Sociology 319 – Contemporary Social Theories

April 3-5, 2006


Nancy Fraser’s approach to social justice (FH, pp. 7-109)


A.  Introduction


Fraser begins Redistribution or Recognition? by arguing that, until recently, the model for social justice was to create a society that is more equal: “egalitarian redistributive claims have supplied the paradigm case for most theorizing about social justice for the past 150 years” (FH, p. 7).  Writers in the Marxist and liberal traditions were both concerned about inequalities of income and wealth, preventing poverty, ensuring equal opportunity, and ensuring that everyone could participate in the economic and material benefits of society.   Socialism was held up by many as an economic model that is more socially just, where there would not be such great economic inequalities among people, where basic needs of people would be met, and where each could participate in the labour force on a relatively equal playing field.   Social movements such as the labour movement and the struggle for medicare and social welfare (pensions, employment insurance, child care benefits, progressive taxation) all centred around these distributive or redistributive demands.   For participants in these, it was generally assumed that pursuit of the distributive issues would be the way to build a better world that would be socially just.


In earlier times, there were also social movements that may have been focused on equal rights, inclusion in society, and “recognition.”   The anti-slavery movement in the United States, the first wave of feminism (equal rights, voting, property rights), and the struggles of some groups of immigrants to achieve equal rights and a place in society were all struggles for recognition.  Members of these groups were not regarded as full members of society (denied ability to vote, different rules concerning ownership of property) or, in some cases, were not even regarded as full human beings by those who organized and dominated society (often white upper and middle class males).   However, Fraser implies that in practice and in social theory, such claims and movements took second place to demands for a more equal distribution of resources in society.


In recent years though, Fraser argues that redistributive issues have not been the primary focus of social movements, with the politics of redistribution being replaced by a “politics of recognition” (FH, p. 7).   She cites feminism, racial and ethnic groups, and sexual minorities as examples.   On a global scale, national and regional groups, demands for independence, and recognition of treaty and aboriginal rights could be added to the list.   While each of these groups is likely to make a claim that they have been inequitably treated in economic terms, Fraser argues that the two types of claims have become separated.  Further, in some cases they are polarized, with those who argue for recognition being scornful of more traditional demands for redistributive justice.   An example might be a claim by women or racial minorities that a male dominated trade union is preventing them from being recognized and being denied equal rights to employment and income.   From the distributive side, some trade unionists and “left” political groups have been scornful of feminist demands or argue that the focus of struggle should first be on economic issues.


Fraser sets herself the task of showing that the two types of issues are not in opposition but that social justice requires dealing with both recognition and distribution.  Further, she argues that a theory of social justice, as well as practical progressive politics, should incorporate each of these. (FH, p. 11). 


As examples of “pure” or ideal type of redistributive social justice, Fraser identifies class difference, while an ideal type for recognition is that of sexual differentiation (FH, pp. 16-19).  In the case of class differences as in a classic Marxian economic model of capitalism, it is the inequalities in ownership of the means of production that create inequalities.   The working class is not able to own any means of production and thus have to sell their labour power to an employer.  It is this labour power that continues to enrich the employer, while at the same time keeping the worker in poverty.  The worker’s labour is turned against the worker in the form of alienation and exploitation.   The solution to this form of injustice and exploitation is to restructure the economy so workers are not exploited.  In Marx’s view, this would require common ownership of the means of production, thus abolishing the capitalist class, with the proletariat also replacing itself, since they would no longer be merely sellers of labour power (FH, p. 17).    Fraser notes that there may be some issues of misrecognition here as well (working class culture devalued, unequal opportunity) but the solution is to change the distribution of resources not just recognize workers and give them a better deal. 


B.  Recognition


1.  Example ideal type of recognition.   As an ideal type of what misrecognition involves, Fraser outlines an approach to sexual differentiation or orientation – how homosexuality and the situation of gays and lesbians has been dealt with in the past.   She argues that the treatment of homosexuality has been similar to that of a “Weberian conception of status” (FH, p. 17).  In this case, dominant social norms in modern society have generally constructed a negative valuation of aspects of sexuality and sexual orientation that do not conform to the dominant heterosexual model.   For Weber, any characteristic could be a means of according status  to people, in the positive form of honour and respect or negatively as dishonour and disrespect.   In the case of gays and lesbians, there is a positive form of status among those who consider themselves gay or lesbian, one related to sexuality or sexual orientation.  As gays and lesbians accord this respect to each other in the form of mutual recognition of these characteristics of sexuality, these individuals provide a recognition of a status to each other and such individuals may form status groups or even organizations of members of such groups.   The problem is that some members of society have a negative valuation of these forms of sexuality, so that gays and lesbians may be despised, discriminated against, and persecuted.   This becomes part of the dominant culture and affects how gays and lesbians are treated in social interactions, in institutions, and in law.   Fraser states that the division is in the “status order of society, as institutionalized patterns of cultural value construct heterosexuality as natural and normative, homosexuality as perverse and despised” (FH, p. 18).   The solution to this injustice is not to redistribute the economic resources of society, but to change these cultural values, accord equal status to gays and lesbians, and end the injustice of misrecognition.  


