Tag Archives: Ranciere

Family is the site of expansion of self, an experience of solidarity between individuals

It’s very philosophical, but I really really love this idea:

“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.”

Ranciere, in his book Staging the People, pg 49-50)

Here’s my interpretation of what this means:

“The disciplinary instance of education

[Homeschooling is a sort of discipline in our home. We assign things and they are expected to do them. If they don’t, there are consequences. I used to say (when Emma was doing her Kindergarten year) that school became the “front lines” that took the major hits in behavior issues. When we worked out the behavior with regard to school assignments, Emma was a happier kid during play time and family time.]

then becomes the decision of emancipation that renders the father or mother capable of taking the place of ‘ignorant schoolmaster’ for their child,

[“Emancipation” for Ranciere means showing someone that they are as equally capable to think as anyone else is. When a mother or father believes that they are equal to their child, then that empowers them to be a schoolmaster, and it also allows them to push their child to learn and become aware of their ability to learn.]

a place that embodies the unconditional requirement of the will:

[A parent, hypothetically, has a strong enough place of authority that the child can’t get away. They can’t just get a D or say they aren’t smart enough or just can’t do math, etc. They can’t get away from school. 🙂 Their “will” – or “work” – is required of them without the possibility for excuses.]

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.

[When the parent(s) verify that the child is seeking, working, thinking, then what the child verifies is that the book in front of her or him was actually trying to communicate something. They harder we work to pay attention to a book, the more we realize how hard the author was trying to communicate with us.]

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.

[We realize that others out there are working hard to communicate to me! And that I can communicate with others.]

“The family deployed in this way does not withdraw into itself; it becomes the point of departure

[This doesn’t lead the child to believe he or she is smarter than other children, or a parent, but that he or she is equal to them and to other human beings. Emancipation means that a sincere conversation could happen with any person, or book, or painting, or theatrical performance, etc.]

for a different sociability from that of collective fictions and institutional monopolies,

[There’s a lot more going on here than I care to figure out right now, or than you probably care to read. 🙂 The idea, though, is that in society in general, people are looking to judge people as better or worse, smarter or dumber, crafty or clueless, and so forth. These are to some degree fictions invented to take advantage of others.]

the site where an individual is formed for whom being emancipated and emancipating are one in the same thing,

[When someone recognizes their equality with others, they also treat others as equal to them]

experiencing in themselves the powers of reason and life and feeling these as principles of solidarity between individuals.”

[Solidarity between individuals hopefully means greater peace, patience, charity, creativity, and so forth.]


One hierarchy (teacher-student) is often actually two hierarchies

When we think about a teacher and a student, we quite naturally assume that the teacher has more knowledge and the student has less knowledge. The job of the teacher is to adequately transfer his or her knowledge to the student. This sets up a hierarchy: teacher, student. (Show slide here.) The better teachers know how to better transfer this knowledge, and in addition the better teachers are regarded has having brighter minds and  being better able to comprehend this knowledge. (Add to the slide: better able to comprehend knowledge.) I think this is a fair description of how we think about a really good teacher.

But this way of thinking about teachers reveals something to us. Rather than there being just one hierarchy – teacher over student – there are actually two hierarchies at play:

Teacher  ———— better able to comprehend knowledge = Greater intelligence

Student  ———— less able to comprehend knowledge = Weaker intelligence

In Jacques Ranciere’s book The Ignorant Schoolmaster, there is a story about a man named Joseph Jacotot who looked more closely at these two hierarchies. Jacotot was a professor who lived at the time of the French Revolution and the series of overthrows that followed it. By 1818 he had left France and was teaching in the Netherlands. He began to explore these very hierarchies – teacher over student, and greater intelligence over weaker intelligence. He found that uniting these two hierarchies often created a problem:

If a teacher believed he was of greater intelligence, then his focus was on creating better and simpler explanations. If a student believed that he was genuinely of lesser intelligence, then his focus was on waiting until the professor found a better and simpler way of explaining something. 🙂 Ranciere calls this problem “stultification.” I’ll also use the word “stagnation.” (Show slide.) Or we might also call it “learned helplessness.” When a student, over many years, gets used to his or her teachers stepping in between the students and their textbooks or whatever materials the class is using, then it is easier for the student to wait to be explained to. This can be simple laziness, but the concern Ranciere has is that many students come to believe they are actually incapable of really understanding the textbook in the “right” way, and therefore believe they must have inferior intelligence.

Maybe you had this sort of experience when you were in school. I remember being in my high school English class and being told that my interpretation of whatever book from our great world literature list was simply “incorrect.” I was pretty sure I had a good reading, but for the sake of a good grade I accepted my teacher’s reading. Fortunately I got a chance to study Humanities at BYU and had the pleasure of looking at many interpretations of great literature.

