Honneth’s “Struggle for Recognition”. Andy Blunden December 2003

Love, Rights and Solidarity

In Chapter 5, Honneth turns to the “child psychoanalyst”, Donald Winnicott, to provide empirical support for a recognition-theoretic description of the development of basic personality in early childhood. It seems to me that the ex-psychoanalyst does indeed provide a convincing description of the development of self-consciousness in the spirit of Hegel’s original idea, and that he provides the basis for the understanding of “love” as a form of recognition.

I say ex-psychoanalyst because Winnicott sees:

“The progress that the child’s development must make if it is to lead to a psychologically healthy personality is read off changes in the structure of a system of interactions [between ‘mother’ and child] and not off transformations in the organisation of individual drive potential.” [p. 99]

Initially, the child has no self-consciousness and is unable to distinguish between its own activity and an objective environment populated by other self-consciousnesses. But “human infants develop an active willingness to produce interpersonal proximity” and “the ‘mother’ also comes to perceive all of her child’s reactions to be part and parcel of one single cycle of action,” so both mother and child are tied up in a single system physical interactions of their bodies. Successful completion of this phase in the development of the child allows both mother and child to establish their independence of the other in confidence of the continuing well-being of the child despite their physical separation.

“It is only in the protective space of ‘being held’ that infants can learn to coordinate their sensory and motor experiences around a single centre and thereby develop a body scheme. ... For the ‘mother’, this emancipatory shift begins at the moment in which she can once again expand her social field of attention” [p. 99-100]

Winnicott describes aggressive behaviour of the child directed at the mother’s body:

“the infant unconsciously tests out whether the affectively charged object does, in fact, belong to a reality that is beyond influence and, in that sense, ‘objective’. If the ‘mother’ survives these destructive attacks without taking revenge, the child has thereby, in a manner of speaking, actively placed herself into a world in which he or she exists alongside other subjects ... the child is able to reconcile its devotion to the mother with the experience of standing on its own. ... for it is indeed only in the attempt to destroy his or her ‘mother’ ... that the child realises that he or she is dependent on the loving care of an independently existing person with claims of their own. But for the ‘mother’, in turn, this means that she too must first learn to accept the independence of the child ... in the context of her re-established sphere of activity.” [p. 101]

What arises on the basis of successful completion of this phase of childhood is the achievement of basic self-confidence:

“If the mother’s love is lasting and reliable, the child can simultaneously develop, under the umbrella of her intersubjective reliability, a sense of confidence in the social provision of the needs he or she has, and via the psychological path this opens up, a basic ‘capacity to be alone’ gradually unfolds in the child ... the form of recognition found in love ... one of the advantages of the concept of love found in the theory of recognition ... is that it makes it possible to grasp failure ... as one-sidedness in the direction of one of the two poles of the balance of recognition. ... ideally speaking, the love relationship represents a symbiosis refracted by recognition. ... the psychological precondition for the development of all further attitudes of self-respect.” [p. 105-6]

I would go so far as to hypothesise that “love” is a relationship of emotional attachment in which the subjects’ bodies and their physical well-being and enjoyment play the mediating role.

But what is important here is that Honneth/Winnicott conceptualises the development of individual self-consciousness as the self-differentiation out of a single system of life-activity of a subject which knows itself to be both dependent and independent participant in that activity. This is the central idea of Hegel’s explication of the dialectic of self-consciousness. For Hegel, the point of interest is the emergence of self-consciousness out of a single system of activity rather than the coming-into-relation of already-existing self-consciousnesses, a process of differentiation of self-consciousness rather than intersubjectivity.

