Rancière contributed to the influential volume Reading Capital before publicly breaking with Althusser over his attitude toward the May 1968 student uprising in Paris; Rancière felt Althusser's theoretical stance did not leave enough room for spontaneous popular uprising.
Since then, Rancière has departed from the path set by his teacher and published a series of works probing the concepts that make up our understanding of political discourse, such as ideology and proletariat. He sought to address whether the working class in fact exists, and how the masses of workers that thinkers like Althusser referred to continuously enter into a relationship with knowledge, particularly the limits of philosophers' knowledge with respect to the proletariat. An example of this line of thinking is Rancière's book entitled Le philosophe et ses pauvres (The Philosopher and His Poor, 1983), a book about the role of the poor in the intellectual lives of philosophers.
From 1975-81, Rancière was a figurehead for the Journal Les Révoltes Logiques. Forming partly out of a philosophy seminar on Workers’ history that Rancière gave at Vincennes, it drew together philosophers and historians for a radical political intervention into French thought after the May 1968 uprisings. Its title acting as both a reference to Arthur Rimbaud’s poem, Democratie (‘Nous Massacrerons les revoltes logiques’ – ‘We’ll smash all logic revolts.’) and the Maoist Cultural Revolutionary slogan adopted by the Gauche Prolétarienne group, of which some of Les Rèvoltes Logiques' members were active within, ‘On a raison de se revolter’ – ‘It is right to revolt.’, the Journal attempted to interrogate and contest the historiographic and political norms around the representation of workers’ and social history. Writing, along with figures like feminist historian Genevieve Fraisse, Rancière and others attempted to reveal the complexity, contradictions and diversity of ‘thought and history from below’. In its fifteen ordinary issues, the collective wished to overcome the historiographic norms in which the working class were given historical treatment but rendered voiceless, homogeneous and pre-theoretical; instead, they allowed workers to speak for themselves, and interrogated their words seriously.
More recently Rancière has written on the topic of human rights and specifically the role of international human rights organizations in asserting the authority to determine which groups of people, again the problem of masses, justify human rights interventions and even war.
Rancière's book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (original title Le Maître ignorant: Cinq leçons sur l'émancipation intellectuelle, published in 1987) was written for educators and educators-to-be. Through the story of Joseph Jacotot, Rancière challenges his readers to consider equality as a starting point rather than a destination. In doing so, he asks educators to abandon the themes and rhetoric of cultural deficiency and salvation. Rather than requiring informed schoolmasters to guide students towards prescribed and alienating ends, Rancière argues that educators can channel the equal intelligence in all to facilitate their intellectual growth in virtually unlimited directions. The schoolmaster need not know anything (and may be ignorant). Rancière begins with the premises that all are of equal intelligence and that any collective educational exercise founded on this principle can provide the insights from which knowledge is constructed. He claims that the poor and disenfranchised should feel perfectly able to teach themselves whatever it is they want to know. Furthermore, anyone can lead, and the oppressed should not feel bound to experts or reliant on others for their intellectual emancipation.
Jacotot advocated the 'equality of intelligence' and claimed that an ignorant person could teach another ignorant person. Rancière developed this idea in The Ignorant Schoolmaster, saying that “there is stultification whenever one intelligence is subordinated to another ... whoever teaches without emancipating stultifies”.
In 2006, it was reported that Rancière's aesthetic theory had become a point of reference in the visual arts, and Rancière has lectured at such art world events as the Frieze Art Fair. Former French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal described Rancière as her favourite philosopher. Among those intellectuals influenced by his work, Gabriel Rockhill has developed a new paradigm for thinking the historical relation between aesthetics and politics in close dialogue with Rancière's writings.
The literary critic Rita Felski has named Rancière as an important precursor to the project of postcritique within literary studies.
The Names of History: On the Poetics of Knowledge (1994) - This is a brief book, arguing for an epistemological critique of the methods and goals of the traditional study of history. It has been influential in the philosophy of history
Althusser's Lesson (2011) - The first English translation of Rancière’s first book, in which he explores and begins to move beyond the thought of his mentor, Louis Althusser (tr. by Emiliano Battista) ISBN978-1-4411-0805-0
Mute Speech: Literature, Critical Theory, and Politics (2011), tr. by James Swenson: ISBN978-0-231-15103-0
"Who Is the Subject of the Rights of Man?" The South Atlantic Quarterly, Volume 103, Number 2/3, Spring/Summer 2004, pp. 297–310
"Is there a Deleuzian Aesthetics?" Tr. Radmila Djordjevic, Qui Parle?, Volume 14, Number 2, 2004, pp. 1–14
The Lessons of Rancière. Samuel A. Chambers. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
Jacques Rancière: An Introduction, by Joseph Tanke. (New York & London: Continuum, 2011).
Jacques Rancière: Politics, History, Aesthetics. Eds. Phil Watts and Gabriel Rockhill. (Durham & London: Duke University Press, 2009). Also includes an afterword by Rancière: "The Method of Equality: An Answer to Some Questions".
Politica delle immagini. Su Jacques Rancière, ed. by Roberto De Gaetano (Cosenza: Pellegrini, 2011). Includes essays by Rancière.
The Political Thought of Jacques Rancière. Todd May (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008).
Rancière's Sentiments. Davide Panagia (Durham: Duke University Press, 2018).
Jacques Rancière: Key Concepts. Ed. Jean-Phillipe Deranty (Durham: Acumen, 2010).
Jacques Rancière: Education, Truth, Emancipation. Charles Bingham and Gert Biesta (London & New York: Continuum, 2010). Also includes an essay by Rancière: "On Ignorant Schoolmasters".