An ideology critique of recognition: Judith Butler in the context of the contemporary debate on recognition

Constellations 25 (3):474-484 (2018)
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Abstract

Judith Butler is often referred to as a thinker who disputes the positive view of recognition shared by many social and political philosophers today and advances a more "ambivalent" account of recognition. While I agree with this general characterization of Butler’s account, I think that it is not yet adequately understood what precisely makes recognition ambivalent for Butler. Usually, Butler is read as providing an ethical critique of recognition. According to this reading, Butler believes that it is important for persons to be recognized but that recognition is at the same time experienced as oppressive and hence is ethically ambivalent. Against this reading, I advance the view that Butler does not develop an ethical critique but rather an ideology critique of recognition. What makes recognition ambivalent for Butler is, as I will argue, that it can serve social functions behind the backs of the participants and be implicated in the reproduction of problematic social orders. I elaborate this argument by drawing on Butler’s analyses of the violent exclusion of genders that are not unambiguously male or female from the social realm, which, on my reading, is directly connected to the recognition of persons as male or female in everyday life.

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Kristina Lepold
Goethe University Frankfurt