One of the theoretical challenges which face us when we move to the consideration of rights and solidarity, as relations which are constituted on the broader social domain, beyond that of primary affective bonds, is that these relations are historically constructed, but still have to be acquired by individuals, who must internalise them to such an extent that they are affective. If Honneth wants to find empirical backing for a theory of recognition which can explain processes of social change, then a clear distinction needs to be made between the historical construction and psychological acquisition of such relationships. These two processes move in opposite directions so to speak. Rights enter the consciousness of individuals as already-existing forms of practice. Every theory of psychology is required to explain the capacity of human beings to acquire the ability to act in accordance with a system of socially established rights. All social psychologists see individuals as “internalised social systems” of some kind, in which a small variety of biochemical process are conditioned to respond appropriately to cognitive stimuli inherent in relations with other people. Honneth is interested of course in social change; the acquisition of consciousness of rights, does not explain the creation of new rights. The psychological dynamics of the processes of struggle which create new rights are not necessarily the same as the psychological dynamics of the acquisition of existing rights.

What needs explaining is what forms of activity could give rise to the historical construction of a given system of rights, and on the other hand, what are the conditions which could lead to a failure by an individual or group of people to internalise a given socially established system of rights or to find the existing system of social rights disrespectful and worthy of disrespect. Honneth looks to the psychological conditions relevant to the historical moments in which new rights-claims are placed on the historical agenda:

“exceptional historical situations — such as the one represented by discussions in the civil rights movement of the fifties and sixties in the US — [in which] the psychological significance of legal recognition for the self-respect of excluded collectivities breaks to the linguistic surface: in the relevant publications one regularly finds talk of how the endurance of legal underprivileging necessarily leads to a crippling feeling of social shame, from which one can be liberated only through active protest and resistance.” [p. 120-21]

The identification of this condition of a feeling of ‘disrespect’ as the psychological site for the generation of historical expansion of rights is indeed an attractive idea.

Honneth draws upon a variety of sources to point to three kinds of right: civil rights, political rights and social rights.

“The first category refers to negative rights that protect a person life, liberty and property from unauthorised state [not only state. — AB] interference; the second category refers to the positive rights guaranteeing a person the opportunity to participate in processes of public will formation; and the third category, finally, refers to the similarly positive rights that ensure a person’s fair share in the distribution of basic goods.” [p. 115]

and that [according to T H Marshall] these rights have been historically constructed broadly in sequence, with political rights appearing on the agenda only in the 18th and 19th century and social rights belonging to the late-19th and 20th century.

Looking to what could be the underlying dynamics of a directional tendency in this process of rights establishment, Honneth claims that each new right comes on to the agenda as a claim for inclusion in fully-fledged membership of the community, with access to already-existing rights. Thus for example, in order to defend one’s civil rights one needs the right to participate in the political decision-making of the community and in order to be a participant in political life one needs education, and access to basic material needs and so on. This, Honneth claims, constitutes a continual process of expansion and individuation of rights-claims and their subsequent objectification — what Agnes Heller called “dynamic justice.”

In asking what it is within a person which is granted recognition in granting rights, Honneth sees two kinds of attribute: on one hand, ‘legal recognition’ means (in Kantian terms) to be an end-in-oneself or to be a moral agent with free will — and in this case there is no degree of being worthy of recognition or any room for exceptions or privileges — and on the other hand, there is the worth of a person, which may be greater or lesser, the value of their activity or labour.

Put differently, this is the contrast between the demand to be recognised as a person like anyone else, and the demand for recognition of the uniqueness of one’s personality or group attributes, between for example, the demand for equal pay or the celebration of femininity.

The idea of these two kinds of rights allows Honneth to introduce two corresponding kinds of practical relation-to-self — self-respect and self-esteem — which can constitute the psychological form of the development of personality, corresponding to the relation-to-other implicit in different kinds of right. The basic idea is that one must oneself have had the experience of being granted certain rights to be able to form the corresponding relation-to-self, and consequently be psychologically prepared to grant the corresponding form of right to others. He who is respected can have self-respect and can respect others.

