Abstract
What does it mean to 'presume' and 'declare' equality, as the maverick pedagogue Joseph Jacotot does in Rancière's Le Maître ignorant (1987)? This paper is principally an elucidatory enterprise; it will probe the key term in Rancière's distinctive account of politics, 'declarative' or 'active' equality. It is very clear that the equality to which he so frequently appeals is different from equality construed purely in economic terms as the distribution of social goods. Yet it would be implausible and unhelpful to maintain that his concept of equality can be understood without reference to these factors, even if Rancière himself has relatively little to say about them. At stake is the nature of Rancierian politics and the seriousness of its claim to our attention: if the Rancierian declaration of equality is merely a pretext for fleeting, carnivalesque, moments of human fellow-feeling, then it is beside the point. This paper will build a synthetic account of 'declarative' or 'active' equality from Rancière's major political writings and elaborate a defence of it which makes more explicit than Rancière himself does that declarative equality has to do with a politics of self-worth. The paper will attempt to show precisely how, in Rancière's account, equality functions as a performative operator in a politics of individual and collective self-transformation
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