Recognition has both a normative and a psychological dimension. Arguably, if you recognize another person with regard to a certain feature, as an autonomous agent, for example, you do not only admit that she has this feature but you embrace a positive attitude towards her for having this feature. Such recognition implies that you bear obligations to treat her in a certain way, that is, you recognize a specific normative status of the other person, e. But recognition does not only matter normatively.

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Recognition has both a normative and a psychological dimension. Arguably, if you recognize another person with regard to a certain feature, as an autonomous agent, for example, you do not only admit that she has this feature but you embrace a positive attitude towards her for having this feature. Such recognition implies that you bear obligations to treat her in a certain way, that is, you recognize a specific normative status of the other person, e.

But recognition does not only matter normatively. It is also of psychological importance. Most theories of recognition assume that in order to develop a practical identity, persons fundamentally depend on the feedback of other subjects and of society as a whole. According to this view, those who fail to experience adequate recognition, i. It has been poignantly described how the victims of racism and colonialism have suffered severe psychological harm by being demeaned as inferior humans Fanon Recognition theory is thought to be especially well-equipped to illuminate the psychological mechanisms of social and political resistance.

They promise to illuminate a variety of new social movements—be it the struggles of ethnic or religious minorities, of gays and lesbians or of people with disabilities. None of these groups primarily fight for a more favorable distribution of goods.

This entry will first discuss some controversies surrounding the very concept of recognition 1 before reviewing four dimensions of what is recognized by whom and on what grounds that have been highlighted by different theories of recognition 2. However, even in light of these differentiations some authors have expressed the fear that concentrating on the issue of recognition might supplant the central problem of re distribution on the political agenda 3.

Finally, the often rather sanguine descriptions of recognition and its potential for emancipation 4 have been fundamentally challenged: The concern is that because the need for recognition renders persons utterly dependent on the dominating societal norms it may undermine the identity of any critic. Thus, some worry that struggles for recognition may lead to conformism and a strengthening of ideological formations 5. Recognition presupposes a subject of recognition the recognizer and an object the recognized.

Before asking what kind of subjects and objects of recognition are possible 1. However, it is the meaning of mutual recognition that lies at the heart of the contemporary discussion. Mutuality has always served as the explanatory and normative core of the concept of recognition. Within the Phenomenology this idea is first and foremost a thesis about how we can gain self-consciousness as autonomous agents, namely only by interacting with other autonomous subjects see in more detail 2.

However, this idea also leads Hegel to consider the importance of differing forms of mutual recognition. Rather, she wishes to remind you, the first possessor, that she is a person with moral standing as well who has been neglected by the act of first acquisition Siep , 39; Honneth , 44— As becomes especially clear in the Phenomenology : By fighting against the other the subject wants to affirm her own freedom by proving that her normative status is of more importance to her than any of her animal desires, including—at an extreme—her desire to live.

However, such fighting, expressive of autonomy, must lead to an impasse as it cannot achieve mutual recognition: either one of the subjects dies or subjects herself as a slave to the other, the superior master, and thus fails to express her autonomy. Thus, adequate recognition can only be achieved within an institutionalized order of rights that secures genuinely mutual recognition Williams , 59— Hegel develops this latter thought most systematically in his mature Philosophy of Right.

It has been argued that focusing on the idea of mutuality may limit the scope of recognition too much. Rather, we should distinguish between a narrow understanding of recognition based on the feature of mutuality and a wide understanding grounded in the idea of adequate regard Laitinen The latter reading emphasizes that by affirming a valuable feature of any entity i.

Thus, the wide understanding allows for many objects of recognition that cannot themselves be subjects of recognition. However, so far this constitutes a minority position.

By contrast, because most theorists of recognition argue that recognition is a genuinely interpersonal endeavor, they conclude that only subjects of recognition can be proper objects of recognition. At its margins, this narrow understanding of mutual recognition between persons raises the question from which point onward children can start to be subjects of recognition and whether at least some animals can qualify as such.

