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Re: [xmca] Re: Six key points on sociocultural models of development

Greg, I think we are pretty much on the same wavelength if not in complete agreement. Can I respond to a few points at random?

You would be with Fichte and Hegel if you claim an ontological role for Recognition, insasmuch as both these writers would say that recognition is an essential component to attaining and maintaining self-consciousness, and I doubt if any of the later writers would disagree. I don't think you can draw a line between a precondition for the existence of a self-consciousness and a psychological need. The fear of being a nobody, the desire to be someone operates psychologically. I think we are all sceptical about the practice of handing out indiscriminate praise to schoolkids. I am also sceptical as to whether one can talk about gaining recognition from the TV. So on the one hand desire for security of being manifests psychologically, but on the other, illusory recognition is just like any other illusion - insecure.

My point about the man-lion confrontation is nothing about anthropomorphism, it's just the limiting case of there being no shared civil code or property rights to mediate the relation (because lions don't have such things), just like when tribes in neighbouring valleys in New Guinea meet each other. It is going to be a rapid separation or a fight to the death. The question of having one's property rights recognised is not a separate question from having one's personality reflected in the eyes of a peer. By respecting your space a person does you an honour, albeit one that you may only appreciate when that is taken away and people start treating you like a doormat.

As to your point about the wrestler, this is Andy Warhol's basic point isn't it, that everyone needs their 15 minutes of fame. The media plays such a role in our day-to-day lives, we need some kind of affirmation of our existence, not necessarily in the media of course, but it seems that family, workmates and friends is no longer enough.

On recognition and workers' struggles. Yes, I am an life-long trade union delegate, Greg, and everyone who has played this role knows that in order to get people wound up for a strike you have to portray the employer's position as an insult. It is never enough to say "We can't live on this wage." Of course we can; the cleaners live on an even smaller wage and work longer hours. I am more sympathetic to Nancy Fraser's position, yes, a dual perspective. And I guess it was Nancy Fraser who showed me how to use Foucault productively in this context as well. So I am dead against targeted welfare. All "benefits" should be universal.

Thanks for your points, Gregory. I set my target some years ago, quoting my home page: "My project at the moment is (1) to appropriate Vygotskyan cultural psychology as an empirical foundation for social philosophy, encouraging Critical Theorists to abandon the use of antique psychologists, and at the same time, (2) demonstrate to Vygotskyan psychologists the founding place of Hegel in their project, and encourage Hegel scholarship amongst them."


Gregory Allan Thompson wrote:
Andy and Larry,
Just to be clear on my position, I'm positing Recognition as the ontological ground for subjectivity (sorry to have to use the "o" word again!). This means that the opposite of recognition, in my view, is not mis-recognition or bad recognition (and note, I part company with the existentialists here). Rather, the opposite of Recognition, in my view, is non-being, or maybe better, anomie. Or put in plain terms, it is better to be a somebody than a nobody.
Thus, in my view, recognition is not necessarily the same as "praise" or "acclaim." As an example, there's a guy in sociology, R. Tyson Smith, who writes about amateur wrestlers (of the spectacular sort, like WWE - NOT the Olympic sport) who participate in these performances in order to be a "somebody" - even if they are the bad guy and everybody boos them and even if it brutalizes their physical bodies in doing so. These are typically working class folk that don't have much else to hang their hats on, recognitionally speaking. The thrill of recognition is *the thrill of being* (as opposed to *the threat of non-being*). To be booed and hated is a rush in itself b.c. you get a reaction from others and are noticed, and, as painful as it is, it sure beats being a nobody. That is recognition, imv.

I think that this is fundamentally different from the man-lion encounter precisely because imagining oneself in the "shoes" of the lion is a fundamentally different task than imagining oneself in the shoes of a fellow human (although it gives an interesting explanation for animism and anthropomorphism). And, as you note, mediation is key to recognition. I'm not sure if you would push for a mediation of the man-lion encounter (or for that matter, the lion-lion encounter) and I might be persuaded that it is mediated in some ways, but the point is that this is a fundamentally different sort of mediation than the mediation that happens via social meaningfulness. For example, consider Fichte's property or Hegel's right - the lion has no concept of "property" or "right" other than the stink of a fellow lion's glands and/or urine that have contacted a tree.

So I think that the battle to the death account of Hegel's recognition is not the whole story (and Hegel even says that it results in a one-sided and problematic form of recognition). Rather, if you look at the classic chapter where it appears, I think a strong argument can be made that Hegel is placing this particular problematic of recognition in a phylogenetic historical context - this is a moment that our species went through in some past time and nowadays we have a sociocultural world (the Universal) through which one attains recognition (think Mead's generalized other).
As I am not a proper Hegel scholar, I lean on Richard Williams' book The Ethics of Recognition as a way of grounding recognition in other forms of social life (other than conflict). I agree with your concerns, Andy, that Williams does not adequately address the mediated nature of recognition, but I think it goes a long way toward understanding the fundamental importance of intersubjectivity and a social ontology of the subject. I think it gets a lot closer to what Larry is interested in as well.