But many students aren’t confident, and don’t go on, and simply accept that their teacher is better able to comprehend and that they are less able to comprehend.

And maybe you have had another kind of experience. Maybe you, like me, have had classes where it didn’t really matter if you read the textbook or not, because the teacher spent the entire class period explaining what the book had said. Even though you knew you could understand the book on your own – why bother? The teacher was ready to explain it all to you, and it was easier to be lazy.

I also remember taking a math class at BYU with a professor who was not at all concerned with explaining math in better and better ways and we were often left more confused when we left than when we came in! But we had a great TA who taught once a week who clarified the material for us. As you can imagine, it was much easier for me to barely try to understand my professor and wait for the TA to explain it to me.

These moments, where a teacher or a TA comes in between a student and the material, communicate to a student that either they are incapable of understanding the material on their own, or that there isn’t any reason to bother to understand the material on their own.

And this results in “stultification” or “stagnation.” (Refer to slide.) Dictionaries define stultify as “to cause to appear or be stupid, foolish, or absurdly illogical” and “To cause to lose interest or feel dull and not alert” (add these to slide.)

And Ranciere argues that this is the danger whenever we combine these two hierarchies (show slide again). Of course, this doesn’t always happen, but it is a danger for the student.

There is another danger I want to mention briefly, and that is a danger to the teacher. If a teacher assumes this combined model, then what if they find themselves not actually believing they are smarter or more capable than their students? What if they believe this model, but don’t believe they fit this hierarchy over here (point to right side of slide)? Does that undermine their claim to a superior position in the hierarchy? The result is that many teachers compensate by over-confidence or strictness, hoping to cover over their insecurity. You may have had some of these teachers yourselves. They hope that by looking like they fit their position, they can continue to enjoy their place of power in the hierarchy.

Obviously, there are some problems here. Joseph Jacotot, our professor in the Netherlands, offers us a different model to consider.

(Read the next post to learn about Jacotot’s belief in the equality of intelligence.)



Thoughts on how Ranciere’s work on equality & hierarchy might help us think about LDS Priesthood and stewardships

Note: These are some thoughts lifted from the Dews From Heaven blog. In the course of a discussion, I tried to explain my thoughts on what Ranciere is saying in The Ignorant Schoolmaster and how that might apply to priesthood callings and callings generally in the Church. I thought it was worth posting just those thoughts here since I’ve written on this blog about Ranciere in the past and it would be helpful for me to have all those thoughts in one place.

The whole idea behind being an “ignorant schoolmaster” is that you are a master not by virtue of having more intelligence, but simply by a structured situation. The structure almost has to be artificial, or arbitrary, to really work. The master has to see her or himself as equal to the student. When both the student and master see themselves as equal, then the call of the master to “pay attention” to the assignment or whatever is their “thing in common” has more effect. If the student constantly assumes they are inferior to the master, then there is the temptation to just wait until the master explains it to them. (Emancipation is when the student comes to realize they don’t have to wait to be explained to, and that there is always something they can think or say about the thing in common. Of course, that requires that the master actually gives them a thing in common, and asks questions that don’t have a specific, definite answer that only the master can validate.)

Anyway, the point is, when both individuals recognize the equality of intelligence, then they both see the hierarchical structure for what it is. It allows a master to impose their will on the will of another, rather than their intelligence on the intelligence of another.

Ranciere points out that when a hierarchy of intelligence is created (rather than an artificial hierarchy) it has to be based on a justification of superiority and inferiority — I am the master because I know more or have greater intelligence and you are the student because you know less or have inferior intelligence. Power must be justified to keep the hierarchy in place. But, if a student realizes that the master does not in fact have greater knowledge or greater intelligence, then hierarchical structure begins to crumble and the master loses his or her power. The student no longer has someone imposing intelligence or will upon him or her, and learning ceases.

This can get us into trouble in the Church, if we think that so-in-so has a particular calling because that person is inherently more spiritual than me. If that person makes what appears to us to be a mistake or something immoral, then we can began to question their spiritual superiority. Then we begin to question that person’s position within the hierarchy, and we no longer accept the imposition of will or decisions that come from that calling.

Of course, to really work appropriately, the person in the callingalso needs to recognize the spiritual equality (or intellectual equality, I don’t know that those are so separate in the end) of those serving “under” her or him within the hierarchy. I think when this is done right then spiritual growth occurs, in parallel to the learning that occurs within Ranciere’s model.

