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Improper communities in the work of Roberto Esposito and Jacques Rancière

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Contemporary Political Theory Aims and scope


Recent theories of community (Nancy, Agamben, Esposito) aim to think the term beyond its definition as the ownership of shared identity, language, culture or territory. For Esposito, to reduce community to a property whose possession distinguishes members from non-members undermines the commonality the term implies. The common opposes what is proper or one’s own; it belongs to everyone and anyone. Rather than securing identity and belonging, community, defined by its impropriety, disrupts them so that we are in common. While his work successfully illustrates the incompatibility of the common and the proper, it leaves unanswered the question of how communities come to experience their impropriety. Through a comparison with Rancière’s improper community, we can identify and gesture beyond this limit. Its members intervene in proper communities by exercising the right to decide on common matters despite officially having no right to do so. Their actions, by demonstrating the openness of the common to anyone and everyone, turn its privatisation into a shared wrong that connects community with non-community. By supplementing Esposito’s work with Rancière’s, we see how communities relate to what they have deemed improper in a way that both challenges and revitalises their sense of commonality.

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I wish to thank the anonymous reviewers of CPT and Mairéad Hanrahan for their invaluable comments on this article.

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Correspondence to Kevin Inston.

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Inston, K. Improper communities in the work of Roberto Esposito and Jacques Rancière. Contemp Polit Theory 19, 621–641 (2020).

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