Understanding and Theorizing the Pursuit of Intersubjective Recognition


social justice
critical theory


Nowadays the terms “identity” and “recognition” bear a double reality within itself. While it enjoys an indispensable and ubiquitous presence in the cultural, political, and economic spheres accelerated by modernity and capitalist conditions, it also embraces a tendency to be essentialized, reified, misunderstood or quickly dismissed. A lack of precision in their meaning and undifferentiated use can dampen the liberatory engine propelled by the politics of recognition. Therefore, those concepts are in great need for analytical and practical clarification. This paper sets to wrestle with such a question: how is it possible to address identity and recognition in light of authentic emancipatory mandate without being hijacked by capitalist and neoliberal maneuvers? Drawing insights from critical theories, we connect identity and recognition to an intersubjective, dialogic theory of justice. On the intersubjective and normative ground, identity and recognition are no longer picture-like and individualistic concepts, but deeply grounded in existential/ethical/moral concerns, and social solidarity. This theoretical reconstruction is accompanied by an empirical example from an ethnographic study. Through examining phenomenological moments of (mis-)recognition during interpersonal encounters in a multicultural counseling classroom, we analyze conditions for (mis-)recognition and theorize the practice of recognition.

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