Read in order, the different chapters of this book retrace the intellectual journey accomplished by Jacques Ranciére, from the early affirmation of his commitment to radical equality, to the application of this fundamental “axiom” in many areas of the social sciences (the history and sociology of the labour movement, historiography, education, politics), culminating in the seminal books of the last decade (Disagreement, Film Fables, The Future of the Image). As we look back on the rich and complex work this journey in radical equality has produced, five important threads become visible, the texture of which gives this work its amazing consistency. These are Ranciére's distinctive conceptualization of equality and freedom, his humanistic concern, his hermeneutic approach and his materialism. Identifying these threads helps us to better understand where the originality of Ranciére's thought lies, and the reasons that explain why his key concepts and arguments have become attractive to many theorists and practitioners.
Obviously, the major thread running through Ranciére's writings is the principle of equality. With Badiou, Ranciére calls this an “axiom”, to indicate the fact that equality between individuals must be postulated because it can never be definitively proven. Indeed, many factual aspects of modern societies seem to run counter to this axiom. However, once postulated, the principle transforms the way in which individuals, society, politics and even the arts are seen. For Ranciére a true theory of emancipation not only takes political emancipation as its object of study but aims to participate practically in emancipation.