The problem I have with this approach to the struggle for recognition is that it begins with the confrontation between two independent self-consciousnesses. This is in contrast with the process described by Winnicott where two human bodies are involved in a single undifferentiated system of activity out of which an intersubjective relationship of dependence and independence arises. To conceive of respect for rights in recognition-theoretic terms, we need to begin also with a unself-conscious agents engaged in a single system of activity out of which an intersubjective relationship of dependence and independence may arise. It seems to me that this aspect of the case is completely absent from Honneth’s description of the process of establishment of mutual respect and recognition of rights.

Continuing the theme of practical relation-to-other as the basis for an affective relation-to-self, Honneth sees a loving relationship as the basic condition for self-confidence, and having one’s rights respected as the basic condition for self-respect:

“Since possessing rights means being able to raise accepted claims, they provide one with a legitimate way of making clear to oneself that one is respected by everyone else. ... self-respect.” [p. 120]

The basic condition for practices which allow for the development of self-esteem is the existence of what Honneth calls “an intersubjectively shared value-horizon,” that is, the opportunity for a person to participate in activity which is of value to the community:

“For self and other can mutually esteem each other as individualised persons only on the condition that they share an orientation to those values and goals that indicate to each other the significance or contribution of their qualities for the life of the other” [p. 121]

Thus what we have here is that the pre-condition for relations of mutual esteem is collaboration in a division of labour, or what Hegel called a “system of needs”. For Hegel it was this collaborative labour, in which people participated without consciousness of themselves as independent producers that is crucial to the whole dynamic of self-consciousness and the master-slave dialectic. If we approach the problem, as citizens of modernity, where this collaboration is differentiated through the social separation of production and consumption, disguised by its mediation through a world market, and take for granted the existence of independent producers with self-consciousness, then of course, the production of legal rights appears as altogether mysterious.

Honneth goes on to describe the process of mutual recognition in which these interpersonal attitudes may develop. What I find curious is that it seems blindingly obvious to me that what is being described is the activity of producing for and consuming from a market, an activity which does not presuppose the prior institution of legal rights or consciousness of a rights claim, but which very clearly constitutes an objective practice which fosters the growth of precisely the forms of recognition and forms of psychological internalisation described by Honneth. Why is it that Honneth is blind to this? What could be more a materially convincing demonstration of one’s worth than being well-paid for one’s labours?

Honneth reiterates the observation supported by liberal theorists from Rousseau to John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, that modern post-conventional rights, — which cannot rest upon a traditional division of labor with a corresponding unequal division of rights and burdens, to be accepted by a person as a free and equal moral agent — must be such that any person could rationally accept them as valid on the basis of rational insight. To be a person then, to be a moral agent, means to be someone capable of rational choice, something which pre-supposes certain material conditions, such as education and political rights.

Finally, Honneth wants to connect these three practical relations-to-self (self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem) to the three kinds of recognition: love, rights and solidarity. Consequently, Honneth introduces the concept of ‘solidarity’ in connection with self-esteem as follows:

“To the extent to which every member of a society is in a position to esteem himself or herself, one can speak of a state of societal solidarity ... to esteem one another symmetrically means to view one another in the light of values that allow the abilities and traits of the other to appear significant for shared praxis. Relationships of this sort can be said to be cases of ‘solidarity’, because they inspire not just passive tolerance but felt concern for what is individual and particular about the other person.” [p. 129]

I find this connection unconvincing unless the words ‘esteem’ and ‘solidarity’ are being used in quite new senses. I can esteem my worst enemy, but extend to him or her no solidarity. The observation above, of a feeling of dis-respect giving rise to claims for the recognition of the distinctive worth of a social group, allows Honneth to define solidarity as follows:

“as a first approximation, ‘solidarity’ can be understood as an interactive relationship in which subjects mutually sympathise with their various different ways of life because, among themselves, they esteem each other symmetrically. This suggestion also explains the fact that up till now the concept of solidarity has been applied primarily to group relations that arise in the experience of collective resistance to political oppression. Here, it is the all-dominating agreement on a practical goal that instantly generates an intersubjective value-horizon, in which each participant learns to recognise the significance of the abilities and traits of the others to the same degree.” [p. 128]

I certainly agree that collaboration in a common struggle or life-defending project is the condition for the emergence of the relation of solidarity, I still find the connection with esteem unclear. Both the claim for equal pay and a claim for the celebration of femininity can underlie struggles which can support feelings of solidarity between people. I agree that solidarity is an attitude or feeling marking the relationships between people who voluntarily enter a common struggle, in which each are threatened by others by their participation in the struggle, and actively depend on the support of each other for success. It is this common struggle, or the potential for such a manifestation of comradeship, which, in my opinion, is the basis of the feeling of solidarity.

