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

Deranty and Smith provide another avenue of critique. They emphasize that what happens at work, what one does at work, not just what one is paid, are relevant for a critical conception of work. In other words, both the identity of the worker and the activity of working are at issue (Deranty and Smith, 2012: 55). This locution distances them from Honneth’s current concern with how work is implicated in the social recognition of achievement. In a number of papers Deranty argues that it is important to separately recognize the epistemic achievement of work: the capacity to accomplish a task, often prescribed by others, because of the difficulties entailed and overcome (Deranty, 2009b: 85). Here Deranty offers a definition of work according to which the activity always encounters resistance, obstacles and challenges. In part because undertaking work risks failure, it is worthy of recognition. Moreover, any definition of work must consider the task, tools and techniques, and this, the conditions under which labour takes place, has normative implications: degrading work can be well remunerated, but this does not thereby nullify the degradation. This argument returns attention to the kinds of environment in which work takes place, the kinds of work undertaken. Elsewhere Deranty has suggested that Honneth tends to ‘reduce interaction to interpersonal exchange’ and thereby neglects embodied experience (Deranty, 2009a: 469). In his discussion of work and recognition, Deranty examines both the embodied and affective experiences of work, both of which may cause distress and both of which suggest reasons, other than the recognition of achievement and merit, to think critically about work and the way that work is implicated in psychic and physical economies of suffering. This concern with embodiment is also consistent with feminist theories of work, with specific resonance for accounts of sex work and surrogacy that I do not have the space to pursue her. (p.99)


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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