Thursday, August 30, 2012

Dissertation on shame. Chapter 1.2 Honneth's theory of recognition

1.2 Honneth’s theory of recognition

Honneth (1995) argues that the struggle for recognition should be at the centre of social conflicts. His theory of recognition draws from amongst others Kant, Marx, Sorel, Sartre and Mead, developing recognition as the moral basis of interaction in human conflicts, and explains the relation between recognition and modernity. The major contribution to Honneth’s theory of recognition is a re-reading of Hegel’s (1805/1983) Jena lectures. A theory of recognition is important to this dissertation because recognition in my opinion is a fundamental condition for legal protection in social work with the powerless, weak and offended in a society.

Social work has to do with helping people flourish, prosper and grow in unjust societies. Justice here has to do with both the redistribution of power as with the recognition of ones identity by others (Fraser 2002). Neither is sufficient alone. But combining justice and a good life, doing both the right thing and what is good, is a difficult assignment. Social work can in my opinion represent a struggle for the recognition of fundamental rights given to individuals, given to them by families, the judicial system, and society. Honneth argues that a person’s identity is first realized through recognition. Without recognition, ones identity is based on a false identity; an illusion. It is the fellowship with others which sets the boundaries for recognition and therefore how ones reality is conceived.

I agree with Høilund and Juul (2005) who argue that recognition is suitable as an ethical foundation for social work. The way we apprehend our identity and self-image is a more significant condition for a good life then material goods, at least for those who are not living in poverty which is threatening their existence. Following Honneth’s theory of recognition (1996), the core in practical social work should then be to contribute to a successful growth of personal identity. If recognition is the universal condition for the development of a socially well functioning identity, social work must in my opinion build on the recognition of the values which the citizens take upon themselves. The phenomenon of shame studied here has to be contextualized within the framework of social work practices that are able to handle such negative identity traits as sexual abuse may leave on people’s life. The atmosphere allowing narratives of shame to be let out in this research may be created by the social work practices preceding my entering of the scene. Honneths forms of recognition and misrecognition may well represent some of the possible settings we may find these people in.
 Kaare T. Pettersen

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