The Philosopher and His Poor

The Philosopher and His Poor

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: Published: April 2004

Cultural Studies, Politics > Political Theory, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

What has philosophy to do with the poor? If, as has often been supposed, the poor have no time for philosophy, then why have philosophers always made time for them? Why is the history of philosophy—from Plato to Karl Marx to Jean-Paul Sartre to Pierre Bourdieu—the history of so many figures of the poor: plebes, men of iron, the demos, artisans, common people, proletarians, the masses? Why have philosophers made the shoemaker, in particular, a remarkably ubiquitous presence in this history? Does philosophy itself depend on this thinking about the poor? If so, can it ever refrain from thinking for them?

Jacques Rancière’s The Philosopher and His Poor meditates on these questions in close readings of major texts of Western thought in which the poor have played a leading role—sometimes as the objects of philosophical analysis, sometimes as illustrations of philosophical argument. Published in France in 1983 and made available here for the first time in English, this consummate study assesses the consequences for Marx, Sartre, and Bourdieu of Plato’s admonition that workers should do “nothing else” than their own work. It offers innovative readings of these thinkers’ struggles to elaborate a philosophy of the poor. Presenting a left critique of Bourdieu, the terms of which are largely unknown to an English-language readership, The Philosopher and His Poor remains remarkably timely twenty years after its initial publication.


The Philosopher and His Poor is an excellent introduction to Rancière’s thought. The clear and lively introduction by Andrew Parker is invaluable to anyone encountering Rancière for the first time.” — Aimée Israel-Pelletier , Dalhousie French Studies

“Rancière’s sweep through this selection of the history of philosophy is meticulous. He leads us through the details he selects—all about the role of the poor in the various ideal political theories and their role as analogy to rhetoric, farce, spectacle, ignorance, and base material opportunism—to weave together a tableau of philosophy’s ideological exploitation of the body of the poor.” — Ronald R. Sundstrom, Radical Philosophy Review

“Sure to provoke controversy, The Philosopher and His Poor is a virtuoso performance. I can’t think of anyone who has pursued the populist premise—the intuition that in this or that situation the grounding of truth or value is to be located in those most dispossessed—with anything approaching Rancière’s degree of articulateness or philosophical sophistication. I predict that this book will become a landmark.” — Bruce Robbins, author of Feeling Global: Internationalism in Distress

“The Philosopher and His Poor is a remarkable work. Jacques Rancière demonstrates the recurrence throughout the history of western thought of a particular self-constituting move: the freedom and the right to think are premised upon a situating and excluding of those whose task is other than to think, what Rancière calls ‘the poor.’” — Derek Attridge, author of The Singularity of Literature


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jacques Rancière is Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris–VIII (St. Denis). His many books include The Nights of Labor: The Workers’ Dream in Nineteenth-Century France; The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation;and Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy.

Andrew Parker is Professor of English at Amherst College. He is a coeditor of Nationalisms and Sexualities and Performativity and Performance.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Editor’s Preface vii

Editor’s Introduction: Mimesis and the Division of Labor ix

A Personal Itinerary xxv

I. Plato's Lie

1. The Order of the City 3

2. The Order of Discourse 30

II. Marx's Labor

3. The Shoemaker and the Knight 57

4. The Production of the Proletarian 70

5. The Revolution Conjured Away 90

6. The Risk of Art 105

III. The Philosopher and the Sociologist

7. The Marxist Horizon 127

8. The Philosopher’s Wall 137

9. The Sociologist King 165

For Those Who Want More 203

Afterword to the English-Language Edition (2002) 219

Notes 229
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3274-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3261-9
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