Étienne Balibar

(b. 1942)

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French*Marxistphilosopher and social theorist. Born in Bourgogne, Balibar studied at the École Normale Supérieure, where he met Louis Althusser, who became his mentor. Balibar rose to prominence as an ‘Althusserian’, one of a select group of Althusser's students and colleagues, that included Pierre Macherey, Michel Pêcheux, Nicos Poulantzas, and Jacques Rancière, among others, who worked together to advance Althusser's structuralist rewriting of Marxist doctrine. Balibar collaborated with Althusser, Macherey and Rancière to write Lire le capital (1968), partially translated as Reading Capital (1970), which is a close reading of several key sections of Karl Marx's Das Kapital. Although Balibar's contribution to this work tends to be conflated with Althusser's (Macherey and Rancière have fared much worse as their contributions were deleted from subsequent editions and are not even included in the English translation), it is significant for the way it lays out the basic principles of historical materialism, formulating it as a general theory of social formations. In the 1970s, when Marxism came under increasingly heavy attack because of the revelations about the existence of Gulags in the USSR, Balibar did not renounce Marxism altogether, but he did quit the Communist Party, of which he had been a member for some twenty years. In the 1980s and 1990s, still working within a Marxist framework, but now outside of the shadow of Althusser, Balibar turned to more ‘practical’ questions, such as the problems posed by the transformation of nations under the aegis of global capitalism and the continuing problems of racism. In a book co-written with Immanuel Wallerstein, Race, nation, classe: les identités ambiguës (1988), translated as Race, Nation, Class: Ambiguous Identities (1991), Balibar proposes the concept of neo-racism to explain the perpetuation of this phenomenon in the postcolonial era. More recently, his thoughts have turned to the problem of the emergence and development of the European Union: Nous, citoyens d'Europe? Les frontiers, l'État, le people (2001), translated as We, the People of Europe? Reflections on Transnational Citizenship (2004), and Europe, Constitution, Frontière (2005).

Further Reading:

N. Hewlet, Badiou, Balibar, Rancière: Re-thinking Emancipation (2007).J. Lezra (ed.)Depositions: Althusser, Balibar, Macherey and the Labor of Reading (1996).

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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