Editor’s Introduction
Mimesis and the Division of Labor
Are they my poor?
Ralph Waldo Emerson,
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 and Marx to Sartre and Pierre Bour-
dieu—the history of so many figures of the poor: plebes, men of
iron, the demos, artisans, common people, proletarians, lumpen,
series, groups in fusion, masses? Why have philosophers made
the shoemaker (of all workers) a remarkably ubiquitous presence
in this history? Does philosophy constitute itself in thinking of 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 its 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 illustra-
tions of philosophical argument. Published in France in 1983 and
made available here for the first time in English, the book is a
consummate earlier study by a figure increasingly known today in
the Anglophone world for his pathbreaking writings on the na-
ture of equality.∞ The Philosopher and His Poor initiates an explora-
tion of themes and questions to which Rancière will return over
the course of what continues to be a singular intellectual and
political itinerary. But the book’s significance is not merely histor-
ical. A series of linked essays assessing the consequences for
Marx, Sartre, and Bourdieu of Plato’s admonition that workers
should do ‘‘nothing else’’ than their own work, it o√ers innovative
readings of these figures in turn as each struggles to elaborate a
philosophy of the poor. The long chapter on Bourdieu should
prove today to be of special interest given the extraordinary atten-
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