The point is that when engaging in a struggle, I enter a relation in which I can grow to esteem both my ally and my enemy, but solidarity is the aspect of the relation which extends only to my ally.

One of the, for me, most intriguing manifestations of solidarity is solidarity felt towards a stranger who may be threatened, expressed by people who, as citizens, take responsibility for others in public places. This feeling exists and it is the stuff of which successful modernity is made, but it pre-supposes very little in terms of commonality between the recipient and giver of solidarity. It has the character of universality characteristic of modernity.

I was impressed by the observation of Jane Jacobs in her classic Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961):

“Cities are full of people with whom, from your point of view, or mine, or any other individual’s, a certain degree of contact is useful or enjoyable; but you do not want them in your hair. And they do not want you in theirs either. ...

“In speaking about city sidewalk safety, I mentioned how necessary it is that there should be, in the brains behind the eyes on the street, an almost unconscious assumption of general street support when the chips are down — when a citizen has to choose, for instance, whether he will take responsibility, or abdicate it, in combating barbarism or protecting strangers. There is a short word for this assumption of support: trust.” [p. 66]

“In real life, only from the ordinary adults of the city sidewalks do children learn — if they learn at all — the first fundamental of successful city life: people must take a modicum of public responsibility for each other even if they have no ties to each other. This is a lesson nobody learns by being told. It is learned from the experience of having other people without ties of kinship or close friendship or formal responsibility to you take a modicum of public responsibility for you. ... This is instruction in city living that people hired to look after children cannot teach, because the essence of this responsibility is that you do it without being hired.” [p. 93-4]

That is to say, Jacobs looks to the upbringing of children in the conditions of urban life, for the universal attitude of solidarity which underpins modernity. Where the social and physical conditions for collective care for the physical safety of everyone in the vicinity are lacking, then universal solidarity does not develop.

The interesting observation that rights-claims fall into two distinct categories, one qualitative (respect), the other quantitative (esteem) are in my opinion consistent with what Marx called the “two-fold character of labour” and in consequence, the two-fold character of value. The labour of another independent producer appears to us in two different aspects; on one hand, the concrete labour of a specific kind, representing the application of the particular skills of the labourer involved, and on the other hand, a given quantity of “abstract human labour.” In the process of establishing a relation of collaboration between two independent producers, one must in the first place have need of the specific kind of labour offered, and on the other hand, measure that labour by a universal standard.

In relation to the women’s liberation struggle, this duality was manifested firstly in the demand that women’s labour be the subject of exchange on the market like male labour and conditions like maternity leave be granted in recognition of the specifically female role in child-bearing, rather than being conducted under conditions of domestic servitude or unrecognised, and secondly that women’s labour be compensated at the same rate as that of men.

The same duality is found in the struggle of African Americans, simultaneously demanding recognition for the unique quality of products such as jazz, and equal pay.

I think it is a point of confusion in Honneth’s analysis to mix up the qualitative aspect of the symmetrical relations of division of labour with the relations of struggle in which attitudes of solidarity emerge, under the category of “esteem”.

To complete the psychological part of his social theory, Honneth wants to identify the specific emotional responses which correspond to failures of each type of recognition; such emotional conditions are the negative affects which cause one to repel the associated conditions, just as pain causes one to withdraw one’s finger from the flame, shame causes us to avoid actions which will cast us in a poor light in the eyes of others, according to the expectations of others. What emotional experiences prompt us to the kind of rebellious activity which is the mechanism of social change? These emotional experiences are put in the form of a feeling of threat to the corresponding component of personality.

