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Editorial Reviews. About the Author. Johan Pottier is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.
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This moral-philosophical theory transcends social-theoretical explanation and opens the possibility, or even creates the need, to think about the proper social order or how a society should look like to secure the undistorted experience of recognition and to protect its members from the illegitimate experience of misrecognition. Based on Smith's three points and the four perspectives by Schmidt am Busch, now I will reflect on the relation between poverty and recognition.

The three questions I want to answer -whether the recognition approach can help to understand poverty, whether it can help to understand its moral weight, and whether it can help to design poverty politics - can now be placed within this framework of the recognition approach. The key task is then to show that the recognition approach aims, as a social-theoretical, moral-philosophical, sociopolitical and methodological theory, do provide insights into poverty or at least help to understand it properly.

Poverty has also, then, to be embedded within the current social struggles - whether or not from the poor themselves - and research has to be conducted on whether poverty is accompanied by such experiences of misrecognition and whether it is therefore morally wrong. There is no a single uncontested concept or notion of poverty, whether inside or outside the poverty research field, in the everyday world of politics. So, if one asks about the possible contribution of the recognition approach to this understanding, it is highly unclear what this could mean.

Does it mean contributing to a deeper or more accurate understanding of one specific approach to poverty such as relative monetary poverty in the Western world? Or does it mean contributing to the development of a whole new approach to poverty? Or does it mean contributing to distinguish different concepts of poverty and to evaluate their merits and shortcomings? Or does it mean showing that the recognition approach helps to embed one or some approaches to poverty into a broader theory? All these questions and tasks are of value but they lead to quite different results and depend on quite different methodologies.

If the recognition approach wants to contribute to new knowledge about poverty, it may require either engaging in a social theory or in empirical research, and whilst both should be combined they are quite different, and it is also obvious that there are certain limitations to what different disciplines can and should do. As my contribution targets a philosophical and conceptual level, I cannot engage in detail with questions concerned with measuring poverty, using different methods of empirical research or how the gathered data are to be analysed.

I rather want to focus on two different directions. The first one reflects on a certain concept or approach to poverty or on certain knowledge about poverty and the poor produced using it. The second one aims to develop a so-called recognition-based concept of poverty, which incorporates some aspects of other concepts but nonetheless stands alone.

I will use the example of the relative poverty as measured by having less than 60 per cent of the equivalent median income. Obviously the 60 per cent line is arbitrary and it could equally be 50 per cent or 65 per cent. The basic idea behind this and similar approaches is to understand poverty as having less than what is the average or 'normal' standard throughout the population, and that this having less income is what constitutes poverty or at least an essential feature of it.

As the poverty measure is relative to the income level in the target society, it may vary. Having a monthly income of euro can mean being counted as poor in one country - for example, in Germany or Austria - while having the same amount does not constitute poverty in Bulgaria or Romania. This difference between relative and absolute measures is quite important.

Eidos, No. 22: January-June 2015

Based on the relative concept there are roughly 80 million people suffering from income poverty in the European Union, which is about Further interesting knowledge about this form of poverty is its connection to other socio-economic variables such as unemployment, education, gender, migration background or disability, its dynamic in recent years, or the influence of the welfare state provisions. But what is the relation between this measure of poverty or this specific form of poverty and recognition nowadays? What can or should the recognition approach do with it, contribute to it or criticize of it?

I think three points should be made. First, the recognition approach can and should try to integrate this as well as other scientific concepts of poverty into its framework. This means showing that measuring poverty relative to the median income is of value for the recognition approach, that it can use this knowledge for its own aims of social critique and that this is compatible with its main assumptions. I see no actual problems in this regard and I have shown it too. I conclude that relative poverty measured as income poverty can be conceptualized as a form of denigration, which means that the contributions of these poor are not adequately socially esteemed Schweiger, Income poverty is embedded into modern capitalistic societies in many ways as it is connected to its formation of labour income poverty has a lot to do with unemployment or poorly paid labour , its social system the poor can make legal and non-legal claims towards it and the structural misrecognition of certain parts of the population such as migrants, women and people with special needs.

