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Supporting a person in what (s)he is? An empirical assessment of Honneth's theory of recognition in the light of the encounter with intellectual disability (Down's syndrome and fragile X syndrome)


The research consists in an empirical test of key statements related to the theory of recognition (Anerkennung) of Axel Honneth. Recognition (Anerkennung) being the fact of "supporting a person in what she or he is". I consider testing Honneth's theory along three questions: (1) What contributes to the process of recognition (Anerkennung)? (2) What are the consequences of recognition (Anerkennung)? (3) What is recognition (Anerkennung) applied to? Each of these questions relates to a set of hypotheses, that either suggest a view that is different from what Honneth's theory describes or relate more tightly to everyday social context The theoretical framework of the proposed research is French pragmatic sociology, that provides concepts for analysing ordinary judgements. The inquiry focuses on the case of persons with intellectual disabilities, because industrial societies, by demanding individual autonomy and economic competitivity, remain extremely excluding for them, and the encounter between a person with such a disability and an "ordinary" person displays major individual differences. I plan a qualitative inquiry based on in-depth semi-structured interviews, recorded and systematically fully transcribed. All of the 9 hypotheses to be tested can be addressed through interviews with parents and with care or education professionals. In order to identify the role played by the legal and institutional environment as well as by the cultural representations, the inquiry includes three countries: France, Belgium and Germany. This research shall contribute to an empirically grounded theory of justice and ethics, in line both with the ambition of Prof. Axel Honneth to carry on the tasks of the Critical Theory and improve our understanding of justice and conflicts in contemporary societies on the one hand, and with the project of Prof. Hille Haker to create a critical ethics of responsibility, whose cornerstone would be the concept of recognition, on the other hand.

Call for proposal

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Funding Scheme

MC-IEF - Intra-European Fellowships (IEF)


Senckenberganlage 26
60325 Frankfurt Am Main
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
EU contribution
€ 127 359,96
Administrative Contact
Guenter Pabst (Mr.)