Issue 134, June 2016

Democracy and Recognition



This issue aims to bridge some of the theoretical gaps by discussing the interconnections between recognition and democracy. This is done by, firstly, highlighting the fact that the relationship of these two concepts is not without its problems – there certainly is potential for pathological developments and deviations – and, secondly, by analysing the overall role of recognition in democracy with an added emphasis on feminist politics. Most of the writers belong to the generation of new recognition theorists who take the broad framework of recognition as given and aim to find new theoretical applications for the conceptual framework provided by it. After all, in some senses the ultimate test for a (social) theory is to find applications for it – in a way that the original theory is reformed and revitalized in the process. We hope that the following articles manage to show this idea successfully in practice.

From the introduction by Onni Hirvonen and Arto Laitinen

Recognition and democracy – An introduction

Onni Hirvonen and Arto Laitinen

Abstract: This is an introduction to a special issue on recognition and democracy. We outline the constitutive and enabling relations between democracy and recognition. We distinguish between pre-political and political forms of identity and recognition, between horizontal and vertical forms of recognition, and between democratic and other ways or arranging the vertical and horizontal aspects of political life. We also distinguish between the roles of a subject and a co-author of law. The intruduction also includes an overview of the individual articles in this special issue. The issue tries to fill some theoretical gaps in theories of democracy and recognition, with a special emphasis on feminist politics.

Recognition, disrecognition and legitimacy: On the normativity of politics

Luiz Gustavo da Cunha de Souza

Abstract: This article discusses Axel Honneth’s recent theory of recognition, as exposed in his book Freedom’s Right (2001). The argument defended here is that Honneth’s approach does not apprehend the normative implications of political conflicts, for it relies on what some critics have called normative history. Against that approach, this paper defends a model of social theory that is not committed to normative presuppositions of analysis. Rather, it seeks to understand how political struggles strive for normative authority. As an illustration of forms of recognition that are alternative to the ones Honneth calls normative, the paper builds on an example from Brazilian society

Democratic institutions and recognition of individual identities 

Onni Hirvonen

Abstract: This paper draws from two central intuitions that characterize modern western societies. The first is the normative claim that our identities should be recognized in an authentic way. The second intuition is that our common matters are best organized through democratic decision-making and democratic institutions. It is argued here that while deliberative democracy is a promising candidate for just organization of recognition relationships, it cannot fulfil its promise if recognition is understood either as recognition of ‘authentic’ collective identities or as recognition of too atomistic or individualized subjects. If deliberative democracy is to be understood as successfully providing authentic recognition of individual identities, it requires a specific understanding of how individuals’ recognition needs and desires are collectively and institutionally constituted. Furthermore, it is argued that even if deliberative democracy can provide the necessary circumstances for individual self-realization, it comes with homogenizing tendencies and cannot fully avoid the problems of multiculturalism.

Towards a reconstructive approach in political philosophy: Rosanvallon and Honneth on the pathologies of today’s democracy

Hans Arentshorst

Abstract: This paper compares the democratic theories of Pierre Rosanvallon and Axel Honneth. The aim is to show how their work could form the basis of a ‘reconstructivist’ approach in political philosophy that rehabilitates the insights of 19th-century thinkers such as Guizot and Hegel concerning the benefits of combining political philosophy with history and sociology. Whereas the dominant procedural approaches in political philosophy tend to disconnect normative theory from the actual study of society and its history, Rosanvallon and Honneth argue that in order to understand the problems that face our democratic societies today we need a closer connection between theory and practice. Both have therefore developed a method that consists of historically reconstructing developments in modern society in order to identify certain pathologies. The paper compares the different diagnosis that Rosanvallon and Honneth give of the central pathology that faces democracy today, which in Rosanvallon’s reconstruction is related to the problem of representation and in Honneth’s account to the problem of recognition.

