical insight and scholarly discourse. 
Rancière insists that the poor do not succeed because their discourse is not seen as scholarly, and is therefore excluded, and Bourdieu's work confirms this too [so what we need is some concrete investigation of the discourse of the poor, maybe like the empirical studies in Distinction, or other studies like those of Willis or Skeggs?  Or perhaps we should just stay with the basis of making different assumptions!].

We can compare
Rancière with Butler on gender and her attack on the notion of fixed identity categories which confirm social status.  Butler's worry is with feminist discourses that confirm a foundational identity for women, despite their emancipatory intent. Rancière makes a similar point, that the very critique of domination presupposes fixed identities for the dominated, in this case for the working class.

Butler sees drag as a challenge to these sensible categories, through imitation which challenges ontological assumptions about sex and identity.  It is not just a celebration of parody, but a strategy which uncovers the constant effort made by heterosexuality to become hegemonic. 
Rancière similarly uses archival material to look at the way in which workers imitate their social betters, and how this also disrupts class identities.  In both cases, acting out or doing makes equality 'perceivable or imaginable' (145).  When the rejected speak and enunciate, visions of social totality are challenged and made to look contingent [but they recover extremely quickly and recuperate challenge—drag appears on popular television!  There is a problem comparing historical and current examples as well—is the assumption that current drag artists have not read Butler, that they have worked out their stand solely on the basis of their own experiences?  We know the historical workers could not have read Rancière, of course—but did they read nothing? CF Rose's study].

Both see emancipatory potential in performativity, although Butler does seem to be alert to the prospect that 'emancipatory discourse can be deployed to create new categories of abject beings' (146) [the example was when the Dutch government used claims made by queers to question whether Muslims were ready for integration]. 
Rancière is more concerned about the effects of his own discourse [academic heroism], in particular his questioning of forms of academic discourse and how it subjectivates.  This makes his own iscourse look experimental, a political intervention rather than an analysis of anything external. [invites us to get political right back!]

His main concern is to discuss inequality without posing as occupying an external position.  This results in 'the obfuscation of the division between subject and object.  The aim, it seems, is to dramatize equality at the level of discourse'.  This leaves the epistemological status of his work ambiguous.  Apparently, we are not to take him neither literally or figuratively, active or passive, offering neither denotation or connotation [seems to render him immune from just about every sort the criticism then].  This is unlike Bourdieu's 'positivity'.  However, it addresses the ethics of writing, as well as the '" poetic structures of knowledge"', quoting White.  There is some connection with both Law and Latour on performativity.

Given this status, what follows for contemporary educational research?  There is no defence of a particular pedagogic method in IS, unlike, say, Freire.  Teaching is not being criticized in itself, indeed, it celebrates education and the production of shared space.  It is not a utopian manifesto, or a recommendation that public education be abolished, and nor does it argue that we need to 'resurrect a romanticised past'(147).  It does help us challenge the claims of the education system to lead to democracy and social progress [but so does Bourdieu, and scores of others]. 

These claims have also led to educational research about methods of transmission, the needs of learners who are 'falling behind'.  Social class has appeared as something outdated, and has been replaced by a concern with gender, although it is still a matter of distributing knowledge to overcome inequality.  Jacotot's story reveals that these techniques can legitimize inequality by making 'the distribution of social functions appear rational.  The education system will also always be in some sort of crisis if we are judging it by its efficiency in distributing knowledge, and these apparent failures only confirm the existing social order.  Thus 'inequality is made innocent: it is simply an ordering of capacity'(148) [more or less exactly what Bourdieu and Passeron say].  Failures to overcome inequalities mean that equality can be infinitely postponed.

Biesta [Exeter Paper] sees
Rancière as offering a challenge to those ideas of democratic education which simply refer to inclusion in the existing order—this leaves that order unchallenged.  Instead, we should focus on what is currently made incalculable by the existing order, and including that in schools and universities.  Apparently, Bourdieu made exactly this recommendation too, according to
, so they have similar ideas but a specific issue where they disagree [philosophical distinction].

does suggest that we should focus on 'performity of subjectification in the act of interpreting the world', an extensive politicization of knowledge in a radical sense, examining the consequences of different ways of representing the world.  These must be assumed to be equal.  Schools and universities must be seen as inherently political, facing constant challenge to the existing hierarchy which stops 'underachievers' from being heard.  We should examine the current divisions of discourse into academic subjects, and all the other divisions as well: 'intelligible and unintelligible, essential and inessential, theoretical and practical, academic and vocational, abstract and concrete'(148).  We should see how transgression constitutes subjects and reconfigures the sensible [luckily, this includes academic research and its performative effects].  'The issue then is not approve equality, nor to know the causes of domination, but to see what is made perceptible in the verification of equality'[and after all these dissenting visions appear?  Might we expect those with lots of power to effectively suppress the ones that they disagreed with?  Academic discourse already works like this, pretending to permit all sorts of opinions to be stated, and then rewarding those that conform to academic conventions—there are no right answers, but there do seem to be lots of wrong ones].

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