Manual Recognition and Power: Axel Honneth and the Tradition of Critical Social Theory

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Fingerprint critical theory. Journal of Power , 3 1 , Allen, Amy Rebekah. In: Journal of Power. In: Journal of Power , Vol. Allen AR. Journal of Power. Access to Document Additionally, it constitutes an injustice if activities are devalued for arbitrary reasons e. Two sorts of arguments have been leveled against this idea of focusing on achievement. First, some have argued that it is impossible to find culturally neutral criteria of merit Young , — For instance, the market is not interested so much in capacities or skills, but merely in outputs demanded by others regardless of the skills involved see Schmidt am Busch , 46— But some will argue that the market is thus not tracking the relevant feature.

If it is true that the very definition of achievement or merit will remain essentially contested, the problem that was supposed to be solved only reappears again: we can only expect such recognition from those who share with us the same standards of achievement. Nonetheless, by highlighting the human dependency on evaluative horizons of esteem, many theories of recognition share important characteristics with communitarian approaches. According to this picture, we face a lack of freedom where such relationships of mutual recognition are not fully realized.

Thus, these accounts follow Hegel in generalizing experiences drawn from the intimate sphere of loving relationships. Relationships of loving care are deemed important within psychologically oriented recognition theories Benjamin , Honneth because such emotionally fulfilling interactions are supposed to display the first form of recognition humans experience.

The unconditional care by a parent provides the baby with the feeling of security and of being loved, and thus of being worthy of love. This world- and self-trust is taken to later enable the child to value her own projects and align the role standards that grow increasingly more complicated in the course of her development and to critically question them Mead , Habermas Most of those who endorse the relevance of love also stress the importance of the affective dimension for all subsequent forms of recognition Honneth , ch.

Following the idea that recognition should always affirm certain aspects of the other person, there has been some controversy about what exactly we recognize in other persons when we love them or regard them as friends. After all, we seem to embrace them in their entire and changing personality and could not just replace them with others who may have similar characteristics. Furthermore, as love embraces the entire personality of individuals it has been proposed that it is this experience, anchored in early childhood, that provides subjects with a permanent motivational resource for demanding recognition for ever more aspects of their identity, and thus for further moral progress.

This could, for example, lead to a revised understanding of solidarity being not only a task of families or close friends but of entire societies, namely in the form of a welfare state. Although politics might not be directly responsible for this form of recognizing concrete individuality, there are nevertheless indirect possibilities to protect and to shape its basic conditions. Additionally, some of the social conditions that make it more challenging to succeed in intimate relations can be improved politically.

This is, for example, valid for inflexible or very long working hours for parents and bad child care offers, for demands of high mobility which endanger intimate relationships, or for the cultural patterns that devalue reciprocity between partners, e. While redistribution secures the objective condition of such an ideal, recognition safeguards its intersubjective condition Fraser a, Fraser tries to illustrate the independency of recognition and redistribution by way of two examples: Whereas homosexuals suffer primarily from culturally discriminating practices of humiliation, workers are first and foremost the victims of economic exploitation.

Though homosexuals also have to struggle with economic disadvantages and the achievements of the workers have been ideologically demeaned as less valuable, the real cause of the injustice in the former case lies within the cultural sphere whereas in the latter it lies within the economic sphere Fraser , ch.

Thus, Fraser categorizes different forms of injustice according to their socioeconomic roots.

Axel Honneth

Her main point is, nonetheless, that in most cases of injustice we are dealing with a combination of cultural disrespect and economic exploitation. As especially fitting examples Fraser refers to groups categorized along the lines of gender or race. Thus, women and people of different color suffer not only from a discriminating status order, but also from an economy which is based on encoding unpaid housework and badly paid labor as female as well as auxiliary and superfluous work as colored.

