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Beyond Nancy Fraser's
'perspectival dualism'
Majid Yar
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To cite this article: Majid Yar (2001) Beyond Nancy Fraser's
'perspectival dualism', Economy and Society, 30:3, 288-303, DOI:
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Economy and Society Volume 30 Number 3 August 2001: 288–303
Beyond Nancy Fraser’s
‘perspectival dualism’
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Majid Yar
Abstract
The bifurcation between economically and culturally orientated perspectives has
become a central trope in critical thinking on the problems of social justice and injustice. This paper attempts a critical explication and assessment of Nancy Fraser’s
recent work on this problem. She attempts to transcend the culture–economy divide
by proposing a ‘perspectival dualism’ in which distinctive ‘economic-redistributive’
and ‘cultural-recognitive’ logics of justice are analytically distinguished and practically combined so as to furnish a balanced strategy for left-critical praxis. The paper
seeks to demonstrate how and why Fraser’s dualistic perspective fails, insofar as it is
untenable to conŽ ne recognitive claims to the realm of culture, since they can be seen
to underpin both redistributively and culturally oriented manifestations of social
struggle. An alternative, multi-axial and ‘metatheoretical’ conception of recognition
is offered, one which, it is claimed, can encompass both economic and cultural
struggles within its theoretical ambit.
Keywords: recognition; redistribution; social justice; economy; culture.
Introduction: ‘culture’ and ‘economy’ in social thought
The editors of a recent collection, entitled Culture and Economy after the Cultural Turn, offer the following re ection:
The paradox of a turn away from economy to culture at a time of continuing
if not growing economic problems is becoming increasingly apparent. The
silence on these matters cannot continue much longer, and a fresh examination of the relationship between culture and economy is required.
(Ray and Sayer 1999: 21)
Majid Yar, Institute for Environment, Philosophy and Public Policy (IEPPP), Lancaster
University, Bailrigg, Lancaster LA1 4YL, UK. E-mail: [email protected]
Copyright © 2001 Taylor & Francis Ltd
ISSN 0308-5147 print/1469-5766 online
DOI: 10.1080/03085140120071206
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The origins of this problem might be traced to the crisis of economically oriented
Marxist modes of social analysis ushered in by La Pensée 68, and consolidated
in the overwhelmingly cultural preoccupations of postmodern thought. Equally,
the neo-liberal delegitimation of economic egalitarianism, once viewed as a
viable model around which a progressive social and political consensus could be
formed, has also played a crucial role in the left-theoretical dereliction of economic for cultural models of emancipatory practice.1 Whatever the speciŽ c interplay between these intra- and extra-academic dynamics, we are now left with a
political-theoretical bifurcation between the domains of culture and economy
which stand in urgent need of some kind of rapprochement. One of the most
noteworthy efforts in this direction has been Nancy Fraser’s development of a
‘perspectival dualism’ which seeks to bring together economically oriented
‘redistribution claims’ with culturally oriented ‘recognition claims’. By distinguishing analytically between these two logics of social justice, Fraser hopes to
provide a way of understanding political struggles and social movements which
is sensitive to both economic and cultural agendas. This paper offers a critical
examination of Fraser’s dualistic model, arguing that, despite its many theoretical and practical virtues, a problem is discernible in her overly narrow, ‘culturalist’ 2 understanding of recognition. This argument is developed along two
lines. First, I draw upon studies of ‘moral economy’ to show how the logic of
economic redistribution is in fact constituted around the prosecution of moral
self-understandings, and thus can be seen to carry claims for recognition as an
internal moment of any redistributively oriented practice. Second, I contrast
Fraser’s ‘culturalist’ rendition of recognition (cf. also Taylor et al. 1994) both
with Axel Honneth’s (1996) theorization and with a more materially oriented
rendition which can be discerned in Alexandre Kojève’s mediation of Hegelian
recognition via a Marxian social ontology. Such an alternative theorization, I
argue, shows how claims to material redistribution are not external to the
struggle for recognition, but can be seen as an internally differentiated moment
within its overall logic. In other words, recognition cannot be conŽ ned to the
realm of cultural claims, but in fact constitutes a metatheoretical conspectus on
social justice that contains both cultural and economic moments.
The ‘dualism’ of social justice
In her seminal essay, ‘From redistribution to recognition?’ (1997), Nancy Fraser
sets out the contours of an innovative solution to the culture/economy divide as
it pertains to the problem of theorizing struggles for social justice. This position
has subsequently been developed and reŽ ned in a sequence of further writings
(Fraser 1999, 2000). Here I shall sketch what I take to be the major theoretical
claim underpinning this work, namely the promulgation of a ‘dualistic’ analytical distinction between claims for ‘material redistribution’ and claims for ‘cultural recognition’.