Fraser argues that most types of injustice involve both maldistribution and misrecognition, so it is necessary to address both redistribution and recognition.  She provides examples on pp. 22-26 of FH.


2.  Meaning of recognition.  Recognition is a term that has not been widely used in sociology until recently, so these notes contain a discussion of different meanings of the term.  The term also appears to be used somewhat differently by Fraser and Honneth, with different implications – Fraser connects it to justice and social institutions; Honneth appears to connect it to more to experiences and feelings and to intersubjective relations between people.  


A dictionary definition is along the lines of acknowledgement.  Since it is a formal term in the political realm – that of formal recognition of a nation – it has been connected to the notion of sovereignty and rights.   In contemporary political and social usage, it appears to carry some of these meanings concerning a degree of acceptance in society and acknowledgement of rights and claims.   It may be used at either the individual or group level.  At the group level it seems likely to be more addressed to the issue of rights and claims of the group, along with the groups ability to exercise some degree of autonomy, independence, or self-determination over their own affairs.   This is the case with national independence or group rights.  At the individual level and in social relationships it is used to indicate that different people are recognized as individuals, with some form of equality or acknowledgement that the other person is a human being, with the same rights and abilities as others.   The Merriam-Webster online definition is (


Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English recognicion, from Latin recognition-, recognitio, from recognoscere
1 : the action of recognizing : the state of being recognized : as a : ACKNOWLEDGMENT; especially : formal acknowledgment of the political existence of a government or nation b : knowledge or feeling that someone or something present has been encountered before


3.  Hegelian meaning.  Both Fraser and Honneth state that “recognition” comes from Hegel’s philosophical approach.  Fraser argues that the term comes from Hegel’s “phenomenology of consciousness” where “recognition designates an ideal reciprocal relation between subjects in which each sees the other as its equal and separate from it.”  In this ideal-type of relationship, “one becomes an individual subject only in virtue of recognizing, and being recognized by, another subject.”  This is also termed “intersubjectivity.”   (FH, p. 10).   One description of this is as follows.

Like Kant, Hegel thinks that one's capacity to be “conscious” of some external object as something distinct from oneself requires the reflexivity of “self-consciousness,” that is, it requires one's awareness of oneself as a subject for whom something distinct, the object, is presented as known. Hegel goes beyond Kant, however, in making this requirement dependent on one's recognition (or acknowledgment -- Anerkennung) as a subject by other self-consciousnesses whom one recognises in turn. In short, one's self-consciousness is in no sense direct, as it was for Descartes, for example. It comes about only indirectly via one's recognising other conscious subjects' recognition of oneself! It is in this way that the Phenomenology can change course, the earlier tracking of “shapes of consciousness” being effectively replaced by the tracking of distinct patterns of “mutual recognition” between subjects.  

From Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (


Fraser further argues that “recognition” as used by Honneth (and Charles Taylor) falls within the realm of ethics, self-realization, and pursuit of the good life.   She argues that Honneth view is that “being recognized by another subject is a necessary condition for achieving full, undistorted subjectivity.  To deny someone recognition is to deprive her or him of a basic prerequisite for human flourishing” (FH, p. 28).   In this approach, denying recognition to others results in oppression, “a false, distorted, reduced form of being,” grievous wounds, “impaired subjectivity and damaged self-identity” (from FH, p. 28).   As a result, self-realization and recognition are intimately connected.


Fraser’s approach differs from this, in that she grounds recognition in a concept of justice, of right and wrong, of what is to be morally binding.  While she does not deny that misrecognition or nonrecognition produce some of the negative effects stated above, she argues that there is a more basic problem.  It is not only that self-realization is distorted but that “it is unjust that some individuals and groups are denied the status of full partners in social interaction simply as a consequence of institutionalized patterns of cultural values in whose construction they have not equally participated” (FH, p. 29).   That is, it is only just that each individual should be permitted to be a member of society, but cultural patterns and social institutions act to prevent this.   She thus sets the issue of recognition within a different context that that of Honneth – arguing that recognition is within the realm of social justice, social status, and status equality and inequality or subordination.   She terms this a “status model of recognition” (FH, p. 29).