The table looks like this:

Mode of recognitionemotional supportcognitive respectsocial esteem
Dimension of personalityneeds and emotionsmoral responsibilitytraits and abilities
Forms of recognitionprimary relationships
(love, friendship)
legal relations
community of value
Developmental potentialgeneralization,
Practical relation-to-selfbasic
Forms of disrespectabuse and rapedenial of rights,
Threatened component
of personality
physical integritysocial integrity‘honour’, dignity

Thus we find that when denied rights (as for example a black person might feel if denied access to public facilities) we feel our social integrity is threatened which is experienced as a loss of self-respect; denigration or insult is felt as an attack on our dignity or honour and is experienced as a loss of self-esteem, as would for example be the experience of Moslems who see their religion denigrated in the western media.

Honneth makes the point that:

In the context of emotional responses associated with shame, the experience of being disrespected can become the motivational impetus for a struggle for recognition. ... But what makes it possible for the praxis thus opened up to take the form of political resistance is the opportunity for moral insight inherent in these negative emotions, as their cognitive content. ... For each of the negative emotional reactions that accompany the experience of having one’s claims to recognition disregarded holds out the possibility that injustice done to one will cognitively disclose itself and become a motive for political resistance.

“... the injustice of disrespect does not inevitably have to reveal itself but merely can. ... Empirically, whether the cognitive potential inherent in feeling hurt or ashamed becomes a moral-political conviction depends above all on how the affected subject’s cultural-political environment is constructed: only if the means of articulation of a social movement are available can the experience of disrespect become a source of motivation for acts of political resistance. The developmental logic of such collective movements can, however, be discovered via an analysis that attempts to explain social struggles on the basis of the dynamics of moral experiences.” [p. 138-9]

In dealing with the problem that for the overwhelming majority of individuals, life is acquiring the culture of our times and incrementally adding to it in our chosen line of work, there are a few individuals, “heroes”, who somehow become conduits for the Zeitgeist, seem impervious to social pressure to conform, and bring about change. The psychology of such people — Napoleon, Martin Luther, Christ — is exceptional.

For the rest of us, the capacity for social criticism depends on the existence of real contradictions in the social environment, existing at the linguistic level thanks to those few who can give voice to what is not yet legitimate. Thus the normal process of creatively acquiring the culture of our age may bring with it lived contradiction. In this context participation in the Civil Rights Movement, for example, was as much to do with joy, pride and exhilaration as it was to do with abuse, denigration and exclusion.

The role of emotions in regulating the development of behaviour is well-established; positive and negative feelings help us at a biochemical level as well as the cognitive-intellectual level, coordinate our actions so as to minimise exposure to the negative conditions and reproduce those which give us positive feelings. This is after all the basics of Pavlovian behavioural psychology. The small variety of affects at the biochemical level, is massively enhanced by the historically and culturally constructed conditions which may form the foci of such affects. Relation-to-self it would seem is a capacity to coordinate one’s actions enhanced or not by relevant emotional affects.

Honneth draws out three specific practical relations-to-self as relevant to the understanding of social change: self-confidence (ahistorical and necessary for the development of all human functions), self-respect and self-esteem. Self-confidence comes from actions successfully producing the intended result without sanction or revenge from others; self-respect arises from positive reinforcement to one’s activity being provided by others who confirm that your actions are not regarded as wrong by others; self-esteem is the positive feelings associated with confirmation that one’s activity is positively valued by others. People who want nothing to do with you can respect you by not interfering with your activity; but only people see you in some way as a collaborator can offer you esteem.

The stimulus to social change is supposed to come as a response to injury done to one of these forms of relation-to-self. The first case, where our self-confidence is undermined is, as expected, hardly in need of explanation. Animals as much as humans respond with fear and anger when their ability to coordinate their own bodies is threatened or called into question.