Against the either/or choice between an economically oriented ‘social politics’
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and a discursively oriented ‘cultural politics’, Fraser attempts a theoretical reconstruction of struggles for justice that can bring together the agendas of the
‘socialist’ and ‘post-socialist’ Left (Fraser 1997: 2–6). At its core is the effort not
to collapse one into the other, thereby ‘trumping’ economically oriented claims
with culturally oriented ones (or vice versa); nor is it to theorize their logics in
such a way that they become competing and irreconcilable alternatives. Rather,
her aim is to furnish a basis for distinguishing between them in a manner that
supports their coherent combination within a Leftist project (Fraser 1997:
11–13). She hopes to chart a path for critical-leftist politics in the ‘post-socialist’ condition ‘by distinguishing redistribution and recognition analytically, and
by exposing their distinctive logics’ (Fraser 1997: 13), thereby uncovering both
the interconnections and ‘interferences’3 between these different praxiologies.
Fraser’s two paradigms presuppose at their core different conceptions of
injustice. The paradigm of ‘redistribution’ deŽ nes the problem of injustice as
socio-economic in character and thus as rooted in the political-economic
organization of society. Instances of such injustice include ‘exploitation, economic marginalization, and deprivation’ (Fraser 1997: 13, 1999: 27). These harms
she refers to as ones of ‘injury’ (Fraser 2000). As theorists of such injustice,
Fraser cites the likes of Marx, Rawls, Sen and Dworkin. The paradigm of ‘recognition’, on the other hand, deŽ nes injustice as cultural or symbolic in character,
and thus as ‘rooted in social patterns of representation, interpretation and communication’. Examples include ‘cultural, domination, non-recognition, and disrespect’ (Fraser 1997: 13–14, 1999: 27). These harms are referred to as ones of
‘insult’ (Fraser 2000). As theorists of this logic of injustice, Fraser refers to
Charles Taylor, Axel Honneth and Iris Marion Young, among others.
The remedy for these forms of injustice (i.e. the positive speciŽ cation of what
constitutes ‘justice’) are correspondingly different. From the redistribution paradigm, injustice is to be remedied by ‘political-economic restructuring’, for
example via ‘redistributing income, reorganising the division of labour, or transforming other basic economic structures’ (Fraser 1999: 27). From the recognition paradigm, ‘the remedy for injustice is cultural or symbolic change’,
entailing, for example, ‘upwardly revaluating disrespected identities, positively
valorizing cultural diversity, or the wholesale transformation of societal patterns
of representation, interpretation, and communication in ways that would change
everyone’s social identity’ (Fraser 1999: 27–8).
Moreover, these two paradigms lead to a socio-theoretical distinction between
two different types of collective subject. For the redistributive paradigm, the
collective subjects of injustice are ‘classes or class-like collectivities, which are
deŽ ned economically by a distinctive relation to the market or the means of
production’ (Fraser 1999: 28). This is consonant, for Fraser, with a Marxian
understanding of collective social subjectivity or category membership that is
determined structurally according to individuals’ positioning within a system of
economic relations and processes, and as such can be identiŽ ed ‘externally’ on
the basis of formal and largely acultural criteria. For the recognition paradigm,
on the other hand, Fraser claims that the collective subjects of injustice ‘are more
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like Weberian status groups than Marxian classes’, in that they are ‘deŽ ned not
by the relations of production, but by relations of recognition, they are distinguished by the lesser esteem, honour, and prestige they enjoy relative to other
groups in society’ (Fraser 1999: 28). In this instance, the composition and assignment of individuals to a collective subjectivity is determined according to the
cultural evaluations and classiŽ cations brought to bear in the activity of social
judgement. Hence Fraser’s distinction can be seen to map onto the existing distinctions between ‘class-based’ and ‘identity-based’ social movements and
between ‘materialist’ and ‘post-materialist’ orientations.
Finally, these two paradigms entail a divergence in the way that they Ž gure
the political status of ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’. From a redistributive standpoint, differences (qua differences in material distribution) are synonymous with
inequality and inegality. Accordingly, sameness or equivalence (qua equal distribution of material goods, income and other resources) is seen as the legitimate
and proper goal to be pursued by the struggle for social justice. From a recognition standpoint, in contrast, the evaluations are reversed. Recognition claims
are ‘claims for recognition of group difference’, in that they ‘often take the form
of calling attention to, if not performatively creating, the putative speciŽ city of
some group and then of affirming its values’ (Fraser 1997: 2, 16). As such they
tend towards the goal of group differentiation, unlike redistributive claims which
tend towards group de-differentiation (since group differences, from the redistributive standpoint, are nothing other than unjust differentials in material
distributions and economic rewards) (Fraser 1999: 16).
In constructing the relation between these two logics of injustice, Fraser seeks
to tread a careful line between separation and synthesis. On the one hand, she
aims to preserve, at the analytical level, their ultimate status as ‘two distinct,
irreducible, sui generis concepts of justice’ (Fraser 1997: 16, 34). The need for
this distinction arises from the difficulties which otherwise arise when either
economic or cultural logics are positioned as primary and ‘infrastructural’, with
the other axis being reduced to an epiphenomenon (the prioritization of the
former repeats the reductionism of certain variants of economistic Marxism,
while the prioritization of the latter simply inverts the terms and promulgates a
naïve cultural idealism). However, empirically speaking, Fraser insists that any
given pattern of injustice will almost inevitably be ‘bivalent’, containing
elements of both redistributively and recognition-oriented harms (Fraser 1997:
5). These can be seen to interconnect, one supporting the other. Patterns of
gender relations, for example, entail both modes of systematic redistributive disadvantage (inequality in employment opportunity, remuneration, promotion
prospects, working conditions and so on) and patterns of cultural subordination
(demeaning stereotyping, objectiŽ cation, disparagement). While the redistributive and recognition axes are logically distinct, they are practically intertwined
and ‘reinforce each other dialectically because sexist and androcentric cultural
norms are institutionalized in the state and economy, and women’s economic
disadvantage restricts women’s “voice”, impeding equal participation in the
making of culture, in public spheres and in everyday life’ (Fraser 1997: 21).
