Bound by Recognition

Bound by Recognition

Bound by Recognition

Bound by Recognition

Synopsis

In an era of heightened concern about injustice in relations of identity and difference, political theorists often prescribe equal recognition as a remedy for the ills of subordination. Drawing on the philosophy of Hegel, they envision a system of reciprocal knowledge and esteem, in which the affirming glance of others lets everyone be who they really are. This book challenges the equation of recognition with justice. Patchen Markell mines neglected strands of the concept's genealogy and reconstructs an unorthodox interpretation of Hegel, who, in the unexpected company of Sophocles, Aristotle, Arendt, and others, reveals why recognition's promised satisfactions are bound to disappoint, and even to stifle.


Written with exceptional clarity, the book develops an alternative account of the nature and sources of identity-based injustice in which the pursuit of recognition is part of the problem rather than the solution. And it articulates an alternative conception of justice rooted not in the recognition of identity of the other but in the acknowledgment of our own finitude in the face of a future thick with surprise. Moving deftly among contemporary political philosophers (including Taylor and Kymlicka), the close interpretation of ancient and modern texts (Hegel's Phenomenology, Aristotle's Poetics, and more), and the exploration of rich case studies drawn from literature ( Antigone), history (Jewish emancipation in nineteenth-century Prussia), and modern politics (official multiculturalism), Bound by Recognition is at once a sustained treatment of the problem of recognition and a sequence of virtuoso studies.

Excerpt

Walking along a crowded avenue, you see a friend and call out her name: suddenly, a pocket of intimacy forms in an otherwise anonymous public space. Standing in a long line at the immigration office, you find yourself grateful for your Canadian passport, which you know will make it easier for you to extend your employment in the United States. You roll back the metal gates in front of your shop window, which now displays (next to the list of South Asian languages spoken inside) a new assortment of items prominently bearing the American flag. Sitting down with a calculator, you and your partner wonder whether it will be possible to get a home loan together at a decent rate without being married. a young man watches as you slowly board the bus, and then offers you his seat. Driving down a street in a predominantly white neighborhood, you are pulled over again by the police, suspended in mistrust while the officer runs your identification and plates. You recall how several of your male co-workers unexpectedly declared that they think you’ll be the next woman in the office to have a baby. You wait for the volunteer to find your name on the voting rolls. You add a new accomplishment to your curriculum vitae. You hold a stranger’s gaze for a second too long, checking for and inviting desire.

Life is given texture by countless acts of recognition. From everyday interactions to the far-reaching deliberations of legislatures and courts, people are constantly asking the interconnected questions: Who are you? Who am I? Who are we? in answering these questions, we locate ourselves and others in social space, simultaneously taking notice of and reproducing relations of identity and difference. and in this way, we orient ourselves practically: we regularly decide what to do, and how to treat others, at least partly on the basis of who we take ourselves, and them, to be. For better or for worse, the distribution of affection, loyalty, esteem, consideration, rights and obligations, and many other social goods is closely tied to our assessments of identity, both personal and collective. At one level, there is no reason to regret this fact, and in any case probably no way to escape it, for recognition helps give our lives depth and continuity, and a world completely lacking the signposts of identity would be unnavigable. At the same time, many of the relationships established and maintained through recognition are unjust, often severely so. If recognition makes the social world intelligible, it . . .

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