Recognizing care, caring recognition: Democratic love and the problems of care work

Federica Gregoratto

Abstract: In this paper, I discuss the idea of democratic love from the perspective of gender equality. More precisely, I argue that a particular form of gender inequality, namely a gender-specific division of care labour, jeopardizes democratic love. In the first two sections of the article, I introduce Anthony Giddens’ original idea of a ‘democratization of the personal’ and show how Axel Honneth has developed it by relying on the Hegelian notion of social freedom. In the third section, I discuss how the problem of care work affects democratic love relationships and depict the solution to this problem advocated by recognition theory, namely economic recognition. After having reconstructed some possible affinities between socialist-feminist arguments and Honneth’s suggestions, as well as criticisms against them, I outline another recognition-theoretic strategy for recognizing care work. I argue that the recognition paradigm conveys a view of the love relationship as inherently implying a caring recognition of human beings’ dependencies and vulnerabilities. I conclude by hinting at the idea that caring recognition may be extended beyond the social sphere of love, as constituent of social relations in general.

Post-identity politics and the social weightlessness of radical gender theory

Paddy McQueen

Abstract: This paper examines recent forms of post-identity thought within contemporary gender theory, specifically the works of Rosi Braidotti, Elizabeth Grosz and Bobby Noble. Despite the many insights that these theories offer, I argue that they suffer from what Lois McNay has labelled ‘social weightlessness’ insofar as their models of subjectivity and agency are disconnected from the everyday realities of social subjects. I identify two ways in which this social weightlessness is manifested in radical gender theories that endorse a post-identity politics: (i) they overlook the social and political importance to many individuals of establishing stable, coherent identities; (ii) they are unable to offer a satisfactory account of agency. I suggest that these issues arise, at least in part, from the anti-recognition stance adopted by such radical gender theorists. I argue that by incorporating a properly nuanced model of recognition back into their theories they can imbue their accounts with a properly grounded model of the subject that is responsive to the inequalities and oppressions that infuse the particular concrete contexts in which we experience and live out our identities.

Honneth on work and recognition: A rejoinder from feminist political economy

Julie Connolly

Abstract: This paper explores the development of Honneth’s thought on work. It considers how his initial concerns with the embodied experience of labour and the absence of a contemporary and compelling class-specific lexicon with which to explore suffering at work have been surpassed and subordinated by his analysis of the social relations of recognition in civil society, which is distributed according to a contested and contestable achievement principle. I argue that despite the purchase of the criticisms offered by recent rejoinders, they fail to engage with the strength of his analysis: that modern economics contains a normative (recognition) order which works to justify the extant division of labour and income, even if its current formulation supports inequity, exclusion and exploitation. Feminist political economy is an ally in this analysis. The paper explores the points of intersection between these projects, but argues that incorporating feminist insights will require a fundamental revision to Honneth’s account of social rationalization in modernity.


Review essay

Dialectical tensions: Marcuse, Dunayevskaya and the problems of the age

Damian Gerber and Shannon Brincat

Abstract: There has been a resurgence of interest in the work of Raya Dunayevskaya and Herbert Marcuse, particularly regarding their shared concern with humanism and dialectics. Recent edited collections on Dunayevskaya’s correspondence have, however, drawn a sharp contrast between the conceptions of the dialectical method: Dunayesvkaya, who emphasized the need for ‘philosophic new beginnings’ to offer a new relationship between theory and practice, and Herbert Marcuse who, despite his piercing identification of the one-dimensionality of late capitalism, continued with a problematic basis in (orthodox) Marxist categories. In this review essay, we outline the latest of these two volumes and its distinct contributions before engaging in a critique of Marcuse’s restrictions on humanism and dialectics, via a comparison with Dunayevskaya’s dialectical approach that was premised on questioning ‘the problems of the age’ and emphasized the open and negative polarity of dialectical possibilities.

Book reviews

Thomas Klikauer reviews The Highway of Despair – Critical Theory after Hegel

Tony Mitchell reviews When Music Migrates: Crossing British and European Racial Faultlines, 1945–2010

Angelos Mouzakitis reviews Castoriadis and Critical Theory: Crisis, Critique and Critical Alternatives

Henk J. van Rinsum reviews Intellectual Traditions in South Africa: Ideas, Individuals and Institutions 

Nikos Papastergiadis reviews Thinking the Antipodes – Australian Essays

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