The Trouble with Recognition: Subjectivity, Suffering, and Agency

Sociological Theory 26 (3):271 - 296 (2008)
Abstract
This article focuses upon the disagreement between Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth about how to characterize the relation between social suffering and recognition struggles. For Honneth, social and political conflicts have their source in the "moral" wounds that arise from the myriad ways in which the basic human need for recognition is disregarded in unequal societies. Fraser criticizes Honneth for the uncritical subjectivism of his account of social suffering that reduces social oppression to psychic harm. Fraser therefore redefines misrecognition not as a psychological injury but as "status subordination" understood as institutionalized patterns of discrimination and value inequality. My central argument is that while Fraser's critique of Honneth's subjectivist construal of recognition is largely justified, she falls into a counterveiling objectivism that prevents her from developing some of the central insights of her own paradigm. Her "non-identarian" rendering of recognition leads her to abandon an experiential or interpretative perspective that is associated with the idea of identity and, as a result, she cannot explain certain crucial aspects of political agency. Pierre Bourdieu's notion of habitus is used to indicate a way beyond the naturalization of the cluster of emotions associated with social suffering that seems to be the inevitable consequence of Honneth's "ontology" of recognition (McNay 2007). At the same time, the experiential emphasis of habitus mitigates the objectivism of Fraser's dualist paradigm showing how some of its central insights can be taken further through a materialist redefinition of identity and agency.
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Simon Thompson (2005). Is Redistribution a Form of Recognition? Comments on the Fraser–Honneth Debate. Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy 8 (1):85-102.
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