Honneth puts a somewhat different interpretation on this, regarding injustice as involving both maldistribution and misrecognition, with “experiences of injustice…conceived along a continuum of forms of withheld recognition – of disrespect – whose differences are determined by which qualities or capacities those affected take to be unjustifiably unrecognized or not respected” (FH, pp. 135-136).  That is, it could be personal characteristics that are not respected (being female or having a different skin colour) or it could be that these, and other, characteristics result in material disadvantages (lower pay, exclusion from jobs).  Honneth argues that to understand recognition, it is best to examine three spheres of recognition – love, law, and achievement (FH, p. 138).  This allows these different aspects of disrespect and withheld recognition to be examined as different forms of misrecognition.   Love concerns intersubjective relations in personal and family life, the law concerns legal or formal recognition in the public sphere and civil society, and achievement concerns recognition in economic and public activities.   Honneth also comments on Hegel’s approach, but argues for the three spheres of recognition (love, law, achievement) approach as more fruitful in contemporary society (FH, pp. 143-7).


4.  Recognition in social theory.  While recognition has not been an explicit concept in sociological theory, issues addressed in FH parallel some aspects of sociological theory.  Certainly the distributive and redistributive issues are central to those of Marx, critical theorists, and world-systems theorists, who examine the sources of exploitation and inequality, with a view toward reducing them.  In terms of recognition, some of the connections are as follows.

·      Weber’s model of status.  Fraser develops what she terms a status model of recognition, using a Weberian approach to the status order.  This is presented in the next section of these notes.

·      Habermas.  The communicative action model of Habermas examines social interaction and the ideal speech model uses the concepts of mutual understanding, being truthful, sincere expression, having a right to speak, all within the context of a social order.   Undistorted communication relies on these principles associated with mutual recognition while distorted communication can be interpreted as a violation of these conditions and can be similar to misrecognition.  


For Habermas, it is the development of common understandings that guide social action.  He states:

the goal of coming to an understanding is to bring about an agreement that terminates in the intersubjective mutuality of reciprocal understanding, shared knowledge, mutual trust, and accord with one another.  Agreement is based on recognition of the corresponding validity claims of comprehensibility, truth, truthfulness, and rightness.  (Wallace and Wolf, p. 178, from Habermas “What is Universal Pragmatics?”)

This ideal speech situation is thus oriented toward developing an understanding, and when agreement is reached, this is the knowledge and truth of the situation.


Also see the notes about Habermas, “Discourse Ethics” (

·      Interactionist models.  Interactionist approaches do not directly address the issues of recognition or social justice.  However, the interactionist discussions of socialization, development of self, and maintenance of face would seem to require some acceptance of others as being in a common situation with the social actor.  Interactionists say little about equality and inequality so do not comment on redistribution.  Where social relationships are not those of equality and there is no recognition, interactionists may differ concerning what recognition involves.   Hochschild’s managed feelings and Denzin’s epiphanies point toward problems associated with lack of recognition.

·      Giddens.  Apart from the concept of trust, it is not clear that Giddens focuses on the issue of recognition.   In the article “Dilemmas of the Self” there are a number of problems or dilemmas an individual faces in developing a social self.   However, the issue of recognition appears to be passed over by Giddens, and he focuses more on the larger social forces that pose dilemmas for individuals, and how they manage to construct a self in the face of these.

·      Rational choice theory says little about recognition, but could be used to explain either why some have a preference for discrimination or, on the other hand, how rational choices might act to eliminate discrimination.

·      Feminist approaches – standpoint and experiences.  It is these approaches that are closely connected to recognition as a key concept.   One of the complaints about traditional sociology is that it excluded many people from its analysis – women, poor, disenfranchised, people of colour, peoples of the Third World.   This is a problem of misrecognition, of building a sociology based only on those who were recognized as social and cultural beings – often only European white males.  Feminist approaches reject this and argue for recognition in several ways.   They argue that the standpoint and experiences of women should be recognized and integrated into social theory, so that a theoretical approach that could apply t all humans is possible.  Implicit in their approach is that this new understanding of women, gender, and gender relations can lead to a different form of social theory.   Feminists generally argue that the problems faced by women are embedded in culture, social institutions, and social relationships between the two sexes.   The cultural codes, norms, and social structures ignore or devalue women, their contributions, and their standpoint and experiences.  By recognizing women as equals within society, these codes, relationships, and institutions can be restructured to be more inclusive and socially just.   Further, the same can be said about the standpoint and experiences of other individuals and groups that have been misrecognized.   While feminist approaches also deal with issues of maldistribution (exclusion from paid labour force, women’s work not compensated, lower pay levels than for males), feminist writings appear to concentrate more on what Fraser refers to as problems associated with recognition.

