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Jacques Rancière “Dissensus”

Rancière, Jacques 2010. Dissensus. On Politics and Aesthetics. London; New York: Continuum.


Ten Theses on Politics (27-44)

Thesis 1. Politics is not the exercise of power. Politics ought to be defined on its own terms as a specific mode of action that is enacted by a specific subject and that has its own proper rationality. It is the political relationship that makes it possible to conceive of the subject of politics, not the other way around. (27)

If politics has a specificty that makes it other than a more capacious mode of grouping or a form of power characterized by its mode of legitimation, it is that it concerns a distinctive kind of subject, and that it concerns this subject in the form of a mode of relation that is proper to it. (27)

In practice, this celebration of pure politics relinquishes the virtue associated with the political good, handing it over to governmental oligarchies enlightened by their experts. This is to say that the supposed purification of the political, freed from domestic and social necessity, is tantamount to the pure and simple reduction of the political to the state (l’étatique). (28)

Politics cannot be defined on the basis of any pre-existing subject. (28)

The traditional question ’For what reason do human beings gather into political communities?’ is always already a response, resulting in the disappearance of the object it professes to be explaining or founding – that is, the form of political partaking that then vanishes in the play of elements or atoms of sociability. (29)

Thesis 2. What is specific to politics is the existence of a subject defined by its participation in contraries. Politics is a paradoxical form of action. (29)

In short, the opposition between praxis and poiesis by no means enables us to resolve the paradoxical definition of the politès. As far as the arkhê is concerned, conventional logic posits, as with everything else, the existence of a particular disposition to act that is exercised upon a particular disposition to ’be acted upon’. The logic of the arkhê thus presupposes that a determinate superiority is exercised over an equally determinate inferiority. For a political subject – and therefore for politics – to come to pass, it is necessary to break with this logic. (30)

Thesis 3. Politics is a specific break with the logic of the arkhê. It does not simply presuppose a break with the ’normal’ distribution of positions that defines who exercises power and who is subject to it. It also requires a break with the idea that there exist dispositions ’specific’ to these positions. (30)

Democracy is the specific situation in which it is the absence of entitlement that entitles one to exercise the arkhê. It is the commencement without commencement, a form of rule (commandement) that does not command. (31)

Thesis 4. Democracy is not a political regime. As a rupture in the logic of the arkhê, that is, of the anticipation of ruling in its disposition, it is the very regime of politics itself as a form of relationship that defines a specific subject. (31)

[…] the ’power of the demos’ referred to the fact that those who rule are those whose only commonality is that they have no entitlement to govern. Before being the name of a community, the demos is the name of a part of the community: the poor. But the ’poor’, precisely, does not designate an economically disadvantaged part of the population, but simply the people who do not count, who have no entitlement to exercise the power of the arkhê, none for which the might be counted. (32)

This is not a deduction but a definition. To be of the demos is to be outside of the count, to have no speech to be heard. […] The one who belongs to the demos, who speaks when he is not to speak, is the one who partakes in what he has no part in. (32)

Thesis 5. The people that comprises the subject of democracy, and thus the atomic subject of politics, is neither the collection of members of the community, nor the labouring classes of the population. It is the supplementary part in relation to every count of the parts of the population, making it possible to identify ’the count of the uncounted’ with the whole of the community. (33)

The people (demos) exists only as a rupture with the logic of arkhê, a rupture with the logic of commencement/commandment. It can be identified neither with the race of those who recognize each other as having the same beginning or birth, nor with a part or sum of the parts, of the population. The people is the supplement that disjoins the population from itself, by suspending all logics of legitimate domination. (33)

These expressions are to be understood not in a populist but in a structural sense. It is not the labouring and suffering populace that emerges on the terrain of political action and that identifies its name with that of the community. The ’all’ of the community named by democracy is an empty, supplementary part that separates the community out from the sum of the parts of the social body. This initial separation founds politics as the action of supplementary subjects, inscribed as a surplus in relation to every count of the parts of society. (33)

It is initially the people, and not the king, that has a double body. And this duality is nothing but the supplement by which politics, itself, exists as a supplement to every social (ac)count and in exception to every logic of domination. (34)

Thesis 6. If politics is the tracing of a vanishing difference with respect to the distribution of social parts and shares, it follows that its existence is by no means necessary, but that it occurs as an always provisional accident within the history of forms of domination. It also follows that the essential object of political dispute is the very existence of politics itself. (35)