Most theories of recognition—drawing, for example, on psychoanalytic object-relations theory see in more detail 2. This suggests, of course, that human babies face the surrounding world differently than even the most developed animals do see in more detail 2. When it comes to the question of collective agents, there is still considerable uncertainty within the literature. In the following, this entry distinguishes between i groups, ii corporations or states and iii institutions more generally.

Recently, there have been attempts to introduce the notion of recognition into the field of International Relations, beyond the common usage of a legal recognition of states. Certainly, citizens frequently speak as if their state was disrespected by another state but it remains to be seen whether these citizens are in fact merely indignant about their government being disrespected, some public official or they themselves as members of the state in more detail Iser , 30— Institutions cannot as easily be described as collective actors.

Still, given that they are human products, there is broad agreement that an institution say, a constitution can disrespect persons because institutions, besides effectively regulating behavior, always express—as well as reinforce—underlying attitudes of those who designed or keep on reproducing them.

In distinguishing between a civilized society where individuals do not humiliate each other and a decent society where at least the institutions do not do so, Avishai Margalit , 1—2 explicitly affirms this point. Furthermore, political resistance as a moral endeavor would prove to be unintelligible if we did not assume that political institutions and not only the agents acting within them could be subjects of misrecognition.

But can institutions themselves be disrespected? We can differentiate the concept of recognition according to the kind of features a person is recognized for. Most agree that only in a formal sense is recognition a vital human need or an anthropological constant. New demands of recognition always owe themselves to the historically established and changing ideas of what kind of recognition we deserve.

Whereas the former now guarantees a basic level of recognition for everyone, the latter creates a hitherto unknown insecurity with regard to the question of what kind of recognition one deserves Taylor , 34—35 ; an insecurity which, according to some authors, has led to the growing importance of intimate love and friendship within the private sphere.

Kantians—and liberals more generally—usually concentrate on the first dimension of the modern recognition order, i. Hegelian theories of recognition, by contrast, embrace a more encompassing view of recognition attempting to cover all spheres of recognition within modernity. Finally, Taylor thematizes the recognition of concrete individuality in contexts of loving care that are of utmost importance to subjects Taylor , They have even been interpreted as genealogically distinct stages along which individual persons gain self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem Honneth , ch.

Only mutual recognition that grants others the status of an epistemic authority allows us to construct a normative space of reasons: I know that the truth of my judgment depends on you being able to share it Brandom Thus, such accounts try to explain how reason can enter the world in the first place—and therefore this kind of elementary recognition does not seem to depend on values or norms but rather be a source thereof.

However, human beings never create their world or the reasons they use from scratch. Rather, they are embedded in holistic webs of meanings which they jointly reproduce and may hereby also redo. Theories of recognition hereby provide the ground for a critique of atomistic views of subjectivity especially in Taylor , part I. Some have even argued that only empathy with other persons allows us to take over their perspective Cavell which, again, seems to be a prerequisite for sharing their evaluative reasons: recognition is primary to cognition Honneth , 40— Only by being interested in sharing experiences with other autonomous beings does the child gain access to the world of meaning Tomasello , Hobson In this vein it has been argued that people come to recognize others as persons very early on.

Already the baby learns to recognize her attachment figures as intelligible beings, i. Quite automatically, so the argument goes, the child then later perceives all other humans as humans.

Whereas Brandom concentrates on rather basic normative ascriptions, all phenomena of recognition can be described as inherently normative. In particular, there is one specific form of recognition in modernity that seems to flow quite naturally from our basic capacity of recognizing each other in the elementary form sketched so far, namely equal respect. Ever since the idea of universal human rights has been established in modernity, assigning equal dignity or respect is commonly thought to be the central dimension of recognition.

Nearly every moral philosopher writing today accepts this Kantian idea, even if not all embrace it in the terminology of recognition. One of the authors who explicitly does so is Thomas Scanlon. This relation […] might be called a relation of mutual recognition. For Scanlon, therefore, moral blame is especially relevant because it signifies a disturbance of this basic relationship Scanlon , cf. Wallace What is valued here, again, is autonomous agency, the capacity to respond to reasons.

Most discussions in moral and political philosophy can be seen as disputes over what it means to recognize the other as equal, i. Appraisal respect resembles esteem see 2. As we face a continuum from severe degradation to phenomena of which it is hotly contested whether they are disrespectful, quite a few theories of recognition have focused on the negative experiences of clear disrespect.

