Clarifying the Debate between Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou


Jacques Ranciere, Alain Badiou, French Philosophy


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, perhaps due in part to the 1975 republication of Gaston Bachelard’s Les Intuitions Atomistiques, 1 Louis Althusser and his former student, Alain Badiou, found they had things to say about the relevance of ancient atomism to radical leftist politics. For both thinkers, whose shared debt to Bachelard had been openly avowed, the question that needed addressing concerned the relationship between atomism and structuralism. On Badiou’s account, atomism canonically encapsulates the “structural dialectic,” a dialecticized form of structuralism that retains from Hegel only the mystical shell, passing over the rational kernel.2 On Althusser’s account, however, atomism laid the foundations of a tradition of “aleatory materialism,” an entirely non-Hegelian and nonstructuralist materialism that captures the experience of political revolt.3 But because Althusser was in his last years (his writings on atomism would only be published after his death) and because Badiou was on the verge of a major transformation (his polemics against atomism would disappear as he developed the theses of Being and Event), the debate of sorts between master and student fell quickly to the wayside and has been largely ignored.4

Original Publication Citation

Rancièrean Atomism: Clarifying the Debate between Jacques Rancière and Alain Badiou.” Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy 23.2 (2015): 98–121.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

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Religious Education


Ancient Scripture

University Standing at Time of Publication

Assistant Professor