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Institutionalizing Democracy

There’s a review of Nick Hewlett’s book, Badiou, Balibar, Rancière: Re-thinking Emancipation, circulating around the blogosphere. It’s been up at the Rancière blog and on The review’s philochatter, academic incestuousness, entertaining for a certain number of us. But neither the review, Tod May, nor Hewlett seem to me to have really gotten at Rancière: their gripe with him is that his vision of democracy resists institutionalization. Hewlett, as May quotes him, writes:

How could the sans-part, whom Rancière promotes so effectively in his theory, ever play a full and positive role in a democratically organized society if the very existence of democracy depends on their playing a marginal role and being in an apparently constant state of revolt? (p. 111) 

May summarizes: “In short, how can we institutionalize the democratic moment that Rancière has conceived?” This is an odd objection. It’s something like granting that 2 and 2 will equal 4, and then asking how we can make it equal 5. I don’t know how to respond to it other than suggesting to both authors that they reflect on why they want to institutionalize democracy finally, and why Rancière thinks this is problematic.

Not that I am an expert in Rancière or anything, but the few things I’ve read by him indicate that objecting to the uninstitutionalizability of his politics is a misunderstanding.

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