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Political Keywords of Emancipatory Politics

Lecturer: Steven Corcoran

Originally Taught: Summer School 2021

Sessions 1 and 2

The first half hour will serve us to discuss what is meant by a politics of emancipation, specifically one that takes equality as its central axiom. Indeed, the central stake in this series of lectures will be to explore the political forms and experiences that are indicated by our list of political keywords viewed through the lens of the egalitarian axiom. The general argument is that it is only if we centre these words on this axiom that we can gain an effective understanding of their current use and of the problems facing politics today. 

The remainder of session 1 and all of Session 2 will be devoted to mapping the use of the terms ‘democracy’, ‘the people’, representative government, and other cognate concepts through a series of fundamental historical experiences up to the present. The aim here will be to delve into the imaginaries and statements, as well as institutional and extra-institutional forms that have underpinned effective egalitarian politics. The hope is that this will give us some measure of recent transformations in what is seen as democracy at the state level, but also to gauge present attempts at establishing practices of so-called direct democracy at the movement level. Finally, if time permits, we will ask how philosophy itself has historically received attempts at socio-political transformation. 


  • Bernard Manin, The Principles of Representative Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press., 1997)
  • Jacques Rancière, Dis-agreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2004).
  • Jacques Rancière, Hatred of Democracy, trans. Steven Corcoran (London: Verso, 2006)

Sessions 3 and 4

For these two sessions will we delve into the modern advent of egalitarian politics that goes by the name of communism – or rather look at attempts to verify that Alain Badiou calls the communist hypothesis. What exactly is this hypothesis? What attempts have been made at its verification? Does it remain relevant today?

Alessandro Russo has produced a masterful account of a key egalitarian sequence of communist politics: the cultural revolution. Exploring its rise and its demise, we will seek to clarify the political sense that can be attached today to the word ‘communism’ (or communist idea), ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, ‘working class’, organization’, ‘revolution’ and ‘dialectics’ itself.


  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Communist Manifesto, with an Introduction by David McLellan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992).
  • Alain Badiou, The Communist Hypothesis, trans. David Macey and Steven Corcoran (London: Verso, 2010).
  • Alain Badiou, The Century, trans. Alberto Toscano (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), Chapter 6, ‘One Divides into Two’.
  • Alessandro Russo, The Cultural Revolution and Revolutionary Culture (Durham: Duke University Press, 2020).

Session 5

Drawing on our analyses of the aforementioned political keywords, the last session aims at gauging current attempts to reinvent radical egalitarian politics: from the Arab Spring to Syntagma Square, from Occupy Wall Street to Nuit Debout, how are we to understand the forms that attempted reinventions of egalitarian politics are taking today? What problems do they evince? What guiding ideas can help us to grasp their general orientation?

  • Alain Badiou, Greece and the Reinvention of Politics, trans. David Broder (London: Verso, 2018).
  • Jacques Rancière, What Times Are We Living In? trans. Steven Corcoran (Cambridge: Polity, 2020).