Affirmative Action, Recognition, Self-Respect: Axel Honneth and the Phenomenological Deficit of Critical Theory

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Affirmative action, recognition, self-respect
Axel Honneth and the phenomenological deficit of critical theory Axel Honneth e o déficit fenomenológico da teoria crítica

Ação afirmativa, reconhecimento, autorrespeito
Nythamar de Oliveira*

Abstract: While liberal, redistributive views seek to correct and compensate for past injustices, by resorting to compensatory, procedural arguments for corrective justice, the recognition-based, communitarian arguments tend to promote by means of social movements and struggles for recognition a society free from prejudice and disrespect. In developing democratic societies such as Brazil, Axel Honneth’s contribution to the ongoing debates on Affirmative Action has been evoked, confirming that the dialectics of recognition does not merely seek a theoretical solution to the structural and economic inequalities that constitute some of their worst social pathologies, but allows for practices of self-respect and subjectivation that defy all technologies of social control, as pointed out in Foucault’s critique of power. The phenomenological deficit of critical theory consists thus in recasting the critique of power with a view to unveiling lifeworldly practices that resist systemic domination. Keywords: Affirmative action; Critical theory; Lifeworld; Recognition; Self-respect; Social technologies

Resumo: Enquanto concepções liberais redistributivas buscam corrigir e compensar as injustiças do passado, recorrendo a argumentos procedimentais reparativos em favor da justiça corretiva, os argumentos comunitaristas embasados no reconhecimento tendem a promover por meio de movimentos e lutas sociais pelo reconhecimento uma sociedade livre de preconceitos e desrespeito. Em sociedades democráticas em desenvolvimento, como o Brasil, a contribuição de Axel Honneth para os debates em curso sobre a Ação Afirmativa tem sido evocada, confirmando que a dialética do reconhecimento não se limita a procurar uma solução teórica para as desigualdades estruturais e econômicas * Associate Professor, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio Grande do Sul, Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. A preliminary draft of this paper was presented at the international colloquium on “Inequalities in the World System: Political Science, Philosophy, Law”, held at Cebrap, São Paulo, on September 3-6, 2009. I am grateful to Marcos Nobre, Klaus-Gerd Giesen, Derrick Darby, Fouad Kalouche, and Yohan Ariffin for their critical remarks. Civitas Porto Alegre v. 9 n. 3 p. 369-385 set.-dez. 2009

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Civitas, Porto Alegre, v. 9, n. 3, p. 369-385, set.-dez. 2009

que constituem algumas das suas mais graves patologias sociais, mas permite que as práticas de autorrespeito e de subjetivação desafiem todas as tecnologias de controle social, como apontado na crítica do poder de Foucault. O déficit fenomenológico da teoria crítica consiste, portanto, em reformular a crítica do poder com o intuito de desvelar as práticas do mundo da vida que resistem à dominação sistêmica. Palavras-chave: Ação afirmativa; Autorrespeito; Mundo da vida; Reconhecimento; Tecnologias sociais; Teoria crítica

From the standpoint of what Foucault called “biopolitics” (1991, 1997; Honneth, 1991, p. 169), affirmative action (AA) may be fairly defined as an institutional technology of social control that seeks to rectify past injustice and to obtain a situation closer to an ideal of equal opportunity by policies aimed at a historically, socio-politically non-dominant group (typically, minority groups and women of all races), especially intended to promote fair access to education or employment. For the sake of elucidating the normative claims of this paper, I shall confine myself to the usage of AA as it seeks to rectify racial inequalities in Brazil, particularly in educational policies, even though I believe that similar arguments might be offered to make a case against gender and other social, economic inequalities as well. I am thus confined to a social...
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