Jacques Rancière was born in 1940 in Algiers. He entered the renowned Ecole Normale Superieure in 1960 and followed Louis Althusser’s seminar in the following years. In 1965, he took part in a seminar that was to become immensely influential in the humanities, when it became published under the title “Reading Capital”. However, a rift with Althusser following the events of 1968 led to a new direction in his work, one that sought to engage more directly with proletarian voices and concerns. This historiographical research led to the publication of a number of dense articles in the journal Révoltes Logiques. This period of intense archival research into “the archives of the proletarian dream” culminated with the publication of his major thesis in 1981, Proletarian Nights (La Nuit des Prolétaires). In 1969, Rancière had joined the Philosophy department at the newly founded Université Paris Vincennes. This was to be his university posting for the rest of his career. In the 1990s Rancière articulated the philosophical underpinnings that had so far guided his historiographical research, with major studies on the poetics of historical writing (The Names of History), political philosophy (Disagreement and On the Shores of Politics), the philosophy of education (The Ignorant Schoolmaster). He also thematised his critical standpoint in relation to philosophy itself (The Philosopher and his Poor). His writings in the last two decades have concentrated on topics and issues in aesthetics, from literature, to film, performance arts and applied arts. His thinking has gradually come into prominence in the English-speaking world in the last decade or so, especially in the fields of political theory, education and aesthetics. It is today an influential paradigm in those parts of the humanities and social sciences interested in continental philosophy.
Five books stand out in Rancière’s voluminous production, as single studies that make a book-length argument: Proletarian Nights (history of the French workers’ movement); the Names of History; Disagreement (Rancière’s political philosophy); The Ignorant Schoolmaster (his highly influential account of the revolutionary educator Joseph Jacotot); Mute Speech, in which the most detailed account of his famous theory of the ‘regimes of the arts’ is laid out ; and finally Aisthesis, his most recent monograph, which extends the analyses of Mute Speech to the performing arts, the decorative arts, photography and cinema.
He has published many other collections of articles on all the topics listed above, some of which have also had a major influence on contemporary thinking. Most worth listing are: Film Fables; The Flesh of Words; and The Politics of Aesthetics.
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