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However, the distinctive logics of redistribution and recognition can equally
come into con ict, leading to ‘mutual interferences . . . when redistributive and
recognition claims are pursued simultaneously’ (Fraser 1997: 34). As an example
of this, Fraser refers to the bivalence of injustice on the grounds of ‘race’. As
with gender, injustice on the basis of racial distinction is simultaneously economic and cultural, entailing both redistributive ‘injury’ and recognitive ‘insult’.
However, the struggle against these patterns of injustice can lead to ‘interference’ with one another. On the one hand, challenging redistributive injustice
requires the abolition of ‘race’ as a salient social variable, the promotion of
‘colour blindness’ so as to overcome the ‘racial division of labour’ which disadvantages persons of colour in the economic system (a strategy of de-differentiation, the eclipse or refusal of difference). Yet the struggle against cultural
disadvantage calls for a revalorization of ‘race’, for affirmation in terms of ‘racial’
particularity in which acknowledgement of skin colour becomes a crucial factor (a
strategy of differentiation, the construction and celebration of difference).
Hence Fraser identiŽ es an interference arising from the redistributive logic of
the Ž rst claim and the cultural-identity logic of the latter (Fraser 1997: 21–3).
In such an analysis we see the value of Fraser’s dualistic approach in that it preserves the distinction between these two logics, thereby permitting them to be
addressed both in their mutual support of subordination and in the tensions
arising between their remedial requirements.
‘Analytical interferences’: recognition in redistribution
Fraser’s insistence on retaining an analytical and explanatory distinction
between the economic and the cultural is entirely warranted for social-scientiŽ c
purposes. The two are not, and cannot be, taken as synonymous. For example,
while the logic of economic action is in a crucial respect concerned with the provision of external goods appropriate for meeting instrumental needs and goals
deŽ ned elsewhere, the logic of culture is in a crucial respect concerned with
goods that are internal to a set of life practices wherefrom their value as ‘goods’
arises (Ray and Sayer 1999: 5–6). However, a difficulty arises in Fraser’s dualistic perspective in that she seeks to mobilize the culture–economy distinction as
the basis for supporting a corresponding distinction between different logics of
social justice and injustice. What this occludes is that ‘justice’, as the invocation
of a moral category, ruptures the boundaries set up between ‘redistribution’ and
‘recognition’. In the following disquisition I will attempt to show how any
address to the economic organization of social life, qua ‘redistribution’, cannot
escape the fundamentally moral (rather than value-neutral or purposiverational) precepts and claims upon which it is based. The organization of economic life is ‘always already’ bound up with moral claims about rights and
entitlements that cannot be analytically distinguished from claims for recognition discernible in other (e.g. ‘cultural’) spheres. Consequently, recognition
cannot be conŽ ned to one side of an economy–culture dualism, but must be seen
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as spanning these domains as a Ž rst-order logical reconstruction of the basis
upon which all appeals to social justice are constituted. This cannot be attained
from within Fraser’s theory as her rendition of recognition is too undifferentiated and monovalent, and overly ‘culturalist’. An alternative theorization will be
suggested, one that understands Fraser’s ‘interferences’ not as tensions between
‘redistribution’ and ‘recognition’, but as tensions between different orders or types
of recognition claims, each of which corresponds to a different dimension of those
human needs which, taken together, comprise the constitutive preconditions for
human self-realization.
Andrew Sayer has recently noted the theoretical occlusion of the normative
and moral dimensions of social life, in reference to both culture and economy
(Sayer 1999a). This occlusion may be identiŽ ed with an unwitting appropriation of neo-classical liberal understandings of self, society, motivation and
action. With respect to the cultural, the model of social beings motivated by aestheticizing self-cultivation and ‘libidinal’ self-satisfaction parallels the neoliberal individual who is seen as driven only by the satisfaction of private wants
and subjective preferences. What both miss is the moral character of relations
between selves and others, the extent to which publicly available discourses of
value are intrinsic to the structures of social relations and motivations to action.
Where the question of such values is noted, they tend to be reduced to instrumental means that rationally calculating individuals can mobilize for strategic
purposes so as to ensure the satisfaction of their private wants (see Sayer’s
(1999b) discussion of the instrumentalization of value in Bourdieu’s theorization of ‘cultural capital’). In the economic sphere, either public choice and individual preference models are mobilized or (as with much contemporary political
economy) the moral character of economic life is seen as a historical conŽ guration that has been eclipsed by the rationalization of life-world relations by the
logic of social systems (Sayer 1999a: 52–3, 68). Hence we see a double move in
which the question of value is reduced from a question of public morality to that
of subjective preference or instrumental rationality.
