Recognition's Practical Inversions: Rousseauian Reflections
Rees, Joseph Nicholas
This dissertation concerns moral, social, and political recognition, specifically the social practices of its exchange. I argue that recognition is a good that regularly, for reasons integral to the need for recognition itself, evades our willful control. Drawing inspiration from Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s writings, I show that common, important strategies we use to control and redistribute other moral, social, and political goods, when employed to manage and transform recognition relations, regularly spoil the recognition that would thereby be secured. They do so, in each case, by diminishing the recgonized’s confidence in the sincerity of the resulting act of recognition. I call these effects “practical inversions,” ways that recognition evades our grasp because of our efforts to manage it. In the central chapters of this dissertation, I articulate the structure of three of these practical inversions. I argue that recognition resists our efforts to struggle for it, functioning best when given unprompted. I argue that recognition resists our efforts to institutionalize it, functioning best when given as an exception to reigning social norms. And I argue that recognition resists social scaling, functioning best in more intimate social engagement. Though I draw inspiration from Rousseau’s work in articulating these inversions, I articulate each without dependence on Rousseau’s controversial Romanticism, showing that these inversions spoil our efforts to manage recognition relations even when Romantic attitudes are absent, and so survive their refutation. These inversions demonstrate the extent to which recognition is not a social resource that is easily managed at will. And they demonstrate an intrinsic precarity in our relations to others in our moral, social and political lives.
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