Only a two-dimensional theory such as the one she suggests can—according to Fraser—pay proper attention to practical conflicts between policies of redistribution and recognition. On the other hand, generally legitimate policies of recognition may lead to normatively undesirable side-effects by dramatically worsening the economic position of the affected persons, as measures against reification through prostitution and pornography might very well do when they render those engaged in these lines of work unemployed Fraser a, 65; see for a thorough discussion the contributions in Olsen In light of this criticism, Axel Honneth has insisted that the concept of recognition can be applied to questions of distributive justice, but that it is important to properly differentiate between the dimensions of respect and esteem: First, our understanding of what we owe to others on account of their equal status as autonomous persons has itself been historically extended and now entails social rights.

Accordingly, the affected persons can at least claim qua equal citizens—and thus in the name of a politics of respect—that amount of basic goods that is necessary for enabling them to effectively use their legal entitlements. Secondly, they can refer to the criterion of achievement which is supposed to be constitutive of capitalism—as an also cultural entity—in order to demand a more adequate remuneration of their work Honneth a, —; see 2. Only if one understands redistribution in this way, that is, as a problem of recognition, can one—according to Honneth—explain why the affected experience outrage: namely because they deem their identity to be threatened by a perceived injustice.

What counts as an injustice, therefore, depends on our reasonable expectations of recognition: Justice and recognition mutually illuminate each other. Struggles for recognition are supposed to effect moral progress toward ever more just or fulfilling relations of recognition.

Sometimes such struggles are fought by violent means, which raises challenging questions of when such revolutions might be justifiable Iser , Bazargan and who can be targeted. But much more frequently, such struggles proceed in non-violent forms. Therefore, some authors, especially those interested in social criticism, have proposed to use recognition as a new paradigm for Critical Theory Honneth , see also Iser , Deranty , Zurn In reply, proponents of such a broader account of social philosophy have insisted that the emphasis on a society that recognizes as many features of individuals as possible, hereby promoting their autonomy, does not prescribe how to live.

It only spells out the intersubjective conditions which provide everybody with the chance to live the life they want to lead be it autonomously chosen or not , namely in a social environment where this life is either adequately recognized or at least not looked upon derogatively Honneth a, We still require criteria to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate struggles. Certainly, those who fight for more recognition think that they deserve it. But obviously their belief can be false if the claims are unjustified or exaggerated. Quite to the contrary, only by being subject to well-meaning criticism can we improve ourselves.

Therefore, those who defend a primarily normative account of recognition and humiliation distance themselves from what they perceive as the problems of overly psychological approaches. On the one hand, they claim, due to adapted preferences persons might not even emotionally register when they are in fact treated disrespectfully.

On the other hand, persons might feel slighted because they hold utterly unreasonable views in the first place, e. But how do we come by the normative criteria of adequate recognition? Whereas Kantian contractualists ask themselves which standards are acceptable to all in a hypothetical choice situation , most theorists of recognition follow a more Hegelian route.

They argue that the social practices of recognition in which subjects live already provide them with all the normative resources needed to criticize and transcend these practices. This is also supposed to explain the close connection between the normative and the psychological dimension of recognition: On account of our intersubjectively acquired identity we have a psychological need to be recognized as having the normative status we deem to deserve.

Consequently, because it is a normatively structured need to the disappointment of which we usually react with indignation, its appropriateness can always be questioned by reference to the reasons available to us Iser , According to this view, moral progress takes place by way of a laborious sorting out of reasons that are shown to be implausible. However, this still leaves open the question of how radical such a critique can be, i. Thus, the psychoanalytic tradition refers to suppressed, but unconsciously still effective drives or experiences.

These approaches always search, albeit in a speculative manner, for a motive people may have to transcend the given recognition order. These drives or experiences may be described, following Freud, as libidinous energies or rather as the positively connotated recollection of a state of infant omnipotence Whitebook In recent times, object relations theory has been used to highlight the traumatically experienced end of an original symbiosis between a baby and her primary care-giver which we supposedly strive to regain throughout our entire life Benjamin But regardless of the way subjects reach the conviction that they must claim recognition for new, so far neglected or—even worse—demeaned aspects of their identity, the following question must be asked: From where do they gain the mental strength to at least temporarily withstand the disrespect or indifference of at least many of their surrounding others?