The traduction of the moral dimensions of social and economic life has, of
course, not gone unchallenged. Communitarians in political philosophy and
neo-Durkheimians in sociology have disputed the possibility of a viable
understanding of self and society which dispenses with the question of public
normativity. The former direct us to the importance of non-defeasible and noninstrumentalizable collective understandings about ‘the good’ upon which
liberal models are ‘parasitic’ (Sandel 1981), while the latter point out in similar
fashion the ‘ethical minimum’ of ‘civil religiosity’ which underpins the liberal
political-economic order (Dubiel 1994; Müller 1988). However, such accounts
tend to reduce the moral dimensions of social life to a contingent consensus, one
that will furnish a ‘social cement’ needed to make society cohere, to ameliorate
con icts and to assure its smooth and relatively frictionless reproduction over
time. Such an understanding of public morality is untenable for its functionalist presuppositions, its pathologization of con ict and dissensus, and its refusal
of an objective and rational character to morality which is seen primarily as a
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matter of shared and arational sentiments (cf. Maffesoli 1996a, 1996b for a recent
and much discussed variant of this position). An alternative account of the place
of public morality in economic life can be furnished from a recognition-theoretical standpoint; this enables us to understand both consensus and dissensus
over distributive questions as the public, intersubjective effectuation of a
struggle for recognition (kampf um Annerkenung) in which individuals and
groups seek their public self-realization.
John O’Neill has recently argued for a recovery of classical political economy’s
interconnection of questions of distribution with the dynamic of recognitive
self-realization (O’Neill 1999). In Adam Smith’s account of commercial society
and moral sentiments O’Neill discerns an understanding of how the objective
recognition of worth underpins distributional claims (1999: 77–8). Crucially,
recognition is to be seen not simply as an individual’s desire for self-aggrandizement, for the satisfaction of vanity and a desire for distinction judged merely
on the basis of appearance. Rather, it is the desire for the objective (public) affirmation of one’s independent worth. This understanding draws upon the classical Aristotelian account of the desire for virtue, and is reproduced in Hegel’s
account of the master–slave dialectic in the Phenomenology of Spirit and in his
model of political society developed in the Philosophy of Right (O’Neill 1999:
79–82; Hegel 1977, 1991). From the Hegelian perspective, an individual’s sense
of worth remains mere ‘subjective self-certainty’, and hence uncertain of itself,
unless that sense of worth (or ‘idea-of-self ’) is affirmed by others (Kojève 1969:
11). Hence the desire that drives our engagements with others is the desire for
selfhood, for a positive relation-to-self (Honneth 1992), which can be achieved
only via mediation, via affirmation from others. Distributive claims can be seen
as claims of this recognitive kind, claims for objective recognition of worth which
are satisŽ ed via the affirmation which is mediated by (materialized or embodied
in) the goods in question. In distributive challenges, material goods, as embodiments of human values, are desired because of the affirmation of worth that is
furnished when others allocate them to us. In allocating us such goods, others
affirm our objective worth as beings who are deserving of them, and thereby give
us recognition of our own value and worth. Far from being external to the
domain of economic distribution, and conŽ ned to some ‘idealized’ realm of
culture, we see that recognition is in fact thoroughly materialized in the circulation and exchange of material artefacts.
The recognitive character of distributional (and redistributional) claims
becomes apparent when we consider just what is entailed when we make a claim
of this kind. Consider the terms in which Fraser deŽ nes ‘redistributive’ claims,
such as ‘exploitation’, ‘marginalization’ and ‘deprivation’. The very act of invoking such criteria as the basis of a claim upon others is to invoke normative concepts which are based upon speciŽ c self-understandings about what kinds of
beings we are, what our worth is, and what kind of treatment we properly deserve
from others pursuant upon these understandings. A term such as ‘exploitation’
has any meaning only if it can adduce some notion of a person’s or group’s intrinsic worth which can be seen as under-acknowledged or refused in the distribution
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of economic goods. Equally, the characterization of a particular set of social
arrangements as ‘just’ or ‘unjust’ cannot be derived from the factual establishment of an asymmetry in material distributions. What leads such distributions
to become identiŽ ed as ‘unjust’, and hence in need of redress, can proceed only
on the basis of some understanding of the worth of persons and the consequent
demand that this worth be recognized in the distributive settlement. There
would in fact be no moral logic at all, no connection between ‘distribution’ on
the one hand and ‘justice’ on the other, if such intersubjectively articulated normative claims for recognition were not intrinsic factors. Why would distribution
matter, why would it be a moral and ethical issue, unless it was grounded in such
self-conceptions, which are either answered or refused in the distributive
process? We can see that a responsiveness to such claims bespeaks a recognition
that others (our fellow citizens, political leaders and actors within state and other
institutions, those who have access to and control over the distribution of the
social surplus, and so on) in fact see us in the terms in which we desire ourselves
to be seen, i.e. as certain kinds of beings who are deserving of certain kinds of
consideration, care and solicitude, as beings with particular kinds of needs, rights
and entitlements. Thus the public provisions of welfare (e.g. unemployment beneŽ ts, housing subsidies, pensions, etc.), which are redistributive measures, exist
as forms of recognition that persons (as fellow members of the ‘community’, as
‘citizens’ or as ‘human beings’) have intrinsic worth, a worth that entails speciŽ c
rights and entitlements that others are morally beholden to uphold. Equally, the
refusal of such a claim for a redistributive response is a refusal to recognize us in
terms of the status and worth that we claim for ourselves. For example, the
refusal to abolish gender differentials in income (equal pay for equal work) constitutes a refusal to recognize women as enjoying equal worth and status as men,
the refusal to recognize their claim to be fully enfranchised economic and political subjects. Redistributive claims, as moral claims upon others invoking the terms
of justice and injustice, irredeemably have the character of recognition claims.