Politics is by no means a reality that might be deduced from the necessities leading people to gather in communities. Politics is an exception in relation to the principles according to which this gathering occurs. (34)

Politics exists insofar as the people is not identified with a race or a population, nor the poor with a particular disadvantaged sector, nor the proletariat with a group of industrial workers, etc., but insofar as these latter are identified with subjects that inscribe, in the form of a supplement to every count of the parts of society, a specific figure of the count of the uncounted or of the part of those without part. (34)

Two ways of counting the parts of the community exists. The first counts real parts only – actual groups defined by difference in birth, and by the different functions, places and interests that make up the social body to the exclusion of every supplement. The second, ’in addition’ to this, counts a part of those without part. I call the first police and the second politics. (35)

Thesis 7. Politics stands in distinct opposition to the police. The police is a distribution of the sensible (partage du sensible) whose principle is the absence of void and of supplement. (35)

The police is not a social function but a symbolic constitution of the social. The essence of the police lies neither in repression nor even in control over the living. Its essence lies in a certain way of dividing up the sensible. I call ’distribution of the sensible’ a generally implicit law that defines the forms of partaking by first defining the modes of perception in which they are inscribed. The partition of the sensible is the dividing-up of the world (de monde), the nemein upon which the nomoi of the community are founded. This partition should be understood in the double sense of the word: on the one hand, as that which separates and excludes; on the other, as that which allows participation. A partition of the sensible refers to the manner in which a relation between a shared common (un common partagé) and the distribution of exclusive parts is determined in sensory experience. This latter form of distribution, which, by its sensory self-evidence, anticipates the distribution of part and shares (parties), itself presupposes a distribution of what is visible and what noe, of what can be head and what cannot. (36)

The essence of the police lies in a partition of the sensible that is characterized by the absence of void and of supplement: society here is made up of groups tied to specific modes of doing, to places in which these occupations are exercised, and to modes of being corresponding to these occupations and these places. […] It is the exclusion of what ’is not’ that constitutes the police-principle at the core of statist practices. (36)

Thesis 8. The essential work of politics is the configuration of its own space. It is to make the world of its subjects and its operations seen. The essence of politics is the manifestation of dissensus as the presence of two worlds in one. (37)

The police is not the law which interpellates individuals […], not unless it is confused with religious subjection. It consists, before all else, in recalling the obviousness of what there is, or rather of what there is not, and its slogan is: ’Move along! There’s nothing to see here!“ (37)

Politics, by contrast, consists in transforming this space of ’moving-along’, of circulation, into a space for the appearance of a subject: the people, the workers, the citizens. It consists in re-figuring the space, that is in what is to be done, to be seen and to be named in it. It is the instituting of a dispute over the distribution of the sensible, over that nemein that founds every nomos of the community. (37)

If there is someone you do not wish to recognize as a political being, you begin by not seeing him as the bearer of signs of politicity, by not understanding what he says, by not hearing what issues from his mouth as discourse. (38)

The essence of politics is dissensus. Dissensus is not a confrontation between interests or opinions. It is the demonstration (manifestation) of a gap in the sensible itself. Political demonstration makes visible that which had no reason to be see; it places one world in another […] (38)

Political argumentation is at one and the same time the demonstation of a possible world in which the argument could count as an argument, one that is addressed by a subject qualified to argue, over an identified object, to an addressee who is required to see the object and to hear the argument that he ’normally’ has no reason either to see or to hear. It is the construction of a paradoxical world that puts together two separate worlds. (39)

Politics, then, has no proper place nor any natural subjects. […] A political subject is not a group of interests or of ideas, but the operator of a particular dispositif of subjectivation and litigation through which politics comes into existence. A political demonstration is therefore always of the moment and its subjects are always precarious. A political difference is alwawys on the shore of its own disappearance: the people are always close to sinking into the sea of the population or of the race […] (39)

Thesis 9. inasmuch as the province of political philosophy lies in grounding political action in a specific mode of being, it works essentially to efface the litigiousness constitutive of politics. Philosophy effects this effacement in its very description of the world of politics. Moreover, the effectiveness of this effacement is also perpetuated in non-philosophical or anti-philosophical descriptions of the world. (40)

[…] an effort to turn democracy into a simple case of the indeterminable principle of ’the government of the strongest’, leaving no other solution but to contrast it with the government of experts (des savants). They testify to one and the same effort to place the community under a unique law of partition and to expulse the empty part of the demos from the body of the community. (40)

