Very thought provoking post. These happen to be issues that are on my mind
for a paper that I'm working on, and so thank you for providing me with an
opportunity to write these ideas out. But please forgive my indulgence in
the far too many words that follow.
I think that Andy's concerns with mediation are good ones. The split in
ways of thinking about recognition that I have suggested previously is a
split between "recognition" as a psychological need (maybe kin to
"self-esteem" of the 90's) and recognition as an ontological ground of
subjectivity. I would put W.I. Thomas and (hesitatingly) Axel Honneth more
in the first camp and Hegel and Mead in the second. I would further suggest
that the second camp, recognition as an ontological ground of subjectivity,
has more relevance around the globe, whereas the first one, recognition as a
psychological need, is particularly relevant in Western contexts.
For evidence of the non-global nature of recognition as a psychological
need (in the particularly Western way that we think of it), you simply need
to look to how people respond to depressed persons in China. In America (and
the West generally?), we tend to offer recognition to someone who is
depressed by saying nice things about them, e.g., to a disconsolate grad
student who is depressed about their dissertation and unable to write:
"you're a great scholar and you're work is very important so don't get so
down," OR, as the SNL character Stuart Smalley used to say "you're good
enough, you're smart enough, and people like you."
In contrast, in China, the kind of thing that is said to depressed persons
is more like: "you're a shame to your family, everyone else is working hard,
quit being so lazy and finish your work!" And the funny thing is, it works.
(this anecdote is loosely based on the work of a colleague, Jason
Ingersoll, who spent over 2 years in China studying depression - his rather
remarkable dissertation is available online, and I have a copy).
So for this reason, I'm hesitant to consider the "psychological need"
approach to recognition as a cultural universal. But within the US, it seems
I think that there might be an interesting third approach that captures the
Hegelian sense of recognition as an ontological grounding for subjectivity
while also recognizing it as a psychological need. Larry, it seems like this
might be where you are headed.
In this regard, I think that Charles Taylor has some interesting thoughts
on recognition as having a kind of particular importance in modernity. This
is because in earlier times identities were prescribed by society (think
feudal system or the caste system of India). In capitalist modernity,
individuals are thrown into society without any solid anchors of identity. I
take this to be a projection of Marx's "all that is solid melts into air"
onto the realm of identity. Nowadays, because we no longer have an a priori
anchor - a biological (or otherwise) right - to a particular identity, WHO
we are is up in the air and we are confronted with a kind of existential
crisis (importantly, this is a crisis only so long as we have a desire to be
a "somebody" - an assumption that I find generally plausible, but not
absolutely necessary; cf. Buddhistic notions of Self). The resolution of
this crisis comes through the various moments of recognition (consummation)
that we experience throug!
others and which constitute us as a particular "somebody" (and better a
"somebody" than a "nobody").
This recognition can happen in everyday interaction rituals where we greet
others and are greeted by others in particular ways (e.g., the somewhat
stereotyped scene from old movies where the company president walks in and
is greeted along his walk by a string of "Good morning Mr. X" and Mr. X
either responds with a simple nod or responds with "Good morning Jane" - in
the lack of parallelism in the greeting ("Mr. X" vs. "Jane" or nothing at
all), there is an important moment of recognition for both parties - an
Recognition can also happen through various institutional means, such as
when we take a test or get a good grade in school (and listen to high school
or college students after getting the results of a test and you'll see/hear
that this moment of comparison/recognition is one of the first things that
they seek: "I got XX, what did you get?", or more tactfully, "How did you
Recognition can also happen through other social means such as the value of
one's portfolio (a different kind of "value" but one that appears to the
bearer to have a kind of universality for seeing how one "measures up" to
others), or the act of going shopping and being realized as a "customer"
(and advertising is fundamentally about creating a moment of recognition as
a particular type of customer - traditionally an "elite", but currently a
"unique"). Political news programs (Foxnews or MSNBC) can also provide a
moment of recognition by validating the interpretive framework ("Democrat"
or "Republican") or ground against which we define ourselves as good, right,
and moral. And there are, of course, the more obvious kinds of recognition
in "the praise and ovation of the people" - as the tag line of the TV show
Iron Chef used to say - and which you would find on other audience
competition shows like American Idol.
Now treating these examples in reverse order, the local cultural
fetishization of American Idol, political news programs, shopping, grades,
and greetings - all of this points to a particular importance of the role of
recognition in THIS historical moment. Recognition is the resolution to the
existential crises of *being* in modernity. In the interests of making the
point, I've gone well beyond Taylor's argument. But hopefully this provides
one (potentially flawed) way of thinking about recognition in THIS cultural
Larry, I find your approach to all of this to be particularly interesting
precisely because it is different from how I have been approaching it and so
it pushes me to think in new ways about these ideas. I'm not sure if you'll
be able to make sense of any of the deeply confused ideas I put forward
above, but I'm always interested in hearing what you have to say.