…Kim said some really cool things about D&C 121, so I’m adding those too: “The thought occurs to me: what if we were to understand the (lack of) priesthood structure in the early church (phases 1-3) as intentional, then? That is, rather than seeing Joseph kind of haphazardly make things up as he goes along, gradually consolidating power until he’s at the top of a great Mormon pyramid scheme, perhaps God purposefully revealed the priesthood in a way allows for the saints to experience it as non-hierarchical for several years. Then, by the time the complete hierarchy is finally revealed, the arbitrariness of that hierarchy is fully revealed, as simply one response to the needs of the kingdom at the time. Perhaps the early “lateral” priesthood was thus intentional, instead of being a watered-down, waiting-for-further-revelation, proto-version of the other? That’s the direction your Ranciere synopsis has me thinking in, anyway.

“And I like that picture, in some ways, because of the warning in D&C 121 about decoupling priesthood and power. The second a hierarchy is no longer seen as arbitrary, it becomes a question of power and situating oneself in a certain power network. Perhaps D&C 121 is reminding us to relate to priesthood hierarchy in an emancipated way?”

I like the idea of D&C 121 warning us against turning things into the wrong sort of hierarchy. I think that’s a very good reading! Your comment makes me think of D&C 107:21 – “Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding officers growing out of, or appointed of or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.” I like the phrase “of necessity”. I want to hear it as: It was necessary to have leaders for practical reasons, but not because they were of a different type or superior.

I think there is actually something to the idea that ministering works in a hierarchically structured situation — I allow my visiting teachers to counsel or help me because of their calling, even though I know they are my equals. In our terminology, we might say that it is by virtue of their stewardship that they can help me, and I even recognize that they can receive revelation to help me. But the moment that they are released from that assignment, I no longer assume that they can receive revelation, or at least not in the same way. They could help me as a friend, and I assume friends too get prompted by the Spirit. 🙂 But I mean that in the Church we recognize that those in structured circumstances have rights to revelation for those under them, or within their stewardship. A Bishop receives revelation for the ward not because he is who he is, but because of the calling he has. It is by virtue of his temporary place or arbitrary (arbitrary because God created it or called him, and because it is not because he is inherently better).

So ministering might be like the work of a teacher in Ranciere’s model. I think that works well.

What about administering, though? I like the point that you can’t say one person just ministers and another just administers. Where the administration is an administration of ordinances (rather than administration of a program), I think we might see that administration as Ranciere’s “thing in common.” A teacher gives to others something that both teacher and student can work on together. With ordinances, priesthood holders give to someone something they already have, and then they together to think and talk and work on understanding that thing. So maybe administering is something done within the work of ministering? Or sometimes one priesthood holder can administer an ordinance, like the sacrament, but it is a “thing in common” for other priesthood holders and those without priesthood (RS teacher, visiting teacher, etc.) to talk about when they minister?

…Kim asked, “It sounds like you’re saying that both ministers and administrators fill the role of a Rancierian teacher, is that right?”

Okay, I suppose what I meant was that the ordinances themselves were the thing in common, which could be provided by a minister or an administrator. In Ranciere’s stories, the “thing in common” was given by the teacher but it wasn’t created by the teacher. For example, if I pick an art book and open to a picture of a painting by Monet, and then I tell Jacob that artists use colors to create moods and feelings, I have given him something to work on. I haven’t told him what Monet is communicating with colors, and I don’t have one right answer I am looking for. The book and the piece of information are our “thing in common.” Then I ask questions, “What colors do you see Jacob?” “Are there different kinds of colors in different parts of the painting?” “How do they make you feel?” “What is the scene about? Do you think the colors are communicating something about the scene?” “What else do you think about when you see the colors in this painting?” In that case, I did give him the book and information to start with. But, that information could have been given to him by someone else. It is not something I created, based off of my “superior” intelligence, or only something I could validate. It is a piece of information he could have read on his own and received it that way, but in this case I delivered it to him. But at that point it is something we hold in common, and we can get to work on learning from that point.

Does that help at all? Administration (of a thing in common) is not the teaching moment itself, but a part of constructing the teaching situation. I might also give Jacob two paintings and just ask him to think about what is different. Giving him the books wasn’t the teaching situation, asking him what he thinks about it is the potentially emancipating teaching moment.

D&C 68, Ranciere, and a comment at Dews from Heaven

I’m doing a lot more work at http://dewsfromheaven.wordpress.com than I am here right now, but this is also a good place for me to work on those topics (either in preparation or in further reflection). Here is a comment I made there, but with some edits and bolds and such to help me think through this more, and some further reflections on the family and Ranciere at the end.


I think you must be right, of course, that every teacher and leader in the Church doesn’t actually take on others’ sins. But I do think Jacob saw it that way, which really, really intrigues me.