The assumption that without recognition by all others it is inevitable that we suffer psychological breakdown is much too strong. In spite of disrespect, the capacity for agency which is necessary for resistance may spring from three motivational sources. First, the oppressed subjects can, under certain circumstances, still draw upon the assurance that they acquired in a more or less happy childhood. Secondly, social movements of resistance often create enough motivational energy by recognizing each other within these movements, e. As a consequence, the disrespect shown by the rest of society at least weighs less heavily.

Finally, the idea that members of a better society in the future, though merely imagined, would one day grant the desired recognition, might function as a third source of the mental strength needed to endure Mead , Some authors are not very optimistic about the prospects of emancipation through struggles of recognition.

If our expectations of being recognized as X are always contingent upon the social and historical context we live in, how is moral and political progress possible at all? Is it—in view of our basic dependency on the view of others—not more likely that our striving for recognition leads to uncritical conformity instead of an emancipatory struggle for recognition? It is just this suspicion which is expressed by the French Marxist Louis Althusser. He regards recognition as the central ideological mechanism by which the state confronts its citizens with the choice between obedience and the loss of social existence Althusser , — Finally, in the work of Jean-Paul Sartre individuals are reified by every kind of recognition because even the affirmation of others freezes the subjects in their present state, hereby denying their potential for change, i.

According to this tradition, we do not suffer primarily from the fact that we are not recognized, but rather from the fact that we are held captive within a specific pattern of socially mandated recognition Bedorf Struggles for recognition only entangle us ever deeper in a wrong dependency on power relations the workings of which we fail to adequately grasp. In doing so we only remain caught within the old ideological categories and are forced to define clear-cut identities. Rather, one should question struggles for recognition as to whether and to what extent they increase spaces of freedom to think and act differently Tully , Such work, often inspired by Michel Foucault, has also pointed to the motivational problem of all resistance to the established recognition order: How can you reject exactly those categories that constitute your identity?

Does social criticism not necessary imply self-denial? Judith Butler has tried to circumvent this alleged paradox by pointing out that norms never remain valid by themselves but need constant reaffirmation. Some authors even want to replace a politics of recognition with a politics of acknowledgment: an acknowledgment that we can never be sure about the changing identities and thus normative claims of others but have to remain open to new and unpredictable developments Markell , Finally, the idea that struggles for recognition cannot only lead to further progress, but should be grounded in a belief that modernity is already the result of such progress, has been criticized for its affinity to colonial forms of thought Allen , cf.

Forst This becomes especially urgent if one realizes, as already indicated above, that values and norms—being products of human thought and attitudes—can express disrespect even if those who follow them are not really aware of this. Subjects may attempt to convey recognition within a framework that is itself disrespectful. For example, a lord in the 18 th century who treated his maid according to the accepted norms of that time—for example, by treating her as if she was invisible—may not have intentionally disrespected her with regard to the socially valid system of norms and values.

However, at least some probably want to say that this lord—in another sense—did not adequately respect his maid and that therefore the social changes since then manifest moral progress. However, even if attitudes and acts of recognition are a much more ambivalent blessing than might have been presumed at first sight, recognition theory does not only illuminate the complexity of our normative thinking but also provides a strong argument that such normative considerations are an ineradicable part of our social world. The concept of recognition therefore also serves an important explanatory function.


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Analyzing the Concept of Recognition 1. Four Forms of Recognition 2.

Axel Honneth's Theory of Recognition

Recognition and Redistribution 4. Recognition and Emancipation 5.

Recognition as Ideology? Analyzing the Concept of Recognition Recognition presupposes a subject of recognition the recognizer and an object the recognized. Four Forms of Recognition We can differentiate the concept of recognition according to the kind of features a person is recognized for. Recognition and Emancipation Struggles for recognition are supposed to effect moral progress toward ever more just or fulfilling relations of recognition.

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