NOTES ON Biesta G (2010) 'A New Logic of Emancipation: the Methodology of Jacques Rancière'.  Educational Theory 60 (1): 39 -59.

by Dave Harris

Conventional theories of emancipatory practice assume that we need to analyze the workings of power first [just assume this -- they never cite historical examples or anything?].  Rancière questions this logic and articulates a different approach.  Biesta proposes a 'systematic reconstruction' of these ideas [not at all like an exposition of course] focusing on political theory, political practice and the practice of education.

Many educators want to emancipate students, so they can become independent and think for themselves.  This is especially so in critical traditions operating to achieve social justice and freedom [with a reference to an Israeli piece].  The workings of power must be expounded, as in '"demystification" and "liberation from dogmatism"' (40) [references include one or two pieces of his own].  Emancipation therefore requires adopting a position uncontaminated by the workings of power.  We see this argued in 'Marxist notions of ideology and false consciousness', and in Bourdieu's concept of misrecognition.  Critical analyst must make visible what is hidden.

Rancière has questioned this logic, arguing that it necessarily introduces dependency on the part of the emancipated [The Politics of Aesthetics, and The Ignorant Schoolmaster --IS].  He has given details of practices and how they lead to stultification'[a general reference to IS], and he has gone on to criticize philosophy and social theory more generally.  He has attempted to develop an alternative approach to understanding and emancipation, both in education and in philosophy and social theory.

His ideas can be reconstructed as a methodology.  There is no secure path to emancipation, but rather a suggestion that 'the form of his writing—is to a large extent consistent with his ideas on emancipation', in avoiding mastery [bizarre definition of methodology -- and open to challenge re
Rancière's writing which is pretty elitist and explicatory].  This is called a topographical way of writing, and Rancière claims to show how '"an egalitarian or anarchist theoretical position"' can be developed as an example of a pedagogy [note 9 says that there is no space to refer in detail to Rancière's writing, 41].

Emancipation originally referred to liberation from the legal authority of the father.  After emancipation, persons become independent and free.  The term was applied to religious toleration, the emancipation of slaves, and then of women and workers.  The emergence of independence clearly related to education.

The Enlightenment was seen as a process of emancipation in Kant, referring to the development of full understanding, breaking with self imposed restraints, especially 'lack of resolution and courage' (42).  Reason should be unrestrained in order to develop autonomy.  This was 'an inherent part of human nature', but it required education.  This outlines all the elements in the 'modern educational nexus'.  Kant also recognised 'the "educational paradox": "how do I cultivate freedom through coercion?"' (43).[ Not addressed again in the subsequent discussion].

Educational emancipation lay behind the establishment of education as an academic discipline in Germany, and in notions of new or progressive education emerging in the 20th century.  Sometimes this was linked to Rousseau's notion that the societal order corrupts children, and that 'the child' is a natural category.  There were also rightwing adaptations, in Nazism.  This led to the view that individual emancipation also relied on social transformation.  In Germany, Habermas was important, in North America, Dewey and Freire, and later Apple and Giroux [and others]. There was a focus on the analysis of oppressive structures and practices and theories, and a drive to give people insight into power relations, as demystification.

In philosophy, Marxism and 'neo Marxist philosophy' became important [note 19 acknowledges that other critical positions such as feminism or post colonialism are also important, and notes that they are often critical of Marxism, 43].  In particular, Marxists added the term ideology.  There is debate about this term [referencing Eagleton], but 'one of the crucial insights…  is not only that all thought is socially determined—following Karl Marx's dictum that "it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness"—but also, and more importantly, the ideology is thought "which denies this determination"' (44) [quotes in Eagleton].  Engels similarly claims that the motives which impel people remain unknown to them, that we cannot see how power works upon our consciousness.  Someone from outside who has escaped the workings of power should be able to provide us with an objective account— through either science or philosophy.

[So far we have the lofty sketch of the busy great man.  He can't refer us to detailed bits of
Rancière's text, so we must just take his word for it.  The same goes with the notion of ideology—we are offered the prime knowledge of a man who knows there is a big debate, but still thinks in the end that he is right].