·      Postmodern.  Some postmodern approaches emphasize difference, otherness, and the “decentred subject” (not a fixed, natural, or unchanged identity).   This can present a problem for approaches to recognition, in that it questions identities such as female, black, immigrant, etc.    At the same time, the emphasis on difference and otherness provides a focus for raising issues of recognition.  See the article by bell hooks at for a discussion of this issue.


C.  Fraser’s status model of recognition


1.  Introduction


Fraser argues that her approach to recognition is socially rooted in society’s institutions, whereby individuals are assigned characteristics that may devalue and misrecognize them.   The individuals involved have nothing to do with the construction of these values and norms, rather they are socially constructed by others (presumably more dominant individuals and groups) and many or all members of society assume that these socially constructed characteristics apply to all individuals in a group.   The assignment of feminine characteristics to females, the assignment of inferior abilities to members of some racial groups, or an assumption that males have superior reasoning power are all examples of this.  What each of these cultural values does is attach a social standing, which is a “relative standing” to an individual on the basis of the “institutionalized pattern of cultural value” (FH, p. 29).   Rather than actors being recognized as peers, where all can participate in the institution and social life on an equal basis, this constructs a status order of domination and subordination, “a violation of justice” (FH, p. 29). 


Fraser draws on the Weberian approach to social organization, although she does not describe the details of this approach.   The following notes contain a brief discussion of the meaning of status and status groups in Weber’s analysis.  


2.  Max Weber’s approach to status, honour, and status groups


Weber sets his analysis of status within the context of class, status, and party, three dimensions of power in society.  Power is the ability of people to achieve their will or ends, even against the opposition of others.   While there are various overt means to do this, Weber considers class, status, and party to be the primary ways that power operates in a regular and structured manner in a society.  Class is concerned with the economic organization of society and, while Weber’s approach differs from that of Marx, examines the different ways that markets and property create economic inequalities.   Parties are formal organizations where a group of individuals is organized to achieve a goal or goals, where the individuals plan means of attaining this goal.   This connects with Weber’s views about the increasingly planned and administered structure of modern society.   In contrast to class in the economic order and parties specifically in the sphere of power, status and status groups are part of the social order.   Fraser’s model, with an economic sphere, a cultural/symbolic/status sphere, plus social movements and participatory parity has some parallels to Weber’s class, status, and party. 


Sociologists often distinguish groups from aggregates or collectivities.  An aggregate of individuals may have a common class situation, they may be considered a class, but this class may not be a group.  This collectivity could even have a common set of values, ideas and norms, but do not interact in a sustained or patterned fashion.  A group carries with it the notion of interaction among group members.  Weber argues that groups are more likely to be formed on the basis of status or status honour than from class situation or class. 

In contrast to classes, status groups are normally groups.  They are, however, often of an amorphous kind.  In contrast to the purely economically determined ‘class situation’ we wish to designate as status situation every typical component of the life of men that is determined by a specific, positive or negative, social estimation of honor.  This honor may be connected with any quality shared by a plurality, and, of course, it can be knit to a class situation: class distinctions are linked in the most varied ways with status distinctions.  (Weber, p. 932). 

Honour refers to any distinction, respect, or esteem that is given or accorded to an individual by others.  Such social recognition may be a formal process (titles, awards) or it may be in ordinary informal forms of social interaction whereby we respect or disrespect others (forms of greeting, inclusion or exclusion in a formal or informal group, relations associated with friendships).  Social honour is expressed in social relationships, in how we interact with each other.  Social esteem may be either positive or negative, so that an individual may be given a high level of social esteem or honour, or at the other ending, a low level of such esteem – the latter may be associated with prejudice, discrimination, or separation.  Status groups are thus associated with positive, neutral, or negative aspects of honour – those favoured and those less favoured or excluded.


Weber notes that such distinctions

concern one’s conception of what is correct and proper and, above all, of what affects the individual’s sense of honor and dignity.  All those things we shall find later as objects of specific differences between status groups.  The conviction of the excellence of one’s own customs and the inferiority of alien ones, a conviction which sustains the sense of ethnic honor, is actually quite analogous to the sense of honour of distinctive status groups.   (Weber, p. 391).

For Weber, honour is social in nature, in that it does not automatically result from a market or property relationship in the economic sphere, but is an expression of a social relationship.  It can be associated with any quality that is socially valued (positive) or is not desirable (negative).  We accord each other honour on all sorts of characteristics, and where these affect some component of life, then this can be considered to be an element of status honour.  For example, we may accord status and recognition for outstanding achievements (scholarships and student awards), or respect for abilities and accomplishments of others.  It may be negative where someone does not live up to ordinary standards, where behaviour is socially disapproved (associated with ethnicity, outcast groups, those who do not properly adhere to particular religious rituals or accepted practices).


