The question of politics and the method of my “shifts” are closely linked to each other. For me, the political always comes into play in questions of divisions and boundaries. I chose the title La nuit des prolétaires for my book on the emancipation of the worker in nineteenth-century France because at the heart of this emancipation was the breaking of the natural division of time that dictated that workers must work by day and sleep by night and have no time left over for thinking. The workers’ emancipation came about through workers who decided to devote their nights to other activities than sleep, to give themselves this time that did not belong to them in order to enter into a world of writing and thinking that was not “theirs.” To take this into account, I needed to break the boundary that is supposed to separate genres—history, philosophy, literature, political science. In principle, my workers belonged to “social history.” In other words, their texts were read as documents expressing the condition of workers, popular culture, etc. I decided to read them in a different way—as literary and philosophical texts. Where others were attempting to read about workers’ problems expressed in the language of the people, I saw, on the other hand, a struggle to cross the barrier between languages and worlds, to vindicate access to the common language and to the discourse on the community. As opposed to culturalism, which sought to restore a “popular culture,” I valorized the attitude of those workers who challenged that so-called “popular culture” and made an attempt to appropriate another’s culture (i.e. that of the “iterate”). The idea of a “poetics of knowledge” that would cut across all disciplines thus expresses a very close relationship between subject and method. La nuit des prolétaires was a “political” book in that it ignored the division between “scientific” and “literary” or between “social” and “ideological,” in order to take into account the struggle by which the proletariat sought to reappropriate for themselves a common language that had been appropriated by others, and to affirm transgressively the assumption of equality.
—Jacques Rancière (interviewed by Solange Guénoun and James H. Kavanagh, 2000)