December 2018


Aesthetics and Politics



On November 12, 2018 I presented my project in a forum of researchers at the Centre for Gender Studies, Linnaeus University, Sweden. Amongst the many things that we discussed, a recurring comment was about the role of art in my website. What is the role of art in this project then? In short what is the link between aesthetics and politics in my work?


As Cecilia Sjöholm has argued Arendt wrote about the role of sensibility and aesthetic judgment in politics; she also wrote about the power of art to enrich human experience: ‘The importance of art lies in the way that it is implicated in the reality we perceive, extending shadows from the imaginary world to the world of the living.’ (Doing Aesthetics with Arendt, 12) Sjöholm has identified 4 features in outlining an Arendtian approach to politics, art and aesthetics ( ix-xiv):


  1. The importance of appearance: works of art do not appear as isolated phenomena. They emerge in public spaces in a multiplicity of modes and indeed belong to the public sphere. In the same vein politics is about appearance in the public sphere and acting in concert.
  2. Art is about the crystallization of a moment, action, event. A work of art is characterized through a quality of permanence: it remains and resists commodification. In parallel, politics is not only about action, but also about the creation of new beginnings, a new body politic that will endure and remain.
  3. Art weaves together the fleeting reality of the human existence, including moments of action. As a form of art therefore narratives are inherent in the political, as inscriptions and traces of action.
  4. The importance of artistic praxis for Arendt: the question is not what art is, but what art does


I can map my use of artistic images in this project from Mato Ioannidou‘s collection Genealogy in all four features that Sjöholm has identified above, and I was particularly interested in the connection she makes between art and narratives. And yet, I have also sensed a gap in the Arendtian approach and this is how I have turned to Rancière’s politics of aesthetics.

I am certainly not the first to make connections between Arendt and Rancière. There is already an important body of literature wherein such connections have been made from different perspectives and angles (see The Lessons of Rancière), despite the fact that in his ‘Ten theses on Politics’ Rancière has explicitly declared his difference from Arendt’s take on the political: ‘I wrote the Ten Theses on politics primarily as a critique of the Arendtian idea of a specific political sphere and a political way of life.’ (3) Differences notwithstanding, Samuel Chambers has commented that ‘both thinkers see politics as novel, creative, surprising and unexpected’ (The Lessons of Rancière, 39). Here it is important to keep in mind that the essence of politics for Rancière is dissensus: politics is never more than a moment, a political event that disrupts the status quo and makes visible what the social order wishes to cover and keep invisible. There are connections between Rancière’s idea of politics as dissensus and Arend’s take on politics as action in concert. The two thinkers part ways however in that Arendt’s take on the political focuses on the creative capacity of new beginnings, plurality and action, while for Rancière everything that is not dissensus is not politics, but police. As Chambers has observed, Rancière uses ‘police,’ ‘policing,’ and ‘police order’ to name any order of hierarchy, including the state, political bodies and architectural constructions amongst others. Police is a symbolic constitution of the social for Rancière, while the political only comes about because of the irruption of politics within a police order (ibid., 60).

We can thus see the link between politics and aesthetics for Rancière: they come together in enacting dissensus. Although I do not agree with Rancière’s thesis that ‘ the essence of politics and of aesthetics for that matter, is the manifestation of dissensus’, I still think that ‘dissensus’, is an important component, downplayed in Arendt’s take on politics. What I think is unique in Ranciere’s approach to the politics of aesthetics, is the idea of discerning the power of art to intervene in ‘le partage du sensible’, ‘the distribution of the sensible and this is how it is at the heart of Rancièrean politics.

Please reference as : Maria Tamboukou (2018) ‘Diffractions, December 2018,