I just did a search for “sins be upon” to see if there are other places in scripture that have this idea. There are! Sometimes it is about parents and children, sometimes it is about those who are leaders over a group of people. Here’s what I found (I left out all the ones about Christ, except one that connected His role to the fact that He had created men, making Him sort of parallel to a parent or guardian):

Jacob 1:19 And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence; wherefore, by laboring with our might their blood might not come upon our garments; otherwise their blood would come upon our garments, and we would not be found spotless at the last day.

Jacob 3: 10 Wherefore, ye shall remember your children, how that ye have grieved their hearts because of the example that ye have set before them; and also, remember that ye may, because of your filthiness, bring your children unto destruction, and their sins be heaped upon your heads at the last day.

Mosiah 2: 27-28 Therefore, as I said unto you that I had served you, walking with a clear conscience before God, even so I at this time have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together, that I might be found blameless, and that your blood should not come upon me, when I shall stand to be judged of God of the things whereof he hath commanded me concerning you. I say unto you that I have caused that ye should assemble yourselves together that I might rid my garments of your blood, at this period of time when I am about to go down to my grave, that I might go down in peace, and my immortal spirit may join the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.

Mosiah 26: 23 For it is I that taketh upon me the sins of the world; for it is I that hath created them; and it is I that granteth unto him that believeth unto the end a place at my right hand.

Mosiah 29: 30 And I command you to do these things in the fear of the Lord; and I command you to do these things, and that ye have no king; that if these people commit sins and iniquities they shall be answered upon their own heads.

Mosiah 29: 31 For behold I say unto you, the sins of many people have been caused by the iniquities of their kings; therefore their iniquities are answered upon the heads of their kings.

D&C 68: 25 And again, inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, or in any of her stakes which are organized, that teach them not to understand the doctrine of repentance, faith in Christ the Son of the living God, and of baptism and the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of the hands, when eight years old, the sin be upon the heads of the parents.

D&C 88: 81-82 Behold, I sent you out to testify and warn the people, and it becometh every man who hath been warned to warn his neighbor. Therefore, they are left without excuse, and their sins are upon their own heads.

Moses 6: 54 Hence came the saying abroad among the people, that the Son of God hath atoned for original guilt, wherein the sins of the parents cannot be answered upon the heads of the children, for they are whole from the foundation of the world.

Moses 7: 37-38 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? But behold, these which thine eyes are upon shall perish in the floods;

Isaiah 6:5 Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.

That last one I included because it seems that Isaiah is afraid not only of his own sins, but of the people’s sins. Does his purging include whatever responsibility he had as a priest for the people’s sins?

This reminds me of something in the temple, which I won’t type out at length of course. :) But when we become cleaned at a certain point, we are cleaned not just from our sins, but from the sins of the time in which we live, if I understand right. I can see other interpretations of the wording in the temple, but this is at least one possible interpretation and thus one possible connection to this theme.

What I’m seeing is that there are times when one person or small group (like parents!) is so connected with the teaching of “the people” (or “the kids”) that their influence could hinder a group who could otherwise be quite faithful. When we are put in that sort of position, then the weight of their sins can be actually though of as on us — unless we teach. When someone is taught, and then sins, their sins are on them. If they do not know that they are sinning, then their sins are on whoever was supposed to teach them. If no one was supposed to teach them, then they are simply “without law” and Christ has already suffered for them.

So I don’t think this applies to Sunday School teachers, but it does seem to apply to parents!


Joe and I have been thinking a lot about “family” recently. We are reading though everything we can find by Ranciere on the family. He isn’t a member of the Church and doesn’t have the same reasons for looking at the family. But in this case, that makes it all the more interesting. He is convinced that there are methods of teaching and methods of standing out against oppression in a society that can only happen, or happen best, in a family. The Ignorant Schoolmaster argues that a mom or dad is the ideal teacher because of how they can uniquely exercise their will but not their intelligence over their children. A family is also a place where the economics of capitalism can be thwarted: we don’t have to act in what is most beneficial monetarily to us as individuals, but we can jointly pursue truth without thought of power or reward. Anyway, this idea that the sins of the children could possibly be put on the heads of the parents points to me that the family is extremely ideal for teaching — not just ideal, but so perfect that God could say if we don’t take advantage of that, we’re in trouble! It seems to me that this sort of warning can only take place if the influence of the parents (or king, or high priest) is so great that they could cause the wrong sort of thing to happen if they don’t teach or set the right example. Apparently we have a huge opportunity to set things right for the next generation, and not just “I sorta help a little but they’ll pick up how to be right from Church” and/or “they’ve all got free agency so it’s not up to me anyway.” NO! 🙂


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:

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