Jacques Rancière (born 1940) is a French philosopher, Professor of Philosophy at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris (St. Denis) who came to prominence when he co-authored Reading Capital (1968), with the structuralist Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.
Rancière contributed to the influential volume Reading Capital (though his contribution is not contained in the partial English translation) before publicly breaking with Althusser over his attitude toward the May 1968 student uprising in Paris; Rancière felt Althusser's theoretical stance didn't leave enough room for spontaneous popular uprising.
Since then, Rancière has departed from the path set by his teacher and published a series of works probing the concepts that make up our understanding of political discourse, such as ideology and proletariat. He sought to address whether the working class in fact exists, and how the masses of workers that thinkers like Althusser referred to continuously enter into a relationship with knowledge, particularly the limits of philosophers' knowledge with respect to the proletariat. An example of this line of thinking is Rancière's book entitled Le philosophe et ses pauvres (The Philosopher and His Poor, 1983), a book about the role of the poor in the intellectual lives of philosophers.
More recently Rancière has written on the topic of human rights and specifically the role of international human rights organizations in asserting the authority to determine which groups of people — again the problem of masses — justify human rights interventions, and even war.
Rancière's book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (original title Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l'émancipation intellectuelle, published in 1987) was written for educators and educators-to-be. Through the story of Joseph Jacotot, Rancière challenges his readers to consider equality as a starting point rather than a destination. In doing so, he asks educators to abandon the themes and rhetoric of cultural deficiency and salvation. Rather than requiring informed schoolmasters to guide students towards prescribed and alienating ends, Rancière argues that educators can channel the equal intelligence in all to facilitate their intellectual growth in virtually unlimited directions. The schoolmaster need not know anything (i.e., s/he may be ignorant). Rancière begins with the premises that all are of equal intelligence and that any collective educational exercise founded on this principle can provide the insights from which knowledge is constructed. He claims that the poor and disenfranchised should feel perfectly able to teach themselves whatever it is they want to know. Furthermore, anyone can lead, and the oppressed should not feel bound to experts or reliant on others for their intellectual emancipation.
In 2006, it was reported that Rancière's aesthetic theory had become a point of reference in the visual arts, and Rancière has lectured at such art world events as the Frieze Art Fair.