So there is a logic of emancipation.  An outsider not contaminated by power is required, emancipation is done to somebody, there is an inequality between emancipator and emancipated.  Equality becomes the outcome of emancipation, something in the future, something used to justify emancipators, and the use of a particular pedagogy, where 'teacher knows and students do not know yet'(45). 

However, there are contradictions:

Emancipation aims at independence but instills dependency.  Dependency can be unlimited, since even after emancipation, the emancipated remain in the debt of the emancipator—'should slaves remain grateful to their masters for setting them free?'[straw man here—name an emancipator who has demanded that.] 'Or could all of them perhaps have asked why they were not considered to be free in the first place?'[A note at the bottom of 45 says that questions are posed in this way to relate back to
Rancière and to highlight the issues.  There is a reference to Biesta's book on Rancière , which was apparently written with the help of the great man himself].

Emancipation is based on a fundamental inequality of knowledge.  Emancipators need the emancipated to be inferior, again this hierarchy lasts even beyond emancipation—slaves will never be masters [Deleuze says something like this].  Emancipation involves 'a fundamental distrust of an suspicion about 'the experiences of the oppressed.  Experience is an unreliable guide, it is obscured, and needs to be exposed to the truth of reason.

Rancière sees emancipation as an escape from situations 'in which one is a minor'.  This already implies an activity, and Rancière stresses that escape depends on one's own efforts.  Emancipation is not just a shift from minority to majority [all this is based on Rancière's On the Shores of Politics], but a rupture leading to subjectivity, a process of subjectification, a series of actions and 'a capacity for enunciation 'that reconfigures experience.  (46). It is not just developing an identity, which can take place within existing orders, but rather disidentification, but not as a matter of overcoming illusion, rather as redefining experience, within the '"the perceptible organization of the community"' (47).

This is a highly political act of reconfiguration in the existing order of things, 'the existing divisional distribution of the sensible', a new understanding of what might be apprehended.  This is politics, rather than 'police (or police order)' (47).  The latter notion 'is reminiscent of Michel Foucault', an order of the visible and the sayable, not the domination of life worlds by system as in Habermas, but something that appears in the spontaneity of social relations, apparent social rules, some all-inclusive order into which everyone fits.  No one is excluded, not even slaves.  [it looks pretty deterministic and overwhelmingly oppressive to me, with politics only as an abstract option].

Rancière sees ['proper'] politics as a way of acting that disturbs this arrangement, in the name of equality, aimed at reconfiguring space and identities and definitions, opening previously invisible places [sounds just like making oppression visible to reason].  Heterogeneity is deliberately introduced and implemented to demonstrate the contingency of the political order, and to demand equality [as in gay rights?].  It is a demand for equality in speaking [note 33, p.49, says the issue is struggling over what counts as noise as opposed to voice, and that this obviously covers postcolonial and other struggles, not just social class.  We encounter the familiar problem here, however— is the struggle for voice by the National Front a desirable form of egalitarianism?  Is the struggle for voice in a neighbourly dispute about hedges proper politics?]. Policing constantly struggles to domesticate this activity [thank God we might say in some circumstances].

This is what democratic politics refers to, not a particular regime.  Democracy always involves a claim for equality, not just the extension of rights to an excluded group, but the creation of that group with its own new identity.  [Only an identity?  Not actual rights say over the means of production?].  Examples include 19th century workers in France who had developed a collective identity.  Subjects emerge beyond the conventions of parties, states or societies.  Disputes indicate the appearance of the people, and are inherent to proper democracy, not just the clashes between parties [so we can avoid any notion of priority]

Democracy is a dispute between logic, of the police and heterogeneity and egalitarianism.  Dissensus is not just a sordid conflict of interests and opinions: it produces heterogeneity and subjectivity.  It is 'productive or poetic'[classic tautology here—dissensus is poetic, but only if it's poetic dissensus and not sordid stuff about interests and opinions].  It is a process of subjectification challenging what looks like to be a natural order.  It is an aesthetics, making new perceptions visible and audible.

We do not become aware of ourselves and find our voice and then go on to establish ourselves as a subject.  The act of politics in itself generates political subjects, as individuals or groups negotiate the network of the police order and the spaces for equality.  One heroine in 1849 illegally ran as a political candidate deliberately to show how women had been excluded from an apparent universal order (50).  [Sounds very much like situationism—there were some nice examples about universities in the 60s, when demands to speak were stamped on by the authorities in the name of defending free speech.  It is also important to bear in mind Habermas's point that having established the illiberal nature of the university, students were not organized enough to resist police occupation].

