Constructing politics: Arendt, Rancière, and the concept of work
LE3 .A278 2020
Master of Arts
Social and Political Thought
This thesis understands that the lay-understanding of the concept of work is founded upon problematic assumptions that continue to exasperate social and political inequalities. These assumptions and inequalities are demonstrated through a reading of the philosophy of Hannah Arendt and the theory of Jacques Rancière. First, Arendt’s concepts of public, private, and social realms, as well as her concepts of labour, work, and action are reconstructed. Her account of the activity of the human being is derived largely through the thought of Aristotle’s conception of the speaking human as political animal, which claims that those who do not speak are not fully human. The concept of work is then presented through Jacques Rancière’s political theory. He labours not to define work but to understand that definitions of work are enactments of what he calls the distribution of the sensible. This theory is further developed by presenting Rancière’s concepts of police, politics, equality, and his parapolitical critique of Aristotle. Arendt and Rancière are then brought into an encounter with each other, along with the many scholarly interpreters who stage similar comparisons of these two thinkers. Some aspects of Rancière and Arendt’s thinking are shown to be compatible (such as their instance on politics requiring a space of appearance, their fascination with theatre as a political venue, their fixation on human rights, and their engagement with the ancient Greeks). However, the broad consensus of secondary theorists consulted throughout this work is that there is too large a distance between the theory and philosophy of Rancière and Arendt on the concept of work to be satisfyingly bridged. This thesis supports this criticism, and takes it a step further by deploying Rancière’s theoretical arsenal against Arendt’s rigid philosophy of work, and argues that Arendt, who polices exactly what work is and what work is not, risks dehumanizing the worker.
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