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Nancy Fraser “Rethinking Recognition”

October 22, 2012 Leave a comment

Fraser, Nancy 2000. Rethinking Recognition. – New Left Review 3: 107-120

We are facing, then, a new constellation in the grammar of political claims-making—and one that is disturbing on two counts. First, this move from redistribution to recognition is occurring despite—or because of—an acceleration of economic globalization, at a time when an agg ressively expanding capitalism is radically exacerbating economic inequality. In this context, questions of recognition are serving less to supplement, complicate and enrich redistributive struggles than to marginalize, eclipse and displace them. I shall call this  the problem of displacement. (108)

Second, today’s recognition struggles are occurring at a moment of hugely increasing transcultural interaction and communica-tion, when accelerated migration and global media flows are hybridizing and pluralizing cultural forms. Yet the routes such struggles take often serve not to promote respectful interaction within increasingly multi-cultural contexts, but to drastically simplify and reify group identities. They tend, rather, to encourage separatism, intolerance and chauvin-ism, patriarchalism and authoritarianism. I shall call this the problem of reification. (108)

The usual approach to the politics of recognition—what I shall call the ‘identity model’— starts from the Hegelian idea that identity is con-structed dialogically, through a process of mutual recognition. According to Hegel, recognition designates an ideal reciprocal relation between subjects, in which each sees the other both as its equal and also as sepa-rate from it. This relation is constitutive for subjectivity: one becomes an individual subject only by virtue of recognizing, and being recog-nized by, another subject. Recognition from others is thus essential to the development of a sense of self. To be denied recognition—or to be ‘misrecognized’—is to suffer both a distortion of one’s relation to one’s self and an injury to one’s identity. (109)

By equating the politics of recognition with identity politics, it encour-ages both the reification of group identities and the displacement of redistribution. (110)

[…] culturalist proponents of identity politics simply reverse the claims of an earlier form of vulgar Marxist economism: they allow the politics of recognition to displace the politics of redistribution, just as vulgar Marxism once allowed the politics of redistribution to displace the politics of recognition. In fact, vulgar culturalism is no more adequate for understanding contemporary society than vulgar economism was. (111)

Displacement, however, is not the only problem: the identity politics model of recognition tends also to reify identity. Stressing the need to elaborate and display an authentic, self-affirming and self-generated collective identity, it puts moral pressure on individual members to conform to a given group culture. Cultural dissidence and experimen-tation are accordingly discouraged, when they are not simply equated with disloyalty. (112)

Ironically, then, the identity model serves as a vehicle for misrecognition: in reifying group identity, it ends by obscuring the politics of cultural identifi cation, the struggles within the group for the authority—and the power—to represent it. By shielding such struggles from view, this approach masks the power of dominant fractions and reinforces intragroup domination. The identity model thus lends itself all too easily to repressive forms of communitarianism, promoting conformism, intolerance and patriarchalism. (112)

Paradoxically, moreover, the identity model tends to deny its own Hegelian premisses. Having begun by assuming that identity is dialogical, constructed via interaction with another subject, it ends by valorizing monologism—supposing that misrecognized people can and should construct their identity on their own. (112)

I shall consequently propose an alternative approach: that of treating recognition as a question of social status. From this perspective, what requires recognition is not group-specific identity but the status of individual group members as full partners in social interaction. Misrecognition, accordingly, does not mean the depreciation and defor-mation of group identity, but social subordination—in the sense of being prevented from participating as a peer in social life. To redress this injustice still requires a politics of recognition, but in the ‘status model’ this is no longer reduced to a question of identity: rather, it means a politics aimed at overcoming subordination by establishing the misrecog nized party as a full member of society, capable of participating on a par with the rest. (113)

[…] misrecognition is neither a psychic deformation nor a free-standing cultural harm but an institutionalized relation of social subordination. To be misrecognized, accordingly, is not simply to be thought ill of, looked down upon or devalued in others’ attitudes, beliefs or representations. It is rather to be denied the status of a full partner in social interaction […] (113)

[…] the status model tailors the remedy to the concrete arrangements that impede parity. Thus, unlike the identity model, it does not accord an a priori privilege to approaches that valorize group specifi city. Rather, it allows in principle for what we might call universalist recognition, and deconstructive recognition, as well as for the affi rmative recognition of difference. The crucial point, once again, is that on the status model the politics of recognition does not stop at identity but seeks institutional remedies for institutionalized harms. Focused on culture in its socially grounded (as opposed to free-floating) forms, this politics seeks to overcome status subordination by changing the values that regulate interaction, entrenching new value patterns that will promote parity of participation in social life. (114-115)

Unlike the identity model, then, the status model understands social justice as encompassing two analytically distinct dimensions: a dimension of recognition, which concerns the effects of institutionalized meanings and norms on the relative standing of social actors; and a dimension of distribution, which involves the allocation of disposable resources to social actors. (115)

The recognition dimension corresponds to the status order of society, hence to the constitution, by socially entrenched patterns of cultural value, of culturally defi ned categories of social actors—status groups—each distinguished by the relative honour, prestige and esteem it enjoys vis-à-vis the others. The distributive dimension, in contrast, corresponds to the economic structure of society, hence to the constitu-tion, by property regimes and labour markets, of economically defined categories of actors, or classes, distinguished by their differential endow-ments of resources. (116)