The point is not to create chaos and disruption.  'The police order is [not] necessarily bad' [no doubt when it protects philosophers, or any attempts to remove university property].  Disputes do sometimes democratize police order, and that sort of police order is clearly preferable.  But it still opposes politics.

Politics of this proper kind 'is quite rare', and can never replace police order to [why not?  Some lingering functionalism here, or is this a fundamental challenge to the liberal order simply unthinkable?—Biesta reads this as a reason to deny the ambitions of emancipatory politics].

The idea of equality 'needs clarification' [after all].  It is clearly all important, but we don't get to it through politics, nor does emancipation consist of overcoming inequality.  We should instead see it as a presupposition or axiom.  Political act test this assumption in concrete situations, organizing a confrontation between 'police logic and egalitarian logic'.  As a result, 'nothing is political in itself, but anything may become political' [neighbours bickering over fences again].  Equality only generates this kind of proper politics, only then constituting a transgressive subject.

Emancipation is something that people do themselves, acting on the basis of a presupposition of equality, testing out this notion.  [Doesn't that imply that they are experiencing inequality?  All this seems like philosophical hair-splitting, or something just aimed at Marxism].  Ranciere's views are supported by historical investigations, when groups of working class people ruptured the traditional division of labour and formed their own associations as speaking beings.  It was a transgression.

The workers grasped the contradiction between a universal legalistic equality, and economic inequality.  However, they did not go on to assume that the legalistic and political statements were ideological, requiring demystification.  Instead, they demanded to take the universalistic seriously, to demonstrate their equality in action.  They demanded equality with their masters, apparently, but not to seize economic power, rather to construct a different social reality, new social relations [a classic fob off for Marxists—nice human capitalism].  Apparently
Rancière saw this as '" living out the relation between equality and inequality, of living it at the same time displacing it in a positive way"'(52).  It is not a matter of founding a new society, but rather showing that workers really belong and have the right to communicate, that they can display their own reason instead of just protesting [links with autonomism here, but that aimed at poper workers' control].  It was self affirmation, developing a space of shared meaning, but as an arena for dissensus.  This assumes and validates a common language.  There is a difficult path to steer, however, between accepting different worlds and developing illusory consensus.

This new kind of emancipation [new?  Shades of the old liberalism?], depends on the notion of equality of intelligence which we must all attempt to validate.  Political subjects should speak and become poetic.  Democratic human beings are aware of the unreality of the representation of the idea of equality, but also aware of the real equality [which looks very much like a theory of ideology].  But we should not demystify, but rather assert our equality, maximizing '"all possible liberty and equality"', rather than starting 'from a position of distrust'(53) [a sort of Christian vision as well as a professional ideology of the primary school teacher?].

This raises questions for education.  The old model of emancipation 'is identical to the pedagogy of traditional education'[very optimistic about that], and is therefore grounded in an inequality.  In IS, an alternative is outlined—'" universal teaching"' (54) based on an assumption about the equality of intelligence.

Jacotot discovered this method, and saw that explication was not necessary [not by him, but by the writer of the books he used?].  Explaining something assumes that they cannot understand it by themselves.  Traditional pedagogy leaves the pedagogue in charge of announcing when learning begins and ends.  'Explication, from this point of view, becomes "enforced stultification"'[NB 'learning with materials' includes books!].  Jacotot still acted as a master [insisting on rote learning], but not as a master explicator, aimed at 'revealing "an intelligence to itself"'.  Attention not explication is required,  including '" absolute attention for seeing and seeing again, saying and repeating"', in the form of 'a three part question: "what do you see?  What do you think about it?  What do you make of it?  And so on, to infinity"'.  [Note 37 says there is only one intelligence at work, p.54]

Masters must interrogate, demand speech, make intelligence manifest, and then verify that intelligence accompanied with attention.  These demands should not be seen as Socratic.  However, we should distinguish between a path to learning and a path to emancipation (55).  Emancipation requires constant awareness of what intelligence can do when it considers itself to be equal, where there is no hierarchy of capacity.  However there can be '"inequality in the manifestations of intelligence"'[which seems a get out clause rather like the ways in which people are blamed if they choose not to use their intelligence.  A typical distinction between form and content, abstract and concrete].  People are stultified when they believe that they are inferior: they do not lack instruction but need to be reminded that they can see and think for themselves.

