Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Politics as Subjectification: Rethinking the Figure of the Worker in the Thought of Badiou and Rancière

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Politics as Subjectification: Rethinking the Figure of the Worker in the Thought of Badiou and Rancière

Article excerpt

The figure of the worker has disappeared from politics. It has disappeared from the left, which has replaced it with an increasingly fragmented and fractious series of identities, and from the right, which has proclaimed everyone an entrepreneur, even if it is only of their own human capital. Moreover, as politics gravitates toward "the center," toward consensus, the only class that dares to speak its name is the middle-class, which is absolutely ubiquitous because everyone claims to be it. Alain Badiou and Jacques Rancière recognize this absence, but are perhaps unique in the field of political thought in that they address it as a problem, examining the process that has removed the worker from politics, and what is left in its wake. Rancière and Badiou are concerned with what we could call following Sylvan Lazarus "the figure of the worker," and that is the worker, or proletarian, as a political process, not as a sociological identity. For Rancière and Badiou the worker is not a réfèrent, an object for a sociological analysis, it is not a matter of a group of people that can simply be defined according to their relation to the means of production, rather they are concerned with the worker as a political figure, and a process of subjectification. Thus, what I would like to propose is to examine what is novel in Badiou and Rancière's thought, the idea of politics as subjectification, through what appears to be antiquated, the figure of the worker. Specifically, I would like to argue that Badiou and Rancière offer the possibility of moving beyond what Slavoj 2izek refers to as the impasse of "two faces and a vase": either one sees the social, or the economy, and politics appears as at best an epiphenomena and at worst an ideological ruse, or one sees politics, and the economy appears to be at best the exchange of goods and at worst a force of necessity crushing freedom. ' Which is not to suggest that the thought of Badiou and Rancière is identical, in fact their proximity at the level of political problems is contradicted by a divergence at the level of not just philosophical positions but philosophical practice.

Rancière's books that deal with political philosophy proper, namely Disagreement, On the Shores of Politics, and The Philosopher and His Poor, open with a return to the texts of Plato and Aristotle. While Rancière's turn to the ancient Greeks would seem to place him in close proximity with such thinkers as Hannah Arendt, who seek to revitalize "ancient democracy" against the modern (Marxist) tendency to reduce politics to social struggles, he reads these texts for the conflict they suppress rather than the ideal the espouse. Rändere argues that Aristotle's Politics gives two foundations for politics. The first is the definition of man as a "speaking" and thus "political" animal. It asserts a fundamental equality in access to speech, the capacity for all to recognize, and thus articulate, the just and the unjust. The second foundation appears in Book IV, after classifying all of the various types of political constitution monarchy, aristocracy, oligarchy, and so on, Aristotle argues that there are mainly two constitutions, of which all the others are only variations: democracy (rule of the poor, and many) and oligarchy (rule of the rich, and few). There are two foundations for politics, a principle of equality and the fact of hierarchy and division, that are in tension. What interests Rancière is how Aristotle must negotiate this tension, eventually surpressing the principle of equality. This can be seen most glaringly in the slave's relation to language: slaves understand language (how else could they be told what to do?) but do not posses it.2 The tension between equality and hierarchy does not just affect the position of the slave, but it threatens the entire social order, and in fact, Aristotle's Politics is quite explicit in defining the strategies through which an ideal of equality can at once be asserted in principle and effaced in practice. …

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