For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Honneth on work and recognition: A rejoinder from feminist political economy"

by Connolly, Julie (2016)


This paper explores the development of Honneth?s thought on work. It considers how his initial concerns with the embodied experience of labour and the absence of a contemporary and compelling class-specific lexicon with which to explore suffering at work have been surpassed and subordinated by his analysis of the social relations of recognition in civil society, which is distributed according to a contested and contestable achievement principle. I argue that despite the purchase of the criticisms offered by recent rejoinders, they fail to engage with the strength of his analysis: that modern economics contains a normative (recognition) order which works to justify the extant division of labour and income, even if its current formulation supports inequity, exclusion and exploitation. Feminist political economy is an ally in this analysis. The paper explores the points of intersection between these projects, but argues that incorporating feminist insights will require a fundamental revision to Honneth?s account of social rationalization in modernity.

Key Passage

Like Honneth, feminist political economy understands that economic transformation is subject to normative constraints. Patterns of female labour force participation reveal that normative models of work are simultaneously constituted by capital and the state. Additionally, however, the organization of care labour is both presumed and configured through these arrangements. Gender functions at both levels, with deep-seated expectations about the appropriate division of labour within and without the workforce taking normative effect. This analysis extends the concerns articulated by Honneth’s interlocutors: further to Borman’s concern about the structures which produce economic exclusion, for feminist political economy the gendered division of labour is also at issue; following Fraser, feminist political economy grapples with the way that state intervention in the organization of employment is also a relevant consideration with potentially differential effects on men and women; Ro¨ssler’s examination of the recognition and commodification of care work is central to feminist political economy, and as already suggested, Deranty’s concern with the embodied specificity of labour has specific resonance for feminism. What the above analysis adds to this debate about what a critical theory of work should look like is a question about the stability of the key categorizations employed by Honneth. While dignity at work remains a central motif, the relevant struggles for recognition that would facilitate economic inclusion and equity, must engage with patterns of regulation that cannot be neatly located within the categories that Honneth employs to explain the distinctive normative structure of modernity. Feminist political economy suggests that love, rights and solidarity overlap and interact in ways not yet accounted for by Honneth. (p.104)


Feminism, Feminist Theories Of Work, Axel Honneth, Deranty, Embodiment Of Labor, Suffering


On Honneth, Social recognition, Feminist Political Economy, Critical Theory of Work

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