Honour or dishonour can form the basis for awarding jobs, opportunities for promotion, and privileges in the political sphere.  Characteristics of this type that affect life chances may be more meaningful to people than is relationship to markets (class situation), so that social status is the basis on which groups are formed.  Another example is where groupings of men create “old boy networks” that control hiring, promotion, and rewards within institutions.  When these men act together as a group, they exercise control over life chances to almost the same degree, or even more so, than does the rationality of labour markets.


Since honour and dishonour are socially formed, those who are members of a status group associate meaning with the characteristics honoured.  While this may be income and a particular style of life, it is not so much the relationship of the individual to the means of production as the meaning associated with the income and style of life.  In this sense, relationship to the market and class situation may be an underlying factor, but it is the status honour or dishonour associated with lifestyle which Weber regards as more crucial to group formation and social action.


Status groups are usually associated with some restrictions on social intercourse or interaction with others, leading to closure of groups and boundaries around them.  There is extensive interaction within the group, whereby meaning associated with social honour and dishonour is expressed among members of the group.  That is, there is some degree of closure to outsiders, and the status group exercises some degree of management of relationships of those within the group.  While there may be relationships with those outside the status group, these may be primarily market or political relations, whereby the normal forms of status honour are not offered or extended to these outsiders.  Other groups may be more open, with less fixed and inflexible boundaries.  Again, this concept of a group being open or closed has some parallels to Fraser’s principle of participatory parity.


3.  Fraser’s two-dimensional model


Fraser’s model of social justice is a two-dimensional model, with distribution and recognition as two distinct perspectives, neither of which can be reduced to the other.  This emerges because of the existence of both a class structure and a status order in contemporary society (FH, pp. 48-9).


class = means and opportunities to participate denied to some

            Economic arrangements that deny means and resources to some

This is not strictly a Marxist approach and perhaps more Weberian


status = patterns of cultural values denying some recognition required to participate

            differ from stratification approach and is more like Weber’s status honour

            cultural patterns that deny some the opportunity to be full partners in interaction


Status order – see FH, pp. 29-30 and pp. 50-59

            social status of individuals

            relative standing of actors

            “institutionalized patterns of cultural value” (p. 29)

                        with some considered inferior and others superior

            some are less than full partners in social interaction –

that is, some are prevented from participation (p. 29)

            Categories of misrecognition



Wholly other



Schematic tables of Fraser’s model of social justice


Table 1.  Fraser’s social justice framework

Order of subordination/ sphere

Form of subordination

Remedy for injustice

Aspects of social justice



Class structure/ Economy

Objective subordination (FH, 49) Maldistribution  of resources – inequality and exploitation

Redistribution of resources and ending economic  subordination

Liberal welfare state or reallocations of existing goods and services

Socialism or restructuring relations of production and distribution. 


Social status order 

Cultural or  symbolic order (Fraser, 1995, p. 71)

Intersubjective subordination as some are less than full partners (FH, 49)  

Misrecognition – discrimination, racism

Recognition and ending status subordination

Mainstream multiculturalism or surface reallocations of respect to existing identities (and identity politics?)

Deconstruction of difference and symbolic oppositions (FH, 74).  Restructuring relations of recognition and identities


Table 2 – Parity of Participation





Participatory parity produces equal worth (FH, 45)


Class structure/ economy/ redistribution  


independence, “voice” (FH, 36),  equal opportunity (?)

Social status/ culture/ recognition


equal respect, fair conditions of equal opportunity for achieving social esteem, full partners in interaction (FH , 36)

Source: Adapted from Fraser, 1995, p. 87; 2000, 117; Fraser and Honneth, 2003


Fraser, Nancy.  1995.  “From Redistribution to Recognition?  Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age,” New Left Review, 212, July-August 1995, pp. 68-93.

Fraser, Nancy.  2000.  “Rethinking Recognition,”  New Left Review, 3, May-June 2000, pp. 107-120.

Fraser, Nancy and Axel Honneth.  2003.  Redistribution or Recognition?  A Political-Philosophical Exchange, Verso, New York.


