Ranciere and the Family (From Staging the People)

Joe and I have started a long-awaited project: researching what Jacque Ranciere has to say about the family. He is the author of my favorite book: The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation. Last night we worked on his book Staging the People. There was a lot of careful work on the family, and why it is the best (and nearly only) place to intellectually emancipate individuals. What does intellectually emancipate mean? It means to realize that every person is intelligent, and that we are united in our ability to reason, think, learn, and communicate. When we see each other that way, we have more patience to share our thoughts carefully so we are understood. You can’t see someone as inferior or incapable of learning what you know or have experienced. You also treat every teacher or speaker as intelligent, and have more patience to understand what someone is trying to communicate or teach to you.

As a parent or teacher, it also means you can hold your student or child to a high standard. It isn’t about how much information a person can gain, but about trusting that some project is worth doing, or this or that book is worth reading, because there is always something to be learned. It means a child can’t throw out a book because they “can’t” learn anything — you can always learn something, even if it’s not what you were “supposed” to learn, points out Ranciere. You can always say what you think about something, and that is the beginning point of recognizing intelligence in what you are looking at. That realization or feeling that you are an intelligent thinking person who can relate and compose and communicate prompts you to do more thinking and relating and communicating. And that feeling also prompts you to recognize that potential in every other human being you will ever encounter.

But, being emancipated usually comes after someone has forced you to speak. They’ve asked you, “What do you see? What do you think? What do you make of it?” until finally you have begun to talk. Over time you realize that you have something to say! That is the beginning of emancipation. You can think. Don’t say can’t, just start thinking and talking about what you are thinking. The role of the Ignorant Schoolmaster is to force someone to simply speak what they are thinking. To make them “pay attention” and to verify that they are actually paying attention and not just rattling off something to get the schoolmaster off their back. That is emancipation, and it opens up a world in which learning is something I can do, not just something scholars do. Learning is thinking, not an amount of information gained.

An emancipator can be anyone, but it almost always needs to be a one-on-one scenario. Verifying the work of individuals in a large classroom is certainly possible, but it is much harder for an Ignorant Schoolmaster to verify that each is paying attention.

In this book (Staging the People), Ranciere is delving deeper into why the father or mother is the ideal emancipator. I am only copying and pasting some of the most striking passages, but it would be important to read the entire book to really understand what he is saying. (And you can! You are intelligent too! 🙂 ) We are only beginning our project, so I am still developing my understanding of his reasoning. Here are the passages I want to record for later access:

(This is a growing list)

“… it is the dialogue and promise of one individual to another.

But, above all, it is a relationship placed in a key position: the family. Jacotot never tired of repeating that his method was a method for ‘family fathers,’ as against the ‘social’ method provided by learned explainers in the context of institutions. This privilege, moreover, was not at the expense of the mother. For Jacotot, she had the same mission as the father: both were to give the children knowledge that they did not themselves possess.” (pg 46)

“The disciplinary instance of education then becomes the decision of emancipation that renders the father or mother capable of taking the place of ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ for their child, a place that embodies the unconditional requirement of the will: the son will verify the equality of intelligence in his self-apprenticeship to the extent that the father or mother verify the thoroughness of his effort to learn. The family is thus the site of an awareness in the form of an expansion of self, an expansion of each person’s ‘own business’ to the point at which this becomes a full exercise of common reason.

The family deployed in this way does not withdraw into itself; it becomes the point of departure for a different sociability from that of collective fictions and institutional monopolies, the site where an individual is formed for whom being emancipated and emancipating are one in the same thing, experiencing in themselves the powers of reason and life and feeling these as principles of solidarity between individuals.” (pg 49-50)

These are some of my notes, but they need to be replaced still by the direct quotations copied from the book:

“Child can not be free unless brought up by affections of the mother” pg. 84

My note/summary, not quotation: A hospital (especially those of the 19th century) were a sort of factory of human commodities

My note/summary, not quotation: Women in the workplace (topic is 19th century factory work) is similar to kids in daycare or bodies in a hospital. Similar lack of attention, affection, and are reduced to a commodity that gains capital for owner of the factory

“Wife in the home: She withdraws child and man from the order of creche (daycare) and hospital (by offering intelligent home care). She becomes the organizer of this space of resistance.” pg. 85

My note/summary, not quotation:  wife in the home is like a professional skill, like the ones the workers were losing in the 19th century. Don’t let capitalism take it too!

My note/summary, not quotation: A defense of family can be made for good and bad reasons. Capitalists of 19th century wanted family life b/c it “settled the nomad” – he wouldn’t go elsewhere for better pay, etc. It meant he got home and actually slept and ate well, which made him a better worker. The “Associates” tried to get workers to band together regardless of family ties so that they could help each other out in resistance to the capitalists. They wanted everyone to be individuals. They saw the bourgeois wanted wife in home, so they didn’t. They saw reasons the bourgeois wanted worker’s wives in home for their own purposes, so they wanted women to work too. All individuals with rights they could defend together. Worker first, family member second. (This is discussed throughout Chapter 4, but see pages 85/86

Note not on family: “More revolutionary to create their own songs – real expression/art – than to sing revolutionary songs — that was more trouble to the ideologies that the bourgeois wanted the workers to accept. They wanted them to feel like they couldn’t think, etc. pg 193



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