The problem is, for example, that if Blacks were excluded from lunch-counters for a hundred years before 1955, can anyone doubt that those excluded felt dis-respect, or that if, over time immemorial, when women were excluded from professions and even control of their own children and homes in favour of men, isn't it hard to imagine how women maintained self-respect? Honneth notes, correctly, that a social movement would have to be in existence for such a feeling to be translated into action, but that of course begs the question. A social movement is not just the self-consciousness of many individuals added up, but objective self-consciousness. It seems reasonable to suppose that, at least in very many of the cases just mentioned, even though lack of respect was felt, it was not felt as something which ought not to be — as a deficit.

Likewise, women have been underpaid for as long as wage-labour has been in existence. It is hard to imagine that the observation that a woman’s labour was valued less than a man’s was not associated with low self-esteem before the 1970s when the equal-pay fight became widespread.

Consciousness that one is permitted to do only certain things, less than what others are permitted, and that one’s efforts are valued less than the efforts of others, are conditions which can be endured for life-times. That such conditions have negative effects on the development of personality seems indisputable.

But under what conditions do such feelings of suffering burst forth into the kind of feelings of which social movements are built? More on these questions presently.

Honneth suggests the ever-expanding universalism of modernity, offers to more and more people the prospect of being included from where they were formerly excluded, and successively concretises the aspects of personality and circumstances that fall under the heading of illegitimate barriers to inclusion.

I remain of the view that it is the ever-growing dominance of the commodity relation which is the driving force in this consciousness, and I don’t see a great need to look beyond it for further explanation. What still does need explaining however is the feeling of solidarity, for the historical evidence is now more than circumstantial, that the action of the market undermines solidarity, and if solidarity is to grow, it must draw its sustenance from a different source.

Emotions and Practical Relations-to-Self

What Honneth seems to be looking for is how certain cognitive structures can generate the motivating forces for social change. It seems to me that what is entailed here is an empirical-scientific theory of emotions which can form this bridge between cognitive structures and emotions which can constitute the looked-for affects. At the biochemical level there are a small number of basic families of emotions: shame, grief, fear/anxiety, anger, love/hate, joy and disgust. The various affects which motivate actions are combinations and interactions of the these emotions with each other and the cognitive structures which function as stimuli. If Honneth’s theory of self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem is to stand up, then it needs to find support in the scientific study of emotions.

Thomas Scheff is an American social psychologist who has done the relevant experimental work and in reviewing the work of other psychologists and sociologists has developed a theory of emotions. According to Scheff, the master emotion is shame, and its cognates: discomfiture, awkwardness, shyness, modesty, embarrassment, humiliation, disgrace and pride, and that shame is a specifically social emotion which is ubiquitous in regulating social behaviour.

Scheff defines shame — “our moral gyroscope” — as the feeling of threat to a social bond (i.e., recognition), however slight, associated with seeing oneself negatively through the eyes of another, either in anticipation or imagination or when being directly subject to negative communications from a partner to interaction. According to Scheff, in day-to-day activity we are constantly experiencing low-level shame, in response to real or imagined interactions, which functions to cause us to avoid actions and circumstances which threaten social bonds. Further, shame plays a central role in regulating the expression, and awareness of all of our other emotions. He says that while shame is a well-recognised and acknowledged emotion in traditional societies, modernity has been characterised by both a lowering of the shame threshold and a denial of shame — we are ashamed of shame — and that while shame is the key emotion for regulating social action, the suppression of shame has functioned to support a culture of individualism, which defines shame in terms of a deficit referred to one’s own ideals rather than to social bonds. [Grief is the feeling of loss of a social bond, and fear the feeling of threat to one’s body; anger as mobilisation against a social threat; moral indignation is described as shame masked by anger and guilt as shame masked by self-directed anger; pride is a positive emotion indicating the security of social bonds.]