Rethinking recognition
In the preceding section I have attempted to show how and why Fraser’s discrimination of two distinctive notions of justice/injustice on redistributive and
recognitive grounds cannot be sustained. Claims for justice, and against injustice, amount to the public prosecution of a demand that individuals’ and groups’
normative self-understandings (their idea of their own worth) be recognized and
affirmed by others. This recognition may be mediated ‘culturally’ (as affirmatory speech and representation which coincides with and makes objective
people’s self-understandings) or ‘economically’ (as the distribution of goods to
which they feel themselves entitled on the basis of their self-understandings).
Hence it is impossible to sustain a notion of injustice or injury which does not
already entail a recognitive claim. The moral logic of recognition evades the
dualistic distinction between economy and culture, and cannot be conŽ ned to
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the latter domain. While a distinction between culture and economy might be
analytically, explanatorily and practically warranted, it cannot be used to derive
a moral concept (or concepts) of justice.
This difficulty arises in Fraser’s theorization because of the speciŽ c way that
she formulates (or fails to formulate) the concept of recognition. Because this
conceptualization of recognition is too undifferentiated and too ‘culturalist’
from the outset, it cannot encompass redistributive claims (which must therefore be seen as extant), nor can it grasp ‘interconnections’ and ‘interferences’ as
occurring within recognition (which must therefore be seen to arise as interconnections and interferences between the logic of recognition and some other
moral logic at work in claims to justice). As already shown, this leaves Fraser’s
dualistic theory vulnerable to the kind of objection outlined above. However, if
the concept of recognition can be reŽ ned/deŽ ned differently then it might be
able to perform the kinds of practical and political judgement that Fraser wishes
to enable, but without the ‘analytical interference’ that upsets Fraser’s dualistic
logic.
Fraser’s approach is organized around a construal of the self-evident nature
of ‘recognition’ as something concerned with the ‘cultural or symbolic’. She
notes that there are a number of different recent accounts of recognition (especially in the work of Axel Honneth and Charles Taylor), but insists that ‘it is not
necessary here to settle on a particular theoretical account. We need only subscribe to a general and rough understanding of cultural injustice, as distinct from
socioeconomic injustice’ (Fraser 1997: 14). Yet this is a question-begging
approach, one which has already assumed a distinction between ‘economy’ and
the ‘material’ on the one hand and ‘culture’ and ‘identity’ on the other, and presupposed that the provenance of something called ‘recognition’ is necessarily
with the latter. She is content to note that ‘both of the major contemporary
theorists of recognition, Honneth and Taylor, are Hegelians’ (Fraser 1997: 34)
and leave it at that. Yet an examination of their respective accounts shows that
they are ‘Hegelians’ of rather different sorts, and the different types of ‘Hegelianism’ that they espouse are crucial for determining the analytical speciŽ city of
‘recognition’, and how it might relate to vital issues such as the relation of the
‘material’ to the ‘cultural’, ‘economy’ to ‘identity’, not to mention the relation
of individuals to collectivities, shared meanings to critical re ection, the relation
of cultural particularities and minorities to each other, and so on. Taylor, for
example, remains true to his hermeneutic Hegelianism (cf. Taylor 1971), and so
sees the problem of morality as centred in the practice of linguistic-communicative understanding and representation. Consequently, recognition is ordered
around the pursuit of equal cultural evaluation, especially in relation to the
different frameworks of value and meaning associated with multicultural pluralism. The problem of recognition thus pertains to the problem of publicly affirming cultural particularity and collective identities (Taylor et al. 1994). Fraser’s
rendition of recognition follows this culturalist conception, thereby hiving it off
from questions of economic and material distribution.
Honneth’s (1996) account, while sharing an Hegelian provenance with
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297
Taylor’s, develops in a somewhat different direction which is consequential for
how recognition might be delimited. Both authors share the conviction that
recognition is a ‘vital human need’ (Taylor et al. 1994: 26). For Taylor, however,
it appears to be one moment in a more fundamental ontology of becoming
associated with his hermeneutic conception of humans as ‘self-interpreting
animals’ who establish their identity dialogically (Taylor 1971). Recognition
matters because it is an important dimension in humans realizing their nissus as
beings who exist on the basis of the meanings they give to their own existence.
