EDPS 360 (A2) Fall 2013

The Debate on the Redistribution of Recognition

In Uncategorized on November 13, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Written by Morgan, Kirsten, Cheyenne, Kiel

Axel Honneth has been a professor for many years and for a variety of universities. Currently he is at the Columbia University as a professor of Humanities. His area of expertise are social and political philosophy, ethics, and social theory. Nancy Fraser is the Henry A. and Louise Loeb Professor of Political and Social Science and Department Chair. Her main areas
of study are social and political theory, feminist theory, contemporary French and German thought.

Both authors argue that an adequate understanding of justice encompasses two factors: the struggles over distribution cast in the Fordist era and the struggles for recognition cast in modern times. Honneth and Fraser debated on “central issues of moral philosophy, social theory, and political analysis” (p. 3). Looking at social theory, they debated on the relation of economy and culture, the distinction between and the structure of the capitalist society. Looking at political analysis they examined the connection between equality and difference, the affiliation between economic struggles and identity politics, and the relationship between social democracy and multiculturalism.

Axel Honneth believes that recognition is the fundamental, overarching issues where distribution is a by-product of recognition. “He interprets the socialist ideal of redistribution as a subvariety of the struggle for recognition” (p. 3). Honneth argues recognition as a differentiated concept that encompasses the recognition of rights and cultural appreciation. He seeks to include the problem of redistribution as a by-product of recognition.

Nancy Fraser disagrees with Honneth, believing that distribution cannot be a by-product of recognition. Fraser “proposes a ‘perspectival dualist’ analysis that cast the two categories as co-fundamental and mutually irreducible dimensions of justice” (p. 3). Fraser argues that only a framework of both distribution and recognition as distinct perspectives can grasp the interrelationship of class inequality and status hierarchy in current society.

“Recognition” has become an important word in modern times. Recognition is central in efforts to understand and conceptualize struggles over identity and difference. “Moral philosophers increasingly use the term ‘recognition’ to unpack the normative bases of political claims” (p. 1).

“Redistribution” was central to social struggles and moral philosophies of the Fordist era; in post WWII the model of distributive justice was used to analyze claims of labor and the poor. In democratic welfare states conflicts turned on resources and were disputed in distributive terms. “There was no perceived need to examine their relation to claims for recognition” (p. 2).

In modern times “struggles over religion, nationality, and gender are now interimbricated in ways that make the question of recognition impossible to ignore” (p. 2). Economic inequalities are increasing with the promotion of corporate globalization and the weakening of governance structures which previously enabled redistribution within countries. Thus “neither recognition nor redistribution can be overlooked in the present constellation” (p. 2).

The authors pose two questions:

1. Should capitalism, as it exists today, be understood as a social system that differentiates an economic order that is not directly regulated by institutionalized patterns of cultural value from other social orders that are?
2. Or, should the capitalist economic order be understood rather as a consequence of a mode of cultural variation that is bound up, from the very outset with asymmetrical forms of recognition?

  1. I wholeheartedly believe that capitalism should be understood as a social system that differentiates economic order, but it exists because of the regulation that binds the system. By this, I mean that capitalism works for those with money, power, and influence. Those with the most ‘capital’ run this system, but we the people have helped place these individuals in those positions of power. Realistically, we could bitch and moan about haves and have nots until the end of time, but in the end we have to understand WHO makes those individuals so very powerful. Society’s wants, needs, and desires drive capitalistic markets and fuel those big businesses that control said markets. Society as a whole has much more control than they realize, maybe not in a dollars and cents type of way, but in knowledge, understanding, and even blunt force. So yes, capitalism is a social system, but as it exists currently, it is controlled by a select few ‘social orders’.

    Doesn’t capitalism exist because it is a social system? Quite honestly, if everyone were to start at zero with the same basic functional knowledge, eventually you would have exactly what we have today. The thing is, there will always be an individual or group of individuals that want more, so, in a sense, capitalism is likely to exist as a social system indefinitely. Whether we can curtail or at least obtain some of that power back from those who control us is squarely left up to we the people. We are being dictated to when in reality we should be the ones dictating!

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