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  • Recognition, Responsiveness and Misrecognition
  • Eric Sean Nelson (bio)


Jacob Schiff and Claudia Leeb address in their contributions the significant, and still inadequately thought, issue of the inclusive and exclusive character of recognition. Whereas Schiff extends our thinking about recognition through literature and the possibility of increasing responsiveness to others through narrative, Leeb analyzes the control of and violence toward the other enacted and exercised in recognition. In both essays we see how the discourse of recognition, whether recognition is conceptualized as the agonistic struggle for being acknowledged by the other or dialogical mutual understanding, is haunted by the seemingly intractable facticity and deeply rooted systemic character of misrecognition. The self that is to recognize the other might well be constitutively or systematically implicated in power, defined by self-interest, or conditioned by finitude, such that dialectical reversals of power and dialogical communication do not conclude with free and uncoerced reconciliation for each and all but with another constellation of inclusion and exclusion.

There is a justifiable fear that the universal, even when it is framed in terms of justice and equality, fails to reach and appreciate the singular life of others in their concrete and contingent specificities or uniqueness. Insofar as the other is not merely one more particular subsumable under a universal category, even that of consensus or inclusion, recognition appears inadequate to radical alterity or what is not only relatively but excessively other. The other who is not recognized as another myself can be a danger or disturbance, or perceived as such, to the self’s understanding and enactment of the relation between self and other. The very occurrence of recognition and understanding are informed by the differences and asymmetries of those involved regardless of their good or ill intentions. Recognition threatens violence to or power over the subaltern and marginal, the dominated and exploited, not only by exclusion but by inclusion; for instance, by representing and assuming their voices for them and yet—through their actual social-political location and their perceived silence—against them. The ethics of universal benevolence, cosmopolitanism, and humanism need to be confronted with existing social structures of power if they are not to naively reproduce and excuse them.


Jacob Schiff considers issues of inclusion and exclusion in the current global context in relation to the philosophical question of what greater inclusion signifies. Beyond the incessantly repeated banal formula of promoting greater inclusion, he asks: what is the basis for the inclusion that is presupposed by contemporary discussions of cosmopolitanism and deliberative and participatory democracy? For Schiff, such questions do not only concern theory done from an impersonal third-person perspective but the issue of interpersonal experience and the potential cultivation of a disposition or attitude that he calls “responsiveness,” a concept that has remained an underappreciated presupposition of democratic theory. His adaptation of this phenomenological concept, which challenges the duality and reification of activity and passivity, is appropriate given the practical and experiential aims of his strategy.

In this paper, we are presented with two models of responsiveness, which we might associate with the names of Nietzsche and Levinas. Whereas William Connolly suggests that responsiveness is an alternative to responsibility that would loosen its structural hostility toward the other, thinkers such as Kwame Anthony Appiah contend that responsiveness is not so much an irresponsible interruption of coercive responsibility, or a free play of transgressions, but is itself crucial to responsibility articulated as answerability to even distant and unfamiliar others. This raises important questions, only partially addressed in this paper, concerning the relationship between responsiveness and responsibility: Are they necessarily incompatible, as a kind of natural spontaneity in contrast with a restrictive disciplinary order, or does responsibility need to be rethought through responsiveness? Does ethical recognition exclude the other through its presupposition of what and who should count as ethical, as Connolly appears to suggest following Nietzsche and Foucault’s critique of the disciplinary character of responsibility, or is recognition only possible through the ethical relation with the other? That is, through an encounter that occurs prior to any recognition—or understanding—and through alterity rather than identity or any act of identification?

How we respond to these questions will shape...


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pp. 79-81
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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