Honneth’s reading of recognition on the other hand might be described as more
exhaustively ‘constitutive’ in character, in that it sees recognition as a Ž rst-order
genetic account of the process of human self-formation. Honneth effectively
promotes the drive for recognition to the status of a ‘philosophical anthropology’, and in doing so makes recognition coextensive with a (social) theory of
human nature. Moreover Honneth, unlike Taylor, eschews the account of recognition proffered in the Phenomenology of Spirit (that of the ‘master–slave dialectic’), seeing it as wedded to a suspect ‘philosophy of consciousness’, a position
which arrests the struggle for recognition at the point at which ‘self-consciousness’ is achieved (Honneth 1996: 30, 62–3, 145). Instead, Honneth bases his
reconstruction on the more expansive ‘anthropogenetic’ (Kojève 1969) role
accorded the struggle for recognition in Hegel’s early Jena Realphilosophie.
Reading the struggle for recognition as a philosophical anthropology, one that
deŽ nes human self-formation and social formation as such, enables Honneth to
claim that its logic permeates all struggles for social justice, which are manifestations of a struggle for human self-realization. Justice comes to be understood
as the intersubjective satisfaction of moral expectations that arise as individuals
attempt to establish a positive self-relation via recognition from others.
Developing a ‘metatheoretical’ conception of recognition
This ascription of a ‘metatheoretical’ status to recognition opens up the possibility of seeing claims over material and economic redistribution as variants of
such a moral struggle, ones in which recognition is materially mediated via the
externalization of human values in the form of goods. Honneth’s shortcoming, I
would argue, is his failure to exploit this theoretical possibility in the form of a
sustained demonstration of how the struggle for recognition underpins claims
over economic redistribution. This may be attributable to Honneth’s (understandable) desire to escape the reduction of human self-realization to the realm
of work and labour, something most obviously apparent in the normative and
anthropological presuppositions of Marx’s theory of class struggle (Honneth
1995, 1996: 145–52). His corrective attachment to Habermas’ communicative
paradigm for critical theory leads him to emphasize the linguistic dimension of
normative interaction over the realm of material production. Consequently,
while Honneth retains a place for redistributive struggles, he tends to see material
and economic enfranchisement as enabling conditions (or pre-conditions) for
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recognition proper. Questions of socio-economic distribution are deemed to
matter because certain material social conditions must be met if humans are to
be able to proceed onto the project of self-realization qua recognition (Foster
1999: 8). What this misses is the extent to which such redistributive questions
already entail the prosecution of recognition claims, rather than simply being
instrumental prerequisites conŽ ned to the satisfaction of pre-recognitive material
needs. Or, to put this another way, it overlooks the fact that the normative interactions associated with the struggle for recognition are materially as well as linguistically and representationally mediated, and so appear in both ‘economy’ and
‘culture’. The relative neglect of the recognitive moment in material-distributional claims leads Honneth’s account to drift too much to the ‘culturalist’
pole, yielding a conceptualization of recognition that ‘has a decidedly subjective,
non-economic, psychological and cultural character’ (Alexander and Pia Lara
1996: 129). This in turn invites critique from the likes of Fraser for the fact that
economic and redistributional agendas are neglected in his recognition-theoretic
account of struggles for justice (Fraser 1999: 36). My argument is that the
development of a recognitive understanding of disputes about material social
justice is in fact eminently derivable from within Honneth’s ‘metatheory’, if only
we attend to the materialization and mediation of social meanings in ‘goods’ as
well as ‘words’.
The understanding that economic goods are in-and-of-themselves mediated
forms of recognition, materially embodied, is alternatively available in
Alexandre Kojève’s (1969) reading of recognition. While he does not collapse
self-realization into labour, Kojève’s reading of Hegel is strongly in ected by a
Marxian social ontology, one which attends to the exteriorization of human
meanings and values in the form of artefacts. On his view, recognition can be
embodied in material objects which become sedimentations or externalizations
of shared human evaluations. It is in this sense we can understand shared attachment to certain kinds of material artefacts, a common evaluation of which serves
to unify people into a community of mutual esteem. Equally, and more importantly, our desire for objects and artefacts is often in fact impelled by the value
others attach to them, and so our desire for the object is a desire for the desire
of the other (i.e. a desire to be recognized and affirmed). As Kojève puts it:
Desire directed toward a[n] . . . object is . . . ‘mediated’ by the Desire of
another directed toward the same object: it is human to desire what others
desire, because they desire it. Thus, an object perfectly useless from the biological point of view (such as a medal, or the enemy’s  ag) can be desired
because it is the object for other desires.
(Kojève 1969: 6)
Because social meanings and evaluations are concretized in objects, those objects
can become the focus of social struggles which are struggles for recognition, and
likewise a shared estimation or evaluation of an object can become a mediation
of mutual recognition (cf. also Fukuyama 1992). It is from this viewpoint that
we can broaden the recognition-theoretic understanding of struggles for justice
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299
such that it encompasses rather than excludes redistributive claims as one of its
moments.
