The Lessons of Rancière

Second, paperback edition now out as of Summer 2014.

Published by Oxford University Press – cloth edition in 2013 and paperback edition in 2014 – and available from OUP and Amazon (including in Kindle), The Lessons of Rancière not only is the first major work in North American political theory on Rancière’s writings but also makes its own substantial contribution to our understanding of democracy and the political.

Read the Recent Review in Theory & Event.

Praise for the Book
“Jacques Rancière’s work circulates widely these days, but it is rarely well-understood. Sam Chambers’ The Lessons of Rancière will change that. Distinguishing Rancière’s project from the anarchism and Arendtianism with which it is often associated, Chambers gives pride of place to Rancière’s historically-situated emancipatory politics of equality and argues that contemporary queer activism is its best exemplar now. Tracking the contingencies of Rancière’s (mis-)translation into English, the stakes of different approaches to his work, and the debates to which Rancière is a key contributor (humanism, critical theory, subjectivation, and more), Chambers offers a thoroughgoing analysis of the contribution Rancière stands to make to political and critical theory now. GPS-like, this book will help all readers of Rancière get their bearings in the space and time of contemporary political theory.”

— Bonnie Honig, Sarah Rebecca Roland Professor, Political Science, Northwestern University

“This is a remarkably deft engagement with Rancière and his interpreters.  Chambers persistently refuses to let the latter capture Rancière for their particular projects, stressing rather his distinctiveness and radicality.  In fact, we discover that there are no enumerable ‘lessons’ to be learned; only a set of unruly challenges to established positions in contemporary political theory.  This book sparkles with insights.”

— Stephen White, James Hart Professor of Politics, University of Virginia

“Liberal democracy” is the name given to a regime that much of the world lives in or aspires to, and both liberal and deliberative theorists focus much of their intellectual energy on working to reshape and perfect this regime. But what if “liberal democracy” were a contradiction in terms?

Taking up Jacques Rancière’s polemical claim that democracy is not a regime, Samuel A. Chambers argues that liberalism and democracy are not complements, but competing forces. By way of the most in-depth and rigorous treatment of Rancière’s writings to date, The Lessons of Rancière seeks to disentangle democracy from liberalism. Liberalism is a logic of order and hierarchy, an order that delineates a proper distribution of responsibilities and rights, whereas democratic politics follows a logic of disordering that challenges and disrupts any claims that the allocation of roles could be complete. This book mobilizes a Rancièrean understanding of politics as leverage against the tendency to collapse democracy into the broader terms of liberalism. In pressing these unique claims of its own, The Lessons of Rancière indicates why Rancière is not the thinker of pure politics that he has sometimes been mistaken for. Rancière frustratingly rejects and resists all political ontology, and in this book, Chambers indicates how such a move has crucial political motivations and implications of its own. The book’s overall reading of Rancière shows one way to do democratic theory that both refuses ontology and also rejects the category of “normative theory.” Chambers resists the idea that political theory’s role would be to develop ideal accounts or that critical theory’s task would be that of exposing falsehood to reveal underlying truth. Using Rancière’s radical claims about pedagogy as a guide, The Lessons of Rancière explores the possibility of a critical theory beyond unmasking and a democratic politics beyond liberalism.


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Dr. Samuel A. Chambers
Department of Political Science
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD 21218, USA