In fact, the normative expectation of being treated with respect is most obvious when we look at extreme forms of humiliation in which specific groups of humans are symbolically and consequently also materially excluded from humanity, are treated like animals or mere objects. In response to such extreme forms of humiliation, Margalit has concluded that our primary political aim should be to strive for a decent society instead of a fully just one Margalit , — and there has been some discussion about whether recognition theory has a natural affinity with minimal or negative theories of morality Allen Being faced with extreme humiliation, the interplay between normative and psychological aspects becomes especially salient.

Even if the victims know that their degradation is unjustified, they cannot but feel humiliated all the same. Any trust in being able to control their lives is stripped away from them. In the course of mistreatment, torture and rape the perpetrators do not only intentionally inflict pain and injury on their victims but also deride the agency of the latter. This combination undermines basic self- and world-trust Scarry ; Rorty , ch.

However, even less extreme forms of mistreating persons manifest disrespect. Instead of being approached as adults, women and people of different color, for instance, were, for the most part of history, treated like children. Nonetheless, there is a certain tension between recognizing somebody as a legal rights holder and the idea of a full-fledged recognition order.

Yet, in granting every subject the right to use their powers of reasons as they see fit, law recognizes their autonomous agency. It hereby takes into account the fact of reasonable pluralism. Nonetheless, theorists of recognition within the Hegelian tradition have warned that concentrating entirely on negative liberty without considering the wider social context in which such liberty is embedded and on which it depends might lead to social pathologies Honneth , ch. With this warning they join communitarian voices.

Thus, one necessary step is to secure the legitimacy of the legal order by ascribing equal democratic rights to all citizens. This recognizes them as being able to orient themselves toward the common good and not only to their self-interest. In contrast, in many of the contemporary social struggles persons or groups demand recognition of specific e.

Hereby all members are discriminated who do not fit the hegemonic understanding already Taylor , If one tries to cancel out these disadvantages by taking into account the differences, e. In order to arrive at such context-sensitive laws and regulations one has to more fully include the affected groups into the process of democratic decision-making, for example, through a vitalized public sphere and formal hearings Habermas Additionally, it has been proposed that formerly oppressed groups should have a veto right with regard to all those questions that particularly affect them Young , — Such a politics of difference is not concerned with context-sensitive respect, but with the esteem for specific characteristics or entire identities of individuals and—often enough—groups.

However, the idea of group identities has been hotly contested: Whereas some groups indeed want to re affirm their particular identity, the criticism has been voiced that such a homogenous reading of identity fails to take proper account of intersecting axes of identification being a black, lesbian woman, for instance.

The failure to admit of such heterogeneity has been suspected of legitimizing internal oppression within minority groups. According to some scholars, all identities have to be deconstructed.


Social and Political Recognition

In this book, he argues for an intersubjective view of identity and a moral interpretation of social conflict. According to Honneth, social struggles may be normatively evaluated by the extent to which they provide the preconditions for self-realization in the form of three distinct types of recognition: love, respect, and social esteem. Although the book has been subject to a variety of criticisms, it provides the most systematic and ambitious social theory of recognition available today. Keywords: Axel Honneth , Hegel , recognition , identity , critical theory , social theory.



In this pathbreaking study, Axel Honneth argues that "the struggle for recognition" is, and should be, at the center of social conflicts. Moving smoothly between moral philosophy and social theory, Honneth offers insights into such issues as the social forms of recognition and nonrecognition, the moral basis of interaction in human conflicts, the relation between the recognition model and conceptions of modernity, the normative basis of social theory, and the possibility of mediating between Hegel and Kant. Honneth's book casts a flood of light on what has been an area ofdarkness, the place where the philosophical tradition and modern politics meet and interweave. Since neither is really comprehensible without the other, this work is essential reading for those who would understand either. It is a pathbreaking study, which ought to be at the center of the debate for many years to come. This is a most remarkable book. The exposition and critical discussion are conducted with exemplary clarity.


The Struggle for Recognition


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