If Fraser’s rendition of recognition can be identiŽ ed as overly and unnecessarily ‘culturalist’, equally we can see that it is unnecessarily mono-axial and
undifferentiated. As already noted, Fraser sees the logic of recognition as one
oriented to the affirmation of particularity and difference. As such, the prosecution of recognition claims tends towards the construction and reproduction
of group speciŽ city and differentiation, which in turn stand in a tension with
the de-differentiating logic of redistributive struggles. However, the theorization
of recognition developed by Honneth is not conŽ ned to the assertion of worthas-difference, but is in fact multi-axial. Honneth develops a tripartite distinction
between different axes of recognition, oriented by turns to the establishment of
worth on the lines of singularity, particularity and universality. Drawing on
Hegel’s original distinction between family, civil society and state, Honneth discerns three distinctive types of recognitive need which must be satisŽ ed in
combination if an individual is to attain a positive ‘practical-relation-to-self ’.
Honneth distinguishes between the desires for ‘emotional support’, for ‘cognitive recognition’ and for ‘social esteem’. The Ž rst of these permits the subject to
establish a relation-to-self in terms of ‘basic self-conŽ dence’ (a trust that one can
express one’s basic needs without refusal or rejection by others), the second gives
her ‘self-respect’ (a sense of oneself as a being enjoying dignity and moral equality) and the third permits her to experience ‘self-esteem’ (a sense of one’s value
as an individual with particular social and cultural traits and abilities). The Ž rst
of these needs is answered by recognition in the form of primary relationships
(those of love and friendship); the second is answered by a relation of legal recognition granted in the form of rights; and the third is answered by a relation of
mutual esteem and regard with others who can affirm one’s sense of one’s self
and life practices as worthwhile. Honneth dubs these forms of recognition ‘love’,
‘rights’ and ‘solidarity’, and sees each of them as corresponding to a different
aspect of selfhood, and as answering to a different dimension of need which the
subject seeks to satisfy socially (Honneth 1996: xii–xviii, 92–130). On this basis,
Honneth further distinguishes three distinctive manifestations of injustice (as
‘disrespect’, Misachtung) namely ‘the violation of the body’, ‘the denial of rights’
and the ‘denigration of a way of life’; each, of course, amounts to the experience
of a failure to secure a positive self-relation via recognition in the forms of ‘love’,
‘rights’ and ‘solidarity’ (Honneth 1996: 131–9). From this perspective, Fraser’s
reading of recognition (qua the establishment of worth-as-difference) corresponds only to the third of these dimensions, that of ‘esteem’ for a particular
way of life, and occludes the other two dimensions.
If we adopt Honneth’s multi-axial theorization of recognition, then we have
cause to reconsider the way in which Fraser constructs the problem of ‘interferences’ as one of a con ict or tension between recognitive (differentiating) and
redistributional (de-differentiating) logics. Recall Fraser’s example of the
‘interference’ between struggles against the ‘bivalent’ character of injustice on
the grounds of ‘race’ – on Fraser’s reading, the redistributive logic demands the
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dismantling of racial difference, while the recognitive logic requires the assertion and valorization of racial difference. Fraser thus sees this interference as
arising from the redistributive logic of the Ž rst claim and the recognitive logic
of the latter. From the standpoint of Honneth’s theorization, however, we can
understand such interferences not as tensions between ‘redistribution’ and
‘recognition’, but as the necessary coexistence of different orders or types of recognition claims, each of which corresponds to a different dimension of humans’
recognitive needs. In fact, we can see that both are based in recognition claims
of different orders. The Ž rst is oriented to a claim for recognition of our status
as universal subjects who have formal equality with all others, that is in terms
of what we share with all others qua human beings (in Honneth’s terms, a claim
for ‘respect’ in the form of ‘rights’). The latter is oriented to recognition of our
value in terms of our speciŽ city and difference from others, in terms of what
we do not share with all others, but what are, conversely, characteristics and
traits particular to us (in Honneth’s terms, ‘esteem’ as the ‘affirmation of a way
of life’). Thus, it is a misapprehension to see the differentiating/de-differentiating imperatives as rooted in two distinctive logics of social justice. Rather,
they should be seen as complementary moments within a multi-axial logic of
recognition.
