Jacques Ranciere: On The New Models of Higher Education

What follows is a partial transcript of a discussion that happened between Duane Rousselle and Jacques Ranciere. The rest of the transcript will be made available at a later time.

Duane: Today, we often hear about a supposed crisis in humanities-based higher education.

Ranciere: yeah…

Duane: And this has provoked several responses from students and young professors. Some have dropped out of the university system and maybe tried something a little bit different. Or, they called for others to drop out – which we get a lot of in anarchist communities, for example. Some have made significant compromises with the university order as it currently exists. They sort of reluctantly cozy up with a curriculum which tries to satisfy market demands or market pressures. And, it seems to me, some have lived within two different worlds. So, those whom have lived within two different worlds have called themselves para-academics. It’s a new word that has been in circulation over the last few years it seems.

Ranciere: umhm, what name?

Duane: Para-, as in, the prefix Para-, academics, as in …

Ranciere: Ah, okay.

Duane: So many of those whom have remained within the prevailing system – the prevailing university order – thus retained some sense of privilege – some of the university’s privileges – while nonetheless exploring these alternative models of higher education. So, as a noted faculty of the European Graduate School, I wonder how you would analyze these new models, such as the European Graduate School and the Global Center for Advanced Studies. Um, there’s been a lot of debate about their use-value, so, I wonder what you think the role that they might play in responding to – or perhaps even perpetuating – the crisis? Or, do you believe they have an idea that’s worth pursuing passionately?

Ranciere: Well at first, I’m not sure that there is a crisis. The very theme of the crisis is problematic because right away what is called crisis on the one hand is just the normal way of the system. So when we find something new, when we are told about the crisis, the crisis of capitalism for example … no, no, no! Capitalism, you know, in fact, what happens within capitalism is a normal crisis. It’s the normal way of capitalism. And, in the same way, I don’t think that there is a crisis in politics or a crisis in education. There is a normal way, which of course has something pathological about it.

Of course there are conflicts and there are attempts to escape into another logic, there are attempts to escape from the logic of the system. Well I think that these are quite problematic. For my part, I really think, we always have to live in several worlds at the same time. Why? Because, precisely, there is really no right model of education. We don’t know, precisely, because there is not a kind of knowledge of the human mind that would really found the right process of education. Basically, the point about emancipation is that there is no right way. If you think of all the reforms in education, they are very often based on the idea that you, that we, must follow something like the right way of lecturing, but we don’t know what the right way of lecturing is. We don’t know where the new starting point is. So the principle of emancipation is, as I learned it from Joseph Jacotot, is that there is no right starting point. The starting point can be everywhere, you know. And also you can use a multiplicity of paths between one point and another point. This means that there is no ideal educational system that you could oppose to the existing one. Which means, really, that there various institutions – like EGS or the Global Center, or whatever, I don’t know exactly what they do.

But, basically, I don’t think the EGS or the Global Center have the vocation of becoming something like an alternative institution. Mostly because those institutions are based on money. Mostly! And, so, well, I think that those kinds of institutions can be interesting precisely because they don’t follow the normal ways of education. I think what is interesting perhaps is this kind of acceleration of education in one month, in a few weeks, you know. We have this kind of accelerated education with students – it is kind of like brainstorming, perhaps. But, precisely, this means that those institutions should not really imitate the university. So, for example, I think that it is problematic that the EGS now gives theses, gives PhDs, because, precisely, I think that the value of such institutions is to give no diploma. Of course, people don’t pay for those institutions. But, you know, that happens. So, of course, I don’t think that we should focus on those institutions as being the alternative. I think there are many alternatives. Of course, there can be a multiplicity of free institutions that are trying to construct alternative forms of learning and knowledge. I think this is something that is very important. We know how it happened in the past. For instance, we know about the People’s University – and that there were people who were normally destined to be workers alongside others, it was a mixed population.

So I think it’s important to have institutions where everybody can go. And where you can teach everything you like. Which also means: institutions which have no social form of recognition, such as diplomas. I don’t know if I can say more. Really, my main point is that it is a good thing to have alternative institutions but alternative institutions can also become quite academic and stultifying – if they think they have the right system for learning.*

Duane: Thank you.

This discussion happened one day after I had a more personal conversation with Ranciere about the Global Center for Advanced Studies and the European Graduate School. In my estimation, Ranciere seemed quite dissatisfied with both models of education. In both accounts, he claimed to have noticed a certain pretense to having the alternative model. In some sense, this notion of having the alternative model was bound up with the Badiouian notion of the Idea. In fact, what so seduced me by the Global Center for Advanced Studies was this notion of finding itself in fidelity to an Idea (it was repeatedly a part of its inaugural discourse). This opens up the question of the relationship between an Idea, in the sense in which the GCAS and Badiou use the concept, and the supposed pretense of having the alternative model. I mention this only to open up the question, not to explore it any further. Finally, Ranciere admitted to having been contacted by the GCAS about becoming part of the faculty. He dismissed the invitation as being a part of the big show of big name philosophers. It seem to me that he was dismissing the use of his name for leverage in order to assist the university in gaining credibility. And so he informed me that he rejected the invitation. Finally, he mentioned to me that he may not return to EGS again.

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10 thoughts on “Jacques Ranciere: On The New Models of Higher Education

  1. Pingback: Jacques Ranciere: On The New Models of Higher Education | Research Material

  2. “alternative institutions can also become quite academic and satisfying”! If the French expression was ‘satisfaisant’, I’d suggest ‘reasonable’ might be a better English translation?

  3. Pingback: The Global Center for Advanced Studies: Pros and Cons | dingpolitik

  4. Pingback: EGS Review and Notes | Militant Media

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