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Interventions in Media and Communication Studies Through Jacque Rancière

Sun, May 28, 11:00 to 12:15, Hilton San Diego Bayfront, Floor: 3, Aqua Salon F

Session Submission Type: Panel


In recent decades the work of Jacques Rancière has gained prominence in thinking about politics, poetics, history, aesthetics and their interrelation. Fundamental to his work is the idea, or “presupposition,” that people share an equality of intelligence, and therefore an equal capacity to participate in determining the conditions of life in common. In the late 1980s Rancière brought this notion of radical equality, which he developed through his archival research of worker artisans in the revolutionary period of mid-19th century Paris, to intervene in the emerging neoliberal consensus where demands for equality had been subsumed within personalized choices in the marketplace and where liberal democracy meant “supplying the disadvantaged with their minimum share of power and well-being.” Within this new neoliberal order, which many hailed as the triumph of liberal democracy, Rancière found unquestioned hierarchies where the speech, words and actions of the disenfranchised were rendered inaudible, invisible, insensible and unintelligible. Against assertions that politics constitutes actions that maintain the governing institutions and ways of life of the consensual liberal democratic order, Rancière identifies democratic politics as the dissensual moments when the disenfranchised dispute their subordinated place in the hierarchical order through a staging of equality.

The interdisciplinary fields of communication and media studies are particularly relevant to Rancière’s understanding of democratic politics as a dispute of hierarchical order because this dispute is constituted through disagreements over the legibility of forms of speech, expression and action, and over the correspondence of legibility to a person’s location within hierarchical order. This attention to the aesthetics of politics requires considering the ways in which media and communication contexts constitute divisions between legitimate and illegitimate perception, and the moments when those deemed to lack legitimacy demand to be taken into account. This panel engages with Rancière’s understanding of politics through case studies of populist presidential campaigns in the U.S., protest mobilization efforts of activist collectives in contemporary South Africa, the dissensusual practices of journalists in Cairo and Beirut, and the use of digital media in school settings. In thinking with Rancière, and placing his work in dialogue with others, this panel seeks to generate a productive discussion about the value of Rancière to work in communication and media studies.

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