We can further establish the value of the recognitive approach as a metatheoretical conspectus on social justice when we consider its ability to accommodate
matters of physical violence and harm within its theoretical ambit. Fraser’s dualistic approach, split between ‘cultural recognition’ and ‘material distribution’,
cannot adequately assign such harm to either of its analytical categories. Because
Fraser’s notion of ‘injury’ is conŽ ned to economic and material deprivation, it
has no place for those harms which are bodily materialized yet extra-economic
(such as rape, domestic violence, racist attacks or child abuse). Equally, because
her notion of recognitive ‘insult’ is conŽ ned to ‘patterns of representation,
interpretation and communication’, it cannot grasp such violations as problems
rooted in the refusal of recognition – the ‘cultural and symbolic’ is inadequate
for grasping the visceral and embodied nature of such harms. Because Fraser’s
conceptions of injustice are derived from categories of ‘economy’ and ‘culture’,
they cannot accommodate forms of injustice which are in principle non-economic and non-communicative in character. This lacuna in the dualistic account
would thus require the speciŽ cation of yet a further conception of injustice, one
corresponding neither to ‘economy’ nor ‘culture’, thereby turning the already
unhelpful bifurcation into a trifurcation. Alternatively, one can start from a
single fundamental theorization of justice as self-realization via recognition, and
then specify the different forms in which the satisfaction/refusal of its demands
are manifest in different modes of social interaction. By taking such an approach,
the injustices of physical injury and violation can be apprehended in a manner
which theoretically reconciles them with other manifestations of injustice under
a single coherent conceptualization. Thus, from Honneth’s viewpoint, such
physical violations amount to a refusal to recognize an individual’s bodily
integrity and inviolability; the intersubjective establishment of such a sense of
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301
integrity is at the constitutive core of a positive self-relation, one in which individuals have ‘basic self-conŽ dence’ (Selbstvertrauen) or trust in their own bodies,
their relation to their environment and to others (Honneth 1996: 129, 132–3).
Hence such violations can be seen as one of the types of ‘disrespect’ (Misachtung)
which abrogate the need for recognitively ordered self-realization and selfformation. As such they can be grasped as an internally differentiated moment
within a single logic of injustice, rather than being viewed as yet a further ‘distinct and irreducible form of injustice’ that stands in an uneasy relation to other
logics.
A Ž nal re ection can be made on the ‘culture’ versus ‘economy’ and ‘recognition’ versus ‘redistribution’ dualisms. The recognitive logic, I have argued, is
a ‘chronic’ feature of intersubjective relations, especially so where the prosecution of moral meanings is at stake. Such meanings cannot be taken as synonymous
with a conception of the ‘cultural’ that excludes the distributive allocation of
material goods, as such meanings are intrinsic to distributive claims and practices. Hence the level of moral meanings constitutes the more fundamental
underpinnings upon which speciŽ c modes of their mediation or prosecution are
built. Problems arise if this dualism is taken as ontological and mutually exclusive
– what is missed is precisely the extent to which ‘economic’ and ‘cultural’
struggles are different mediations or manifestations of a more basic ‘meta-logic’
of recognition. Once the struggle for recognition is given analytical priority, the
speciŽ c forms that these struggles take can be explored and analysed, but
without falling into a ‘dualism’ that threatens to revivify the political schisms
that it was meant to overcome. One important consequence of this is that
theorizations that give central attention to recognition (such as Taylor’s) need
not be rejected tout court as inadequate, but may be extended to the ‘extralinguistic’ domain of material mediations that they have heretofore neglected.
Conclusion
The starting point for this article has been an acknowledgement of the need in
contemporary theory to attend to the multiple social forms and locations of
injustice. Nancy Fraser’s attempt to bring together left-political projects oriented to economic redistribution and the cultural affirmation of identity represents a valuable and timely contribution to answering this need. However, I
have argued that her promulgation of a dualistic conceptualization of the logics
of injustice, derived from the categories of ‘economy’ and ‘culture’, is theoretically problematic. While injustice may be manifest in material-economic and
cultural-symbolic forms, the distinction between culture and economy cannot
logically warrant corresponding moral concepts of injustice, nor does this distinction illuminate the nature of justice or injustice as such. Also, the reliance
on a ‘perspectival dualism’ unwittingly tends towards reproducing the opposition between economic and cultural claims, for example in the apparent ‘interferences’ between them. Moreover, I have sought to demonstrate how the
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analytical distinction of ‘redistribution’ and ‘recognition’ cannot itself be sustained because redistributive claims, as moral claims based on the public prosecution of normative self-understandings, are ultimately recognitive in character.
I have located the source of this ‘analytical interference’ in Fraser’s work in the
overly culturalist and mono-axial manner in which she mobilizes the concept of
recognition. By drawing upon the differentiation of recognition claims developed in Honneth’s work, and upon the materialization of recognition adduced
in Kojève’s Hegelianism, I have sought to demonstrate how different manifestations of injustice and the struggles against them can be understood as different moments within the (meta)logic of recognition. Such an approach, I have
claimed, is better equipped to reconcile different moments in the struggle
against social injustice in a coherent manner, rendering them more theoretically
and well as practically complementary.
Acknowledgements
I wish to express my thanks to Chris Armbruster and John O’Neill for their positive and encouraging responses to an earlier draft of this piece, and to the two
anonymous reviewers whose comments were clear, incisive and helpful in correcting the paper into its current form.
Notes
1 The movement to cultural and identity-oriented models has already become a
mainstay in theories of New Social Movements, a transition which supposedly corresponds to the ‘post-materialist’ agendas of late modern or post modern societies – see,
for example, Melucci (1989), Touraine (1981), Cohen (1985: 663–716) and Eder (1982:
5–20).
2 By ‘culturalist’ I mean here the focus on recognition as synonymous with the sphere
of linguistic and symbolic representation.
3 By ‘interferences’ I understand Fraser to mean the incompatibilities or con icts that
arise when two different types of justice-claim are articulated simultaneously, especially
by/within members of the same social class, group, minority or subculture.
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