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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: April 9, 2000
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Intersubjective Recognition

Review Essay by Jeanne Curran and Susan Takata
Copyright: April 2000, Jeanne Curran and Susan Takata
"Fair Use" encouraged.

Alex Honneth faults Habermas' approach to intersubjectivity, suggesting that inadequate attention is given to the "dynamics of social interaction." In other words, Honneth places much greater importance to the intersubjective and affective components of social bonding. In Chapter 13 of Contemporary Social Thoery, "Patterns Of Intersubjective Recognition: Love, Rights and Soldarity," at pp. 184-195, Honneth uses the example of the child's learning to explain this.

We have all read many accounts of how the infant comes to differentiate itself from the surrounding world, how it bonds to the mother, and how important the comfort of that bonding is to growth and development. But Honneth rejects Freud's structural model of duality between the ego and the id, as though the tension expressed in developing the ego were purely internal. "With the turn in psychoanalysis to interactions in early childhood, affectional attachment to other persons is revealed to be a process whose success is dependent on the mutual maintenance of a tension between symbiotic self-sacrifice and indiviudal self-assertion." (Ibid., at p. 184.)

Honneth notes the recognition in recent studies that the relaltional bond of the infant with its mother is so important in and of itself that "the withdrawal of maternal care . . . led to severe disturbances in the behaviour of the infant in cases in which otherwise all of its physical needs were taken care of." (Footnotes omitted. Ibid., at p. 185.) Honneth draws on object-relations theory to show "the love relationship as a process of mutual recognition."

How much like Leo Buscaglia that sounds! Respect the other, without laying your own alternatives on him/her. Recognize him as an other, a significant other, but an other. And in that mutual recognition with an other, we shall find that we will have less need to define expectations for the other.

More to come . . .