For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Recognitive Arguments for Workplace Democracy"

by Hirvonen, O; Breen, K (2020)


Recent years have seen the Hegelian idea of recognition applied to the sphere of work, with the aim of identifying social pathologies, lack of recognition, and the worsening of work life in neoliberal societies.1 However, while recognition theorists have commendably managed to point out the pathologies marring work, explicit moves to argue for a democratization of work have been scarce. In his recent contribution, Timo Jütten (2017, p. 265) states that “the requirement of equal respect” establishes “limits to the power that others can exercise over us if we are to be recognized as persons.” Although it is the case that “work may become undignified when the authority that others yield over us is arbitrary or excessive,” according to Jütten it is still “implausible that significant decision-making power at work is required for a dignified life” (Jütten, 2017, p. 265). In this paper we want to claim otherwise.

Key Passage

It is somewhat surprising that recognition theorists have not yet provided detailed arguments for workplace democracy. We cannot, of course, offer an exact explanation for other theorists’ choices, but one potential reason for this could be that they, like Jütten, do not see workplace democracy as necessary for dignified life. A second potential reason is that the focus of the central theorists has been elsewhere. Axel Honneth has a very general and historical social theory, which understands modern society as a functional whole with differentiated institutional spheres. In this picture, democracy resides mostly in the politics of the public sphere and civil society—although it is also construed as a way of life (Honneth, 2017, p. 92). Moreover, while Honneth has focused on the market as a sphere of cooperation, there has been a lack of focus on the workplace as such and a concomitant lack of awareness of the firm as a form of private government. Third, when recognition theorists have focused on the workplace per se, they have been concerned with the experience of the work process itself and the potential misrecognition involved in it (see, e.g., Smith, 2009; Smith & Deranty, 2012). Although the recent literature also includes positive estimations as regards workplace democracy, the arguments are not fully fleshed out in terms of recognition. (p.1)


Hegel, Recognition, Workplae Democracy, Social Pathologies, Democratization, Recognition Theory


Democracy and Work

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