Scheff has developed his theory emotions with a considerable amount of experimental work, including the analysis of the work of others not sharing his own theory, and this work is based on the fact that we signal emotions like shame with physical and symbolic behaviour which is objectively measurable. In this his work contrasts with that of Mead, who expressed similar ideas, but did no experimental work and had no concepts of different kinds of emotion, only emotion in general.

The point of interest here is this: does Scheff’s empirical work on different kinds of emotion support Honneth’s conjecture of self-confidence, self-respect and self-esteem as three fundamental kinds of practical relation-to-self?

If love-recognition is supposed to develop basic confidence in one’s physical integrity, then it would appear that fear/anxiety is the emotion associated with failure of recognition at this stage. But no correlation between self-respect and self-esteem and different emotions identified by Scheff is discernible. Self- respect and self-esteem appear to be cognitive structures which may act as stimuli for emotions but they are not correlated with different emotions.

As self-respect and self-esteem are concerned with social bonds (i.e., recognition), shame is an emotion which can signal their failure and regulate activity towards avoidance of their failure. Nevertheless, if they are supposed to inform us as to the formation of psychological motivations for social action, we need to understand how emotions such as shame and pride are stimulated by them. The way in which subjects perceive or imagine negative images of themselves in the eyes of partners to interaction in connection with failures of recognition provides us with a mechanism for motivating social action.

According to Scheff, shame is associated with exclusion equally as much as denigration. He does not distinguish between these two types of failure of recognition. Threat of exclusion or threat of denigration induces shame. The behavioural responses to shame are withdrawal, silence, hesitation in speech, blushing; reluctance to express shame (shame of shame) may lead to its displacement into anger, if the anger is self-directed, guilt, or grief if the shame is irredeemable. Shame causes us to avoid those circumstances where a social bond (recognition) may be endangered; we imagine how we might look to others; the shame we feel when confronted with a negative image of ourselves causes us to withdraw from the projected or actual action.

The point where the cognitive structures inherent in concepts of recognition impact on the formation of emotions of shame or pride is the point where subjects perceive themselves through the eyes of partners to interaction. Scheff is clear that it is only the perception of significant others and in terms of the supposed beliefs and values of those significant others, that negative perceived or imagined perceptions induce shame. No-one cares if their enemy thinks them cruel or their banker thinks them mean or a gypsy thinks them illiterate. Thus the production of shame/pride is very much concerned with the cognitive function of seeing oneself through the eyes of another. It is this capacity, and what counts as negative, which is historical and socially variable.Note that this formulation introduces an important clarification of Mead's I/me conception.

In emotional terms, what does it mean to see oneself through the eyes of another as not worthy of respect, as not worthy of participating as an independent agent along with us, of not being included? And by contrast, what does it mean in emotional terms to see oneself through the eyes of another as someone who is just one of us, but makes no special or unique contribution? And under what conditions do such perceptions arise, and under what conditions do the emotions generated stimulate social struggle or passivity and compliance? On the other hand, what emotional experiences generate the feeling of solidarity towards another person, of pride in being rescuer?

Scheff's work, growing out of the same pragmatist tradition as Mead, offers support for a recognition-theoretic approach to social change, but it appears to offer no support for the self-respect/self-esteem categorisation promoted by Honneth. Shame-avoidance is seen by Scheff as a prime support for social solidarity (in the broad sense of the term), but in doing so he still makes no distinction between respect and esteem.

The point is that a slave may suffer no feeling of shame if they see the slave-owner as regarding them as a good slave, even though they would have all the time a low self-esteem and low self-respect. This is because being a good slave is an attitude of approval from the slave owner, whereas being seen as an uppity slave would be an attitude of disapproval. The respect and esteem which the slave receives is that which corresponds to the self-consciousness of the slave-owner to which the slave is totally subordinated. The "I/me" dialogue cannot generate the self-consciousness of a rebellious slave until the I is also objectified.


