Posts Tagged ‘Equality’

Equality and Potentiality

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Equality is the contingent force operating under the philosophy of Ranciere, likewise, so is Potentiality under Agamben…here is a brief paragraph linking the two, situating Rancierian equality as a mode of potentiality…

In the existence of potentiality outlined by Agamben, (the liminal terrain between the capacity to actualize and the capacity not-to actualize), there is a fundamental equality between the states of acting and non-acting. This notion of equality is at the core of politics outlined by Rancière in Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy (1998). Here we can trace a parallel between different terms employed by each thinker which point in a similar direction: for Agamben the term ‘indistinction’ can be tied to Rancière’s ‘equality’ for it is as-of-yet undifferentiated; whereas his inequality can be tied to Agamben’s ‘distinction-making’, since it is the instantiation of difference, of the partitioning of roles, places and bodies. Rancière sets up his description of a radicalized notion of equality, by firstly outlining the plight symptomatic of any social order: “The foundation of politics is not in fact more a matter of convention than of nature: it is the lack of foundation, the sheer contingency of any social order. Politics exists simply because no social order is based on nature, no divine law regulates human society.” After pointing out the “sheer contingency” upon which any social order rests, Rancière goes on to say: “Before the logos [an argument of reason] that deals with the useful and the harmful, there is the logos that orders and bestows the right to order. But this initial logos is tainted with a primary contradiction. There is order in society because some people command and others obey, but in order to obey an order at least two things are required: you must understand the order and you must understand that you must obey it. And to do that, you must already be the equal of the person who is ordering you. It is this equality that gnaws away at any natural order. Doubtless inferiors obey 99 percent of the time; it remains that the social order is reduced thereby to its ultimate contingency. In the final analysis, inequality is only possible through equality.”

The foundational ‘equality’ that Rancière addresses of in his conception of politics, speaks to the indistinctive zone insofar are those who ‘obey’ must have the equal capacity of understanding what to obey and that they should obey; they have the capacity to “recognise” power (aesthesis) “but not […] to possess it (hexis)” Every social order rests on this elementary potentiality of equality, every system of power and hierarchy rests on this fundamental indistinction before the operations of actualization take over and parcel out roles, delineate bodies and map out places. The equal capacity presupposed by any social system is that of an aesthetic order, for it is precisely the equal capacity to perceive and recognise the distribution of inequality, of power, vis-à-vis the inequality in the possession of power. The unpossess-ability of aesthetics is where the shared equality of comprehension is manifest, in the appearance of that which cannot be apprehended. The domain of aesthetics is where one can recapture the existence of potentiality and release it from its restricted twinning with perpetual actualization.

Like Agamben, Rancière sets up an ‘exclusive/inclusive’ paradigm of sorts, in his outlining of social structures, describing two distinct categories, the ‘police’ and ‘politics’ which imply one another in their referentiality. Rancière uses the term ‘police’ (in a non-pejorative fashion) to delineate, “… the set of procedures whereby the aggregation and consent of collectivities is achieved, the organization of powers, the distribution of places and roles, and the systems of distribution and legitimizing this distribution.” Politics, for Rancière is, rather, “antagonistic to policing: whatever breaks with the tangible configuration whereby parties and parts or lack of them are defined by a presupposition that, by definition, has no place in that configuration – that of the part of those who have no part.” The ‘police’ is the actualized domain of social operativeness, as the collection of institutions and conventions that carve out the partitioning of places, peoples and roles, inscribing inequality and distinctions amongst its constituent parts. Politics, on the other hand, is wholly unactualized, it is the existence of potentiality reasserting itself, reappropriating the indistinction of equality at the contingent core of social structuration.