Institutions structure interaction according to norms that impede parity of participation (FH, pp. 29-30)

            eg. marriage laws that exclude same-sex partners

                        stigmatization of single mothers

                        racial profiling – racialized associated with criminality

            some considered to meet society’s norms and others regarded as inferior

            eg. male vs. female headed households, blacks as dangerous    


Relate to Weberian status

  honour and dishonour

  social evaluations – positive and negative

  evaluations/standing – not based on economic aspects, but on sex/gender, race, religion

  status groups may form as a result of this

but Fraser’s main concern is less status groups and more status order/hierarchy

            ie. how institutions structure and perpetuate misrecognition


social movements – challenge both the class divisions and status order

involve both economic and status dimensions (p. 50)

            but class and status both associated with maldistribution and misrecognition


recognition is in the dimension of the status order of society (p. 50)

            and status subordination is the problem, rooted in institutionalized cultural values

            institutions – kinship, religion, law (p. 51)

redistribution is in the class/economic dimension

            and econ. class subordination is problem, rooted in economic system


need to examine historical eras to determine relationship of the two: mutually interlocked or imbricated


Traditional societies that were governed by and structured around kinship relations had a single set of social relations governing the status and economic order and, if unjust, the problem was the status order and misrecognition.  (FH, p. 52).  Where status subordination existed, this translated into maldistribution – that is, the socially favoured got more material resources and the socially unfavoured got less, eg. masters and slaves in a slave society + fuller description on pp. 54-55. 

·      sharply bounded and demarcated, and often local

·      cultural order emerged entirely from kinship order, “a single overarching institution” (FH, p. 55)

·      society was ethically monistic, that is, there was a single shared set of cultural values (mechanical solidarity of Durkheim).  Today ethically pluralistic

·      no alternative set of cultural order was available.  This stands in sharp contrast to contemporary society, where alternatives have dramatically expanded as there is more information about and contact with alternative cultural systems.

·      Hierarchy was socially legitimate.  In Weber’s terms, legitimation comes from followers who, in accepting the social order, legitimate it.  In general, there were few challenges to the traditional systems.  


As a complete contrast, and at the other end of the spectrum, in a fully developed market society the economic aspects organize and govern not only the labour process, income, and wealth, but also political aspects and even some social aspects (p. 52).   For example, marriage might be mostly associated with market and property relationships.  In this case, distributive injustice is a result of these market relationships and any maldistribution is what creates misrecognition.   In a full market society, there would be no discrimination on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, or religion, since it would only be market exchanges and the possible gain and loss that result from them that matter to the social actors as buyers and sellers.   Some of those who argue that free markets should be given as full a scope as possible make this argument – they argue that the market is the strongest force acting to eliminate discrimination.   Fraser notes that a society governed only by economic and market forces would not really be feasible or possible.


The simple one-to-one correspondence between distribution and recognition that exists in these ideal type cases does not occur in the social world as we know it.   Rather, some aspects of social organization are primarily governed by economic and market forces (consumer markets, capital flows through stock exchanges, markets for land) while others (family, kinship, gender relations) are primarily part of the status order.   That is, “zones of economic ordering are differentiated from zones of cultural ordering” (FH, p. 53).   The strength of market forces sometimes gives those who are disadvantaged through misrecognition an opportunity to overcome this disadvantage.  For example, the situation of immigrants is often of this sort, initially mistrusted or despised but often successfully economically.   In the past, this often led to immigrant integration into the mainstream of society. 


In the other direction, misrecognition is often the cause of maldistribution, that is, those who are subordinate through cultural patterns often suffer economically (women who are denied job opportunities, people of colour who are subjects of racism).  At the same time, where people who once were not recognized become recognized, this can have a positive effect on their economic situation.  Examples include the program of employment equity for aboriginal people women, visible minorities, and the disabled.    This has led, or forced, employers to look outside the normal pool of workers that they consider appropriate, with positive results for members of these groups.  


As a result of these two different aspects of how society is organized, neither a strictly economic solution, nor a strictly cultural solution will be sufficient to eradicate injustice.  While the economic may seem triumphant over the social order as global economic forces expand, status subordination still exists and there is “a dynamic regime of ongoing struggles for recognition” (FH, p. 57).   The problem is that people enter these struggles with different sets of resources and abilities to negotiate changes (black women may have less resources and means to influence change than do white middle class women).  


Social status (FH, pp. 57-59)

·        institutionalized patterns favouring white, Europeans, heterosexuals, men, Christians (p. 57)

·        individuals are nodes of convergence for multiple, cross-cutting axes of subordination, so an individual may be both privileged on some axes and subordinate on others (p. 57) 

·        markets do not dissolve status differences but fracture and fragment traditional norms and build on these, bending them to capitalist purposes (aboriginal successes in gambling and tobacco marketing).  This is a modernization of status subordination (p. 58) 

·        Pluralistic society with different nonmarketized institutions (Parsons, Smith) – legal, political, cultural, educational, associational, religious, family, aesthetic.  Each has more independence and develops its own cultural patterns.  Linked to toleration of diversity, but there is still status subordination (pp. 58-9)

·        So not a single cultural pattern as in Durkheim nor diverse cultures existing alongside each other (as in some versions of multiculturalism).  