Both the sociological theme of the ’end of politics’ in postmodern society and the ’political’ theme of the ’return of politics’ originate in political philosophy’s initial twofold act and combine to bring about the same forgetting of politics. (42)

Thesis 10. The ’end of politics’ and the ’return of politics’ are two complementary ways of cancelling out politics in the simple relationship between a state of the social and a state of the state apparatus. ’Consensus’ is the common name given to this cancellation. (42)

The essence of consensus […] does not consist in peaceful discussion and reasonable agreement, as opposed to conflict and violence. Its essence lies in the annulment of dissensus as separation of the sensible from itself, in the nullification of surplus objects, in the reduction of the people to the sum of the parts of the social body and of the political community to the relations between the interests and aspirations of these different parts. (42)


Biopolitics or Politics? (91-96)

The police is that distribution of the sensible in which the effectuation of the common of the community is identified with the effectuation of the properties – resemblances and differences – that characterize bodies and their modes of aggregation. It structures perceptual space in terms of places, functions, aptitudes, etc., to the exclusion of any supplement. As far as politics is concerned, it consists – and consists alone – in the set of acts that effectuate a supplementary ’property’, a property that is biologically and anthropologically unlocatable, the equality of speaking beings. This property exists in addition to every bios. There are two contrasting structurations of the common world: one that knows only of bios (from transmission through bloodlines to the regulation of population flows); and one that empowers artifices of equality, that is, forms enacted by political subjects which re-figure the common ’given world’. Such subjects do not affirm another type of life but configure a different world-in-common. (92)

In Foucault’s ’biopolitics’, the body in question is the body as object of power and, therefore, it is localized in the police distribution of bodies and their aggregations. Foucault presents biopolitics as a specific difference in practices of power and their effects, that is, to say as a means by which power produces effects through the individualization of bodies and the socialization of populations. Now, this question is not the same as that of politics. The question of politics begins when the status of the subject able and ready to concern itself with the community becomes an issue. (92-93)

[…] while the concept of biopower seems sound, that of biopolitics is confused. Indeed Foucault uses the term biopolitics to designate things that are situated in the space that I call the police. It does not help to say that he used the terms of biopolitics and biopower interchangeably, the point is that his conception of politics is constructed around the question of power, that he was never drawn theoretically to the question of political subjectivation. (93)

In my view, it [Deleuzian vitalism, positive biopolitics (Esposito?)] amounts to an attempt to identify the question of political subjectivation with that of the forms of personal and collective individuation. For my part, I do not believe that an ontology of individuation is of any use for the theorization of political subjects. (94)

In Omnes et Singulatim, Foucault conceives of the police as an insitutional apparatus that participates in power’s control over life and bodies; while, for me, the police designates not an institution of power but a distribution of the sensible within which it becomes possible to define strategies and techniques of power. (95)

For me, the social is not a concern of power or a production of power. It is the stake of a division between politics and police. It is thereby not a univocal object – a field of relations of production or of power. (95)


The People or the Multitudes? (84-90)

The people in this sense is a generic name for the set of processes of subjectivation that, enacting the egalitarian trait, dispure the forms of visibility of the common and the identities, forms of belonging, partitions, etc., defined by these forms. (85)

[…] processes of subjectivation stage politics as an artifice of equality, which is itself not a ’real’ foundation, since it exists only as the enacted condition of these dispositifs of dispute. […] Politics, in this sense, is the enacted discrimination of that which, in the last instance, is placed under the name of the people: either the operation of differentiation which institutes political collectives by enacting egalitarian inconsistency or the operation of identity which reduces politics to the properties of the social body or the fantasy of the glorious body of the community. Politics always involves one people superadded to another, one people against another. (85)

[…] the stance of the multitudes is a stance for a subject of political action unmarked by separation, a ’communist’ subject in the sense that it denies the specificity of particular dispositifs or spheres of subjectivation. (86)

If the concept of the multitudes is distinct from that of the people, it is owing to an ontological claim that substantializes the egalitarian presupposition: in order not to constitute itself in oppositional, reactive terms, it holds that the principle and telos of politics has to be drawn from something other than itself. Political subjects ought to express the multiple insofar as the multiple is the very law of being. In this sense, the concept of the multitudes is part of the tradition of political philosophy, since it resides in an attempt to reduce political exceptionality to the principle of that which places beings in community. (86)

’Multitudes’ is the name for this power of superabundant being identified with the essence of the community, one which, by virtue of its superabundance, is endowed with the burden of blowing apart all barriers and of accomplishing itself in the form of a perceptible community. (87)

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