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Brutalization of the social conflict: struggles for recognition in the early 21st century

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by Axel Honneth (2012)

In several of his analyses, Talcott Parsons describes the establishment of modern societies as a differentiation process across spheres of mutual recognition. In this paper, I use Parsons’ social theory of recognition to examine features of recent social conflicts. I begin with Parsons’ description of the struggles for recognition that took place during his lifetime in the highly industrialized societies of the West (I). I then use Parsons’ view of normatively ordered recognition conflicts to point out societal trends that led, in the final third of the twentieth century, to a gradual undermining of the pacification structures postulated by Parsons (II). An initial outcome of this apparent disintegration I describe as a ‘brutalization’ of social conflict. By this I mean a state of society where struggles for social recognition escalate and become anomic because resolution can no longer be found in the existing systemic spheres of negotiation (III). This paper shows the importance of the term recognition to social theory by following Parsons’ theory in analyzing structural transformations that are currently emerging in response to social conflicts. [READ PDF]

Omnipotence or Fusion? A Conversation between Axel Honneth and Joel Whitebook

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Madonna Lita – Leonardo da Vinci 1490

Constellations Issue 23. Number 2 – 2016

Joel Whitebook: This discussion has a long history. In fact, it’s almost twenty years old now. It goes back to the academic year of 1995–1996, when I was teaching in the philosophy department in the psychoanalytic studies program at the New School, and Axel [Honneth] was the Theodor Heuss Professor for the year. Axel’s book The Struggle for Recognition had been translated into English and was being widely discussed. And in psychoanalysis, this was the heyday of the relational movement. “Relationality” had become the hot topic. Steve Mitchell and Jay Greenberg’s text had become something of a basic text of psychoanalysis which everybody was using. In The Struggle for Recognition, Axel drew on material from the relational psychoanalysts, from infant research, and from Donald Winnicott, and tried to integrate that into his analysis of the young Hegel and Aristotle. But the use he was making of analysis, the analysis he was appropriating at the time, was from this very lively world of relational psychoanalysis and infant research. Jessica Benjamin had tried to do something similar before that with her synthesis of Winnicott and Hegel around the theory of recognition. . .  [Read PDF]

 

Recognition and Psychoanalysis: An Interview with Axel Honneth (2009)

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European Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2009

Inara Luisa MarinYou have shown a strong interest in psychoanalysis, especially after your book The Struggle for Recognition, where it takes the form of a discussion about the works of the American psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin and those of D. H. Winnicott about object relations. Afterwards you have written various texts in which you engage in a discussion with psychoanalysis (with Freud, Loewald and Mitscherlitch). But you are above all a philosopher; your project subscribes completely to social philosophy, from which you clearly claimed this heritage. Would you explain what has driven you to work with psychoanalysis, to discuss its contributions and its heritage with a certain number of its authors?

Axel Honneth. My interest in psychoanalysis goes back deeply into my philosophical and sociological education. I was greatly fascinated by the writings of Freud when I was much younger, namely when I started to study and to do philosophy. In the beginning, in my first semesters, I also did psychology, so I was confronted with the academic psychology and I greatly preferred the writings of Freud, which I took to be much deeper and much more relevant to our self-understanding as human beings. So even when in my first readings of Freud I wasn’t able to subscribe to everything he had written, especially not to his sociological writings, I was very impressed by at least three things. First, his wonderful way of writing—something you cannot match. I think he is the best German-language author in recent times. Secondly, by his radical mind: he didn’t give up working through his first intuitions his whole life, and by the openness and clarity with which he did that. And thirdly, by his view on the human psyche. It is extremely helpful in making sense of some of one’s own experiences. It allows oneself a better self-understanding, so it’s pertinent even when it’s quite away from our normal psychological descriptions, it is useful for stimulating more radical interpretations not only of one’s own psyche but also of several events in your life world and in the world around you.

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The Failure of the Recognition Paradigm in Critical Theory

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by Michael J. Thompson (PDF)

Critical theory has been decidedly transformed over the past thirty years by the influence of ideas that, in many basic ways, run counter to the initial set of ideas and propositions that defined and shaped the first generation of critical theorists. Now, critical theorists deal with questions of human rights, dignity, justification, and theories of democracy. They have broken with a more robust, more insightful, and more radical project of understanding the mechanisms of social domination, the deformation of character and the deformations of cognitive and epistemic powers that explain the increasing acceptance of the prevailing social order and the increasing integration and legitimacy of pathological forms of social life. The break was effected with a move toward pragmatist themes on the one hand and toward a concern with neo-Idealist ideas rooted in Kant and Hegel. This reworking of critical theory has been centered on the elimination of ideas rooted in Marxism and into a kind of system building that champions the supposed self-transforming powers of intersubjective social action. Indeed, whereas Habermas has been highly successful at promoting a Kantian-pragmatist paradigm based in discourse, Axel Honneth’s work has been premised on a neo-Idealist return to Hegelian themes fused to pragmatist ideas about social action and self- and social transformation. I believe that this move has been lethal for the actual political relevance of critical theory, that it has drained it of its potency even as it has allowed for more professionalized success within mainstream intellectual and academic circles. The price paid for winning this acceptance, however, has been dear and it has compromised the very methodological and philosophical commitments of critical theory . . . [continue]

Critical social theory and the challenge of neoliberalism

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by Roger Foster Capital & Class November 2016

 

My article offers a sustained critique of the idea of critical social theory presented by Axel Honneth in Freedom’s Right: The Social Foundations of Democratic Life. My article articulates three specific criticisms: (1) the focus on normative relations of recognition obscures the class-based forms of power that pervade contemporary advanced democracies, (2) the method of normative reconstruction cannot make sense of the open-ended nature of class struggle that drives social change in capitalist societies, and (3) Honneth’s political and social prescriptions ignore the consequences of the failure of traditional progressive politics. My article makes an important and original contribution to the literature on Honneth’s recent work in two major respects. First, I argue that Honneth’s descriptions of the fate of the family and the market today betray a failure to understand the configuration of class power in contemporary neoliberal societies. Second, I make the case that the basis for a more successful theory of class power, identity formation, and social change can be found in the ‘first-generation’ critical social theory of Erich Fromm.

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