Fraser outline several features of the two-dimensional approach that she considers to be advantages over Honneth’s model emphasiszing recognition (pp. 30-33).


1.  Nonsectarian – status model is nonsectarian and appropriate for a diverse society    

modern – no universally shared view of good life (FH, p. 30).

            such claims applied to others are sectarian

two-dimensions not tied to a particular view of the good life

            ie. appeals to conception of justice, not the good

norm of participatory parity


2.  Change institutions.  The two-dimensional model places an emphasis on changing institutions and changing the norms and patterns that are embedded in the practices and social arrangements of these institutions and social relationships.   In Fraser’s approach, any wrong is in social relations, not in individual or interpersonal psychology, attitudes, and thought. (FH, p. 31)           

misrecognition is  morally wrong because it denies participation to some

+ locates wrong in institutions, not interpersonal psychology

If misrecognition is associated with prejudice, change may seem to require policing individuals and their attitudes and behaviours.  The status model, in contrast, requires overcoming subordination by changing institutions and practices, that is, “deinstitutionalizing patterns of cultural values that impede parity of participation and replacing them with patterns that foster it” (FH, p. 31).   


Also note:


[An additional argument, one that Fraser does not make, is that attitudes and behaviours can change as a result of changes in institutional practices.  That is, make it illegal or against the rules to maintain practices that impede parity of participation.   While this might create a backlash, it can be an effective way of instituting change.   From this, and depending on how it proceeds and what normative support is given to it, attitudes and behaviour may also change.   Example of racist and sexist language and how this has changed.]


[Note that Fraser does not mention social relationships, but concentrates on institutions.  This may be because she approaches the topic from a political perspective.   However, many of the practices and arrangements that lead to subordination are associated with interpersonal relationships.   These may sometimes be considered institutions, for example, marriage or peer groups.  But some of the ways that opportunities for participation are denied is through social relationships that do not recognize others, for example, “talking down” to someone, ignoring others, and using ideas, language, patterns of interaction that demean or discredit others.  As much as possible when discussing these problems associated with social institutions, I would add “and social relationships.”]


3.  Equal social esteem?   Fraser does not argue that “everyone has an equal right to social esteem.” (FH, p. 32).  Rather, the argument that is consistent with the status model is that everyone has an equal right to pursue social esteem under fair conditions of equal opportunity.  That is, there should not be a downgrading of particular groups such as women, non-whites, homosexuals.   The model does not require everyone to have the same social status, but is consistent with their being a variety of different forms of status honour and evaluation.  But it would be inconsistent with the model to construct and maintain forms of status that impede parity of participation or that make it difficult for some individuals to pursue particular types of status.  For example, clubs or organizations that do not permit women or people of colour.   This can become a difficult issue to resolve, given that some organizations may have strong views – some churches have difficulty accepting members who are homosexual.


4.  Integration of recognition and redistributive claims.   It addresses each of the two forms of subordination in a direct manner that outlines the ways that subordination works.  That is, the dual model helps integrate claims for recognition with claims for redistribution of resources.  A model that emphasizes only one of these may ignore the other. 


4.  Participatory parity 


For Fraser, the problem with subordination is that “it denies some individuals and groups the possibility of participating on a par with others in social interaction” (FH, p. 31).   “Participatory parity” or “parity of participation” thus become Fraser’s principle for the attainment of social justice.   These constitute a standard by which we can judge social institutions and social relationships.  Where the dominant norms and patterns associated with these tend to impede opportunities for participation, this can be an injustice and result in a form of subordination.   Fraser argues that “according to this norm, justice requires social arrangements that permit all (adult) members to interact with one another as peers” (FH, p. 36).   She uses this as a standard to judge institutitions and relationships, and also as a standard to judge proposed changes. 


Fraser argues that this standard for inclusion has both an objective and a subjective condition, and both “are necessary for participatory parity” (FH, p. 36).


·        Objective condition is that the distribution of material resources must be such that participants have independence and “voice.”   Cannot be so deprived in the economic sphere, as a result of class differentials, that participants have few or no opportunities or abilities to exercise some independence.  Similarly, in order to be able to speak and make views known, a certain minimum of material resources is necessary.  This means that inequalities of income, wealth, or leisure time must not be so great that some people are denied “the means and opportunities to interact with others as peers” (FH, p. 36). 