There is no need to prove that intelligence is equal: we must act on the basis that it is.  Emancipation can not be delivered by a method.  Rather there are multiple ways to instruct and learn,[even explication?] and emancipation is not just about learning, but rather using your intelligence.  All institutions deny this and embody inequality.  Universal teaching can therefore only be directed to individuals.  Any attempt to turn it into a method is going to fail, as the last part of IS recognizes.

Schools and schooling will not bring about equality, as a result, since they embody inequality between educators and educated.  We will never reach equality, because students will never catch up with masters [no pedagogues have ever set out to make themselves redundant?].  Jacotot could be recuperated in a conventional system, but without assuming an equality of intelligence.  Real emancipation means learning how to be equal in an unequal society [by some kind of therapeutic adjustment and decision to make it all nice and friendly?  By turning to poetry?] The whole approach is hard to understand, however, such has been the confusion between equality and explication [what, as in ideology?].

There is a common set of ideas running through the sections, and
Rancière has a clear commitment.  It is not easy to name this commitment, but it turns on 'a cluster of interlocking concepts: equality, democracy, emancipation, and politics'(56).  However, there is no need for everyone to commit to these concepts [another classic paradox in conflict views of politics—what if the parties are intolerant of dissensus?  This is hinted at in note 38 by suggesting that 'Rancière's work itself {is} a political act'.No universal application,then? OK to dissent? ]. Rancière is particularly good at showing the unintended consequences of emancipatory pedagogy, and this reminds us that it is important to see how the commitment to emancipation is actually expressed and articulated [pretty modest goals after all this.]. 

In particular, we should not delay equality, but bring it 'into the here and now and act on the basis of the assumption of the equality of all human beings' (57) [theoretical humanism explicit at last].  This assumption needs to be constantly verified in practice, 'to make it true in concrete situations'[emphasis on make].  We must engage in politics as
Rancière has defined it, exposing the contradiction between police logic and the logic of equality, to introduce heterogeneity and incommensurability [Exam Board would be a great place to start].

Dissensus is not just the conflict or quarrel, however, based on existing identities, but has a place in the configuration of sensible concepts [so argument is really a form of philosophizing after all].  Dissensus has the noble goal of constituting democracy.  It is a process of subjectification [try that at the disciplinary hearing].  All the concepts are connected in this political act.  We should force our entry into a common world, 'on the assumption that the other can always understand one's arguments' (58) [understand on the formal level, as being expressed in an intelligible language, or understand in the sense of sympathise with, or even be prepared to tolerate?].

Rancière's new approach also helps us 'overcome the main contradictions within the traditional way of understanding and doing emancipation'[the one about dependency].  It does not depend on distrust in the experiences of the student.  'This is not to suggest that there is no learning to be done', but this should not involve explication.  It is OK to learn with a master, but not a master explicator.  We should not be abolishing schools or teachers, but explication.  Authority remains, but it is 'not based on a difference of knowledge or insight or understanding'(58) [so what do students get out of it exactly?].  The educator's role is still significance, as in the admiration for Jacotot, but only as an ignorant schoolmaster 'that is, a schoolmaster who teaches without communicating'(59) [without communicating didactically presumably—note 42 says that ignorance involves teaching something unknown to the teacher, teaching without explication, and teaching that refuses to accept an inequality].  Proper emancipation involves getting students to use their intelligence, and verifying equality.

However, 'the school is neither necessary nor a natural site for this—and it is very likely that everything that happens in the school from the official point of view (that is, from the point of view of the school as institution) goes directly against the possibility for political action and hence for emancipation and democracy'(59) [note 43 cites
Rancière on saying that types of institution are not relevant to emancipation—which doesn't exactly seem to support this radical denunciation of school institutionalisation].  Politics in schools appears as dissensus, 'an interruption of the police order'.  This introduces a new understanding of the political dimensions of education [any discussion of recent practice would have delivered that understanding—as usual, philosophers discover what everyone else knew already, but don't believe it until they can find a philosopher to support it]

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