As for your question about whether mediation of dialogical relational
intersubjectivity is prior to mediation by material artifacts, I'm not sure
I understand you perfectly clearly. I wonder how you are conceiving of these
two types of mediation? And how does answering one way or the other affect
your approach to, say, teaching kids? (I'm assuming that this is what you
are after, in the end). And I do like your both/and approach to answering
this question but I'm not clear that you were comfortable with this as an
And now, in looking back at your post, I just realized that I failed to
consider what seems to be the most important issue that you raised - what
does this mean in pedagogical practice.
As for this question, I fully agree with what I take to be your main point,
namely, that teachers often loose sight of the role of recognition for
students and tend to focus more on the stuff to be taught/learned. But I
think that I would take it in a slightly different direction by emphasizing
recognition less as a kind of humanistic need (or desire) and thinking more
in terms of the teacher contributing to the determination of WHO the child
takes her/himself to be in a given moment, and this will affect who the
child will be in the next (i.e. how s/he will act).
Effectively recognizing a child as a good student will lead to the child
be(com)ing a good student. The real challenge is: HOW do you *effectively*
recognize a child as a good student? Andy's concern with the mediatedness of
recognition makes this HOW into a non-trivial task. Because recognition is
mediated, it is beyond the simple control of the teacher.
Take the following as an example: would it be enough for a teacher to
simply say individually to each student in the class that the teacher thinks
that the student is a brilliant student? This might do some good for a
kindergarten class, but for them, they don't exactly know what this means
and even if they believe you, they won't know how this translates into
behaviors and actions (and it probably won't have very lasting
consequences). For a high school class, the kids would probably look at you
and wonder about your sincerity - and/or your motivations (e.g., "is he just
saying that so that we won't give him a hard time?" - and in college it
would be: "is he just saying that so that we'll give him a good rating on
RateMyProfessor.com?"). Some high school kids would "know" that you are just
"blowing smoke up their you-know-where," and would disregard the comment
altogether, and thus the moment of recognition is lacking.
The problem is that once you get kids old enough (maybe 7-9), recognition
is no longer just the simple dyadic recognition of a parent saying something
to them at a particular moment in time. Instead, as kids get older,
recognition becomes much more than this. It becomes an absolute. One IS this
type of person or that. This is, in part, due to a more enduring notion of
Self, but is also, in part, due to the fact that recognition now happens
with respect to a macro-social order, it is now mediated by what we might
call, following Mead, a generalized other. You might say that this perduring
generalized other becomes the ground for the perduring self, and without
which, the self could only be a groundless and fleeting mirage. The social
ground locates the individual.
But, importantly (and luckily for us), the ground is moving, as are the
possible figurations. Thus, telling a student who has gotten C's and D's all
her/his life that s/he is brilliant is not going to be very effective. S/he
knows better. What is needed is the artful practice of bringing out this
truth. This often involves re-interpretations of her/his behaviors and
actions, but it can also involve introducing a new frame for interpreting
those actions and behaviors such that these actions and behaviors can truly
become evidence of "brilliance." When this works, it is a beautiful thing.
But it doesn't always look like what we might expect (engaging in an
argument with a student could function as a moment of recognition that the
student is smart enough to be challenged). Furthermore, recognitional
processes don't always work precisely as the teacher might have hoped. This
is because the process of recognition is mediated and is thus, in the end,
out of our hands. In a third t!
t mediates the teacher student dyad. And most often, these processes of
recognition go mostly unnoticed by teachers and do their work "in the dark,"
so to speak. Shedding light on these processes of recognition seems to me to
be important work.
Okay, that was much too much, but all stuff that is on my mind for what I'm
presently working on so thank you very much for the opportunity to think
these ideas through in writing.
All the best,
Larry Purss wrote:
Gregory, thanks for this reference on the topic of desire for
My question to Martin was my attempt to understand our fundamental need
recognition, [self/other], and how this fundamental need is transformed
cultural-historical institutional arrangements. As I read Martin's
he located the need for recognition as one of the 6 foundational
[ontological?] GROUNDS of the sociocultural perspective.
If the desire for recognition is foundational , then the
dialogical understanding of communication as the relation BETWEEN self
other is primary [not the dialectical resolution of tensions into a new
cognitive synthesis which may be derivative from a more
primary intersubjective relational foundation] I'm wondering, reading
scholars such as Merleau-Ponty, if mediation of dialogical relational
intersubjectivity, is prior to mediation by material artifacts.
This question is probably expressing my ignorance of the relation between
the notions of tool use and intersubjectivity but how else to get
In actual practice it may be impossible to separate these two mediational
means BUT it seems that the dialogical perspective emphasizes the
of self/other intersubjective relational being/becoming while mediation
tool use emphasizes internalization and cognitive synthesis through
cultural-historical object usage.
The notion of biosocial niches can accomodate both mediation through
persons AND mediation through artifacts, so really it is not an either/or
question but rather a matter of emphasis. The practical question in
settings is how to be aware of the profound desire for recognition of all
the persons [students and teachers] which teachers may loose sight of in
focus on developing and internalizing scientific concepts. [which comes
cost of transmuted desire for recognition]
The focus on the intersubjective relational "betweenness" of the
perspective seems to emphasize the "desre for recognition" more than the
language of mediated tool use.
Hesitant to press "send" as I expose my ignorance
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