What is at issue here is the discovery of the social bases of positive active human relationships: love, friendship, esteem, respect and solidarity (ordered in terms of social distance). It is a given that such relations-to-others constitute the necessary conditions for the corresponding relations-to-self, the corresponding affective aspects of personality: self-confidence, self-respect, self-esteem, and ...

I have introduced here the additional interpersonal relationship of friendship and having queried Honneth’s analysis of solidarity, I am also obliged to offer an alternative characterisation of its social basis; having queried the way in which Honneth distinguishes between the bases of respect and esteem, I am also obliged to recapitulate the nature and bases of these relationships.

I accept the thesis that a recognition-theoretic explanation of these relationships is feasible, but I question the way in which Honneth has carried this out. Specifically I question Honneth’s de-emphasis on the modes of mediation inherent in recognition and the conception of recognition as the confrontation between independent self-consciousnesses, independently of the differentiation of self-consciousness out of a prior relation of undifferentiated shared consciousness or unawareness of the other.

Consequently, an avenue from which these relations may be further clarified depends on beginning from a form of activity in which potentially independent agents either participate in an undifferentiated form of activity, or are so completely foreign to one another, that they fail to recognise each other as fellow human beings.

As I see it all, these relations-to-other arise either from the differentiation of a labour process in which agents work in a traditional-hierarchical, master-servant or bureaucratically-managed labour process, or come into personal contact through a common division of labour from a relation in which their labour is separated by physical or social distance.

Esteem and respect are two different aspects of the relation of cooperation, one qualitative and one quantitative, one positive, the other negative. They arise either from the break-up of a relation in which agents work within an undifferentiated labour process, that is, a labour process in which all the actors are directed by a single subjectivity, into a relation in which the participants are accorded the status of independent subjects, external to one another, with relations of the kind of contract between them, that is external relations; or, they arise by the coming-together of agents formerly unconscious of one another, into a relation of exchange of labour, in which each accords the other recognition as subjects like themselves producing a useful commodity.

Solidarity is specifically a relationship which may exist between people who have no actual ties, and consequently can neither esteem nor respect one another. It is a relation which is summed up with the maxim: “There but for the grace of God go I,” out of which one is moved to voluntarily risk one’s life or well-being to protect another from a threat which one can see through their eyes. The relation of solidarity is one mediated by an ideal; one goes to the aid of someone’s of one’s own class (I count “class” as an ideal), even though you do not know them. Ideals which generate solidarity have their basis in social cooperation, but solidarity is the positive relation which extend beyond need and love or friendship.

Finally, the most complex of all, friendship. I think friendship is the mutual enjoyment of social cooperation; friendship extends beyond the activity which formed the initial bonds of esteem and respect may have developed — one finds things to do with friends. Friendship has a wider radius of effect than love and differs from love because it is not mediated by bodily care, friendship has a narrower radius of effect than solidarity and differs from solidarity because it cannot exist between strangers. Friendship arises either from the distancing of love or the detachment of a feeling of enjoyment from relations of social cooperation which in the first place neither requires nor promotes friendship. One does something for a friend expecting nothing in return; as Aristotle said, there is no justice between friends. Friendship has a narrow radius but networks of friendship are as vital a glue binding society as solidarity and mutual respect and esteem.

This brings us to the issue of social change: how is it that a person who has been denied equal rights and valued more lowly forever, comes to find this condition one of dis-respect and offensive and motivated to put forward rights-claims?

I have observed that a slave feels no disrespect in the eyes of the slave-owner just so long as the slave knows themself only through the eyes of slave-owners and other slaves. Still lacking in self-respect, inasmuch as the slave regards themself only as a slave and not a master, fear, anger and solidarity may still motivate the slave, but there is no insult in being a slave. But as Hegel so eloquently described in the Phenomenology, once the slave acquires the subjectivity of the free citizen (by reproducing with their labour the objectification of the world of the free citizen), their subordination to the will of the slave-owner becomes an affront. All sorts of mechanisms have been historically active in opening this kind of window. Once a real struggle is under way, people can identify with that struggle, but it is usually something else which creates the initial opening.