Theory of Recognition of Axel Honneth

The theory of the recognition of Axel Honneth speaks of our need to be recognized in a world swollen by technology and the volatility of what is considered important. In this process, the need to build a meaning beats precisely.

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The theory of the recognition of Axel Honneth is developed based on the struggle of the human being to be recognized. In previous eras, people fought for the recognition of nations or the rights of large masses. Currently, in a society that is constantly changing, recognition is sought by small groups or minorities.

Understanding your theory means understanding the current context. We live in a globalized world within hypermodernity. As Zigmunt Bauman explains, the rigorous social guidelines that once marked the path of people have been “liquefied”. Advances in communications, economics and technology drive the process.

Do we question the speed of the world and the role we play? Our era is marked by the technological revolution, the Internet and the cyberworld. The space-time relationship has been distorted with the advance of communications and the human being is constantly changing, with a meaning that also changes.

We are involved in a nomadic tide where clinging to objects does not ensure success and the activities are carried out in a “network”. Now, how does it affect us?

Who is Axel Honneth? The creator of recognition theory

Honneth is a German philosopher and sociologist born in 1949. He was also part of the so-called “third generation” of the Frankfurt school. Considered a disciple of Jürgen Habermas, from whom he takes the analysis from the philosophy of social movements and reuses concepts of Immanuel Kant and Hegel.

“The human being is not a means but an end and he orders the world under categories of knowledge.”

-Immanuel Kant-


Honneth constructs a moral sociological theory of human suffering. This is the product of poor recognition, the engine of social struggles in today’s world.

The author recognizes three spheres of human recognition: love, law and solidarity. Finally, there is no primacy of one sphere over another.

The law provides guidelines to ensure forms of recognition and also produces the rules that ensure the dynamics between the spheres.

Love is a substrate of the other spheres and promotes care and attention.

Social valuation is the sphere of solidarity, in which the qualities and capacities of the person in a community are recognized.

What happens when the spheres are damaged?

The relationship between the different spheres of recognition is not always harmonious; it is the constant tension between them that makes the margins expand. The consequences of non-recognition vary depending on each sphere.

The author understands justice as the acquisition of rights and duties beyond the social order. Which would only be possible when the subject detaches itself from moral traditions and is guided by fundamental universal principles.

Social struggles extend the margin of rights and duties. Thus, we identify damage in that sphere when the subject’s moral capacity to take charge of its own actions is not recognized. When you are not legally recognized, your ability to make decisions and exercise your rights is impaired.

When people do not feel recognized in their community, their neighborhood or their work, the sphere of solidarity is damaged. Not feeling a fundamental part of the daily group produces cracks in self-esteem and the bond with others. Their lack is the result of stigmatization, affecting the honor and dignity of the person.

Love is, in turn, particular because it depends on the reference group of the subject. The deepest and most fundamental ties of a person such as his family, partner or friends are a pillar of recognition. It is not the same to feel valued by co-workers to feel loved by family members or partners.

Social relations

According to recognition theory, social bonds are so important for people that they can express themselves in multiple ways.

A symptom of the bad recognition could be the excessive use of social networks and the concern of many people to create a profile that is valued by others.

On the other hand, it is possible to promote psychological well-being from this theory. For example, through the following actions:

  • To take an active part in the moral causes that arouse interest and concern.
  • Promote links beyond social networks. Pay more attention to the links with people from our closest environment through direct dialogue.
  • Take care of the most intimate links. Neither a “like” nor a good comment on a photo can be compared to a gesture of love from a friend or family member.

Movements that fight for recognition

As we discussed earlier, the struggle for recognition stretches the margins of law, love and solidarity. Let’s review some current and past examples:

In the sphere of law, ecological movements have had a special role. Their struggle for nuclear regulation has led them to consolidate themselves as political parties (Germany). In this way, the concern for a sustainable world demands new regulations on the use of raw materials.

On the plane of solidarity, the struggles of the LGTBI movements not only demand rights. We also see the demand for recognition as “equal” by the rest of the members of society and the fight against stigmatization.

The sphere of love is the most difficult to interpret because of its intimate character.

Their faults have a direct impact on the other orders. Several studies associate the deficit of affect with behaviors of addiction and social rejection. Likewise, we see movements that fight for the inclusion of affective and sexual education in schools.

Thus, recognition theory is very important to better understand our links and social dynamism. Have you ever wondered what is wrong when you see a negative or depressed person? Whether we are a health professional, a friend or a family member, do we wonder if that person feels morally, socially and / or intimately recognized?

It gives us the guidelines to question our own recognition. How do we develop in the groups we are part of? Do we feel valued? These are questions to keep in mind, it is special when thinking about changes.