Interpreting the Situation of Political Disagreement: Rancière and Habermas

Seth Mayer


Although Jacques Rancière and Jürgen Habermas share several important commitments, they interpret various core concepts differently, viewing politics, democracy, communication, and disagreement in conflicting ways. Rancière articulates his democratic vision in opposition to important elements of Habermas’s approach. Critics contend that Habermas cannot account for the dynamics of command, exclusion, resistance, and aesthetic transformation involved in Rancière’s understanding of politics. In particular, the prominent roles Habermas affords to communicative rationality and consensus have led people to think that he cannot grasp the radical forms of political disagreement Rancière describes. While some have viewed Rancière as offering a trenchant challenge to Habermas, I will contend that Rancière’s critique is less compelling than some have thought. Habermasian understandings of third personal speech and aesthetic expression are nuanced and adaptable enough to evade Rancière’s criticisms. I conclude by suggesting that Habermasian theorists have also developed crucial forms of social and political critique that Rancière’s theory systematically excludes.


Rancière; Habermas; Critical Theory; Disagreement; Speech; Democracy

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