Andy, I think that one distinction that I might draw between your and my notion of recognition is that I see recognition through the lens of culture and you see recognition through the lens of social and political structures and institutions. My interests right now are more in the study of everyday life (a la Goffman) and less in the realm of political struggle. But I'm very sympathetic to the importance of the kind of state-based recognition of which you speak.

I also agree with your concerns about Honneth and what I assume are your sympathies with Nancy Fraser's position in the Honneth-Fraser debates, but I do still think that there is a important place for theorizing recognition with regard to the working class. The important point about recognition, for me, is that it has a social psychological moment to it - it provides the basis for understanding motivation and social action. If you are interested in liberatory movements, and assuming that you are not planning on doing the liberation yourself, then there has to be a way of opening up large groups of people to seeing the possibility that they can be the agents of change. This requires a moment of recognition (or millions of little moments of recognition) in which persons who would otherwise accept their lot in life would now question it.

I think that recognition tends to function at a societal level in an almost Althuserian sense to interpellate the poor and working class in such a way that the often accept their lot or at least they accept the validity of the system that places them where they are - which, in the US, is the educational system and the great myth of meritocracy. This sort of tacit acceptance spells trouble for any kind of revolutionary movement. Recovering the social psychological moment of recognition seems important to keep in mind as a way to help mobilize people to create change (and there are serious problems of recognition among the bourgeoisie as well that need to be addressed, and which, when addressed might pull more people into the struggle a la Engels - but your sympathies may not lie there).

As for Foucault, my reading of F is influenced by French speakers that I have spoken to who say that when read in French, F. seem much more of a humanist (and there must be a reason why he always has such a fantastically large grin on his face! If he's a nihilist, he hardly seems like a practicing one. Althusser, on the other hand...). It isn't clear to me how much these Francophones were mining and/or what the context was that provided for this reading, but they seemed very convincing. And when I was teaching Foucault to an undergrad class after this, I was able to begin to see this in his writing.

Anyway, I'm very grateful for this opportunity to engage with others with similar interests - and many thanks for reading through my blah-blah-blah (and then some).


On Thu, Jun 23, 2011 at 6:39 AM, Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net> wrote:

Larry, my guess is that Recognition is a universal need for any person, in
whatever era, only that in postmodernity it has become problematised. Axel
Honneth claims, for example, that wage struggles were always *really*
struggles for recognition. I don't think that makes sense. I think being
underpaid is always an insult, and I guess there has always been a basis for
reading this motivation into economic struggles, but I would distinguish
between a mode of theorisation and a mode of action. There is also a
question over whether it makes sense to counterpose survival and

It seems to me that Hegel introduced the idea of Recognition very much as a
matter of life and death. Imagine two creatures of different species (eg a
human and a lion) bumping into each other in a confined space. You have a
definite problem of mutual recognition. Consider Captain Cook sailing into a
harbour in New Zealand. Same problem. Imagine being an asylum seeker
arriving in NW Australia in a leaky boat. Same problem. Imagine being a
graffiti artist. Same problem. But I think it is only recently that
recognition (as having the rights of an equal citizen within a nation-state,
someone whose labour meets the needs of other people) has become
problematised. Certainly, the desire for recognition is now a major
motivation for people. I suspect that people write research papers for
learned journals more for recognition than money or science.


Larry Purss wrote:

Hi Gregory and Andy

Thank you for your responses

 As you can see in my response to Martin,  I am wondering if the desire
recognition is a general "type" of desire for humans.  Gregory,  from this
possibly basic, primary desire for recognition, the particular forms of
recognition developing as  psychological experiences that are experienced
split as we participate in our institutional arrangements is unique to
modernity.  From this particular historically constructed formation of
psychological splitting a particular kind of search for identity ensues. I
agree with this way of looking at the question of identity, and
recognition.  There is a dialogical aspect of response and anticipation
in using language [and possibly a dialogical resonse to
prelinquistic primary intersubjectivity].

Merleau-Ponty and Bahktin both seem to have grappled with this ontological
theme and the various ways this theme is expressed epistemologically.
reflections on "differences" which don't get transcended but rather get
contained [subjegated] within particular relational configurations or
as persons become INformed.  The ethical question from this assumption of
 dialogue [as opening spaces between perspectives] becomes what
formations are best able to "hold" the differences through opening spaces
I-Thou mutual dialogue. Identity from this stance is not a search for
identity as [A=A] but rather a search for spaces of opening that hold the

This may sound too "merely interactional" as  "holding of perspectives
within shared space."  But scholars such as Merleau-Ponty who are
articulating perspectives within a figure/ground metaphor of "looking" as
particular form of reasoning emphasize the cultural-historical source of
perspectives and the dialogical spaces of intersubjectivity where meaning
located BETWEEN perspectives as the arena they are playing in.

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*Andy Blunden*
Joint Editor MCA: http://www.informaworld.com/smpp/title~db=all~content=g932564744
Home Page: http://home.mira.net/~andy/
Book: http://www.brill.nl/default.aspx?partid=227&pid=34857
MIA: http://www.marxists.org

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