·        Subjective or intersubjective condition is that patterns of cultural values be such that there is “equal respect for all participants and…equal opportunity for achieving social esteem.” This means that there should not be “institutionalized value patterns that deny some people the status of full partners in interaction – whether by burdening them with excessive ascribed ‘difference’ or by failing to acknowledge their distinctiveness” (FH, p. 36).


Justification of claims for recognition.   (FH, pp. 37-42)

If there is a claim of injustice, that a group has been treated unjustly, what are the standards for judging whether the claim is correct and for judging where all of the group’s claims are just claims.  Using Fraser’s standards, it is necessary to demonstrate that current arrangements prevent participation on a par with others in social life.  In the economic sphere, it would be necessary to demonstrate that economic arrangements deny the objective conditions for participation.  In the status order, it would be necessary to demonstrate that institutionalized patterns of cultural values deny intersubjective conditions for mutual recognition.


The same standard can be used to judge whether proposed social changes increase or promise parity of participation, in which case they should be supported.  Where they prevent parity of participation in social interaction, it is not clear that they should receive support.  Examples include:

same-sex marriage (FH, p. 39) 

                        heterosexual norms unjust

                        recognize marriage or decouple entitlements from marital status

                        dual model clearly superior here – makes no ethical judgments


Intergroup level and minority practices

                        intergroup – RCMP and Sikh headgear

                        intragroup – sex segregation in Orthodox Jewish education

Double requirement (p. 41)

                        majority cultural norms prevent participatory parity

                        minority practices do not deny participatory parity

                                    either to group members or to nonmembers

            Muslims in French schools


Achieving participatory parity – contestation, affirmation, and transformation


To achieve social justice, Fraser argues that both redistribution and recognition should be addressed (FH, p. 64)  No recognition without redistribution and no redistribution without recognition.


Methods – pp. 42-44


a.  dialogical and discursive – public contestation and public reason (p. 43)

            not populism or identity politics or authoritarian

            voice not just to those whose self-esteem is claimed to be threatened

“dialogically, in democratic processes of public deliberation” (FH, p. 43).

but decisions fallible and must be open to review and later challenges (44)

            challenged, reflexive [and flexible]

            historically dynamic in that it can question status quo arrangements (45)


pragmatic approach –pp. 45-7 – only some forms of misrecognition [and maldistribution] come into question – need a flexible and pragmatic approach with a set of standards or principles.  Partially depends on what matters to people and what form of participation they aspire to.  


b.  Issues of distinctiveness or sameness

            recognition is an element of social justice, not a general human need (p. 45)

            form of recognition dependent on form of misrecognition

            [just as form of redistribution depends on form of maldistribution]

            eg. civil rights movement – need recognition of common citizenship rights

            sexuality – need recognition of distinct sexual orientation


5.  Affirmation or transformative strategies.  (FH, pp. 73-78).


affirmation strategies

            correct inequitable outcomes w/o disturbing underlying social arrangements

            targets end-state outcomes

tranformative strategies

            correct by restructuring underlying generative framework

            addresses root causes


distributive justice

            affirmation = increase consumptive share of disadvantaged

            transformative = socialism, ie. alter framework


            affirmation = mainstream multiculturalism

                        revaluing unjustly devalued group identities

            tranformative = deconstructing symbolic oppositions

                        changing everyone’s self-identity


For example, a. transformative approach to sexuality could be to destabilize current grid of mutually exclusive sexual statuses (FH, p. 75). 


Drawbacks of affirmative strategies

            a. in misrecognition, they tend to reify collective identities

                        they may pressure people to conform to a group type

                        they may suppress  differences within a group

                        they can lead to separatism and repressive communication

            b. for maldistribution, may provoke a backlash of misrecognition

                        eg. social welfare

Transformative strategies

            replace dichotomies with decentered categories

            foster interaction across difference

            in maldistr – are solidaristic and can be universalistic




Fraser, Nancy.  1995.  “From Redistribution to Recognition?  Dilemmas of Justice in a ‘Post-Socialist’ Age,” New Left Review, 212, July-August 1995, pp. 68-93.

Fraser, Nancy. 1997.  Justice Interruptus: Critical Reflections on the “Postsocialist” Condition, Routledge, New York.

Fraser, Nancy.  2000.  “Rethinking Recognition,”  New Left Review, 3, May-June 2000, pp. 107-120.

Fraser, Nancy and Axel Honneth.  2003.  Redistribution or Recognition?  A Political-Philosophical Exchange, Verso, New York.

Weber, Max.  1968.  Economy and Society, University of California Press, Berkeley



Last edited April 7, 2006