The approach to measure poverty with income is in line with the recognition approach's focus on social esteem in the form of paid work and the inclusion through it Schmidt am Busch, Furthermore, it is obvious that any critique to Neoliberalism and its harmful developments, such as the dismantling of the welfare state or the distortion of the 'achievement principle', has to take seriously income poverty as one aspect of precarization Deranty, This integrative work is not enough, though; in fact, it only adds something to the recognition approach and not to the understanding of poverty.

Second, the recognition approach can engage critically with this specific concept and reflect on its - maybe hidden - implicit and nexplicit assumptions, its core meaning and its relation to other social conditions and practices. In my view, the most important contribution in this regard is to show that relative income poverty is of such importance precisely because it is connected to recognition and especially to social esteem.

The core of all relative poverty measures is to conceptualize it against a standard of 'normality' that everyone within a society should reach and under which basic social activities are no longer possible or at least limited Townsend, But what is this core of a good life that is endangered by poverty? Absolute measures of poverty often refer to anthropological 'facts', which seem indisputable, but for relative measures this question is trickier.

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Is inequality per se an adequate measure or does it need to be connected to other certain forms of hardship to count as poverty? And why does inequality in income matter that much? Such questions can only be answered if it is shown that income is of such a high value - which it is because it enables people to do something, to have something and to be someone - and that social equality of income is an important value for such societies.

In terms of the recognition approach, this means addressing the issue that relative income poverty is connected to experiences of misrecognition such as being excluded, the lack of social esteem or the inability to establish lasting personal relations. In this understanding, relative income poverty is a first-order disorder in modern capitalism, but one which is rooted in specific second-order disorders such as the commodification of ever more spheres of life, the individualization of risk, the precarization of work, the denigration of achievements and contributions, or the invisibilization of social groups Zurn, A single measure such as having less than X - whether it is a fixed sum or a sum relative to the median income of the population - is always only one indicator of poverty that has to be accompanied by others that explore the social conditions of those affected in more detail.

Such single measures of poverty have always been embedded within a broader picture of capitalistic development and formation, in which poverty is produced and in which poverty is attributed in certain ways. It is not only about economics but also about politics and the critique of certain politics that induce poverty and worsen the living conditions of the poor Harriss, The third point I would like to make is that such concepts of poverty have a lot to do with the aim of the recognition approach to take side with progressive social practices and also give them a voice within its theoretical framework.

Practising Development: Social Science Perspectives by Taylor & Francis Ltd (Paperback, 1992)

It is obvious that the poor have no say in their counting as poor if they are measured by relative income poverty. It is a fact that if someone has less than others, this is an external attribution which the poor cannot control in any way. If the recognition approach is to take its own promise of being connected to those suffering under capitalism seriously, it needs to take the poor as subjects of poverty and poverty research seriously.

Are the poor the mere objects of this poverty research or are they given a place and voice within the conceptualization of poverty itself? Income poverty is an 'objective' indicator that lets the subjects behind it -who only count above or beyond the poverty line which marks and labels them - disappear.

Taking side with the poor, who are in no way a homogenous group, would also mean thinking of new ways to recognize them in the scientific discourse about poverty and its domination by economic factors, such as relative income Chambers, The second possible recognition-based approach to poverty could be to develop a whole new concept or further develop existing concepts of poverty, which then could also be operatio-nalized for social research.

One role model for such an enterprise could be the capabilities approach of Amartya Sen, which is also a broad philosophical theory and serves as the background to many different social scientific studies Alkire, ; Robeyns, For Sen and others, the core of poverty is the deprivation of basic capabilities, such as being able to feed oneself, being able to read and write, being able to have access to health care and being able to shelter oneself. For the recognition approach, this core would be to be successfully or adequately recognized. It is possible to understand poverty, then, as a social condition in which the experience of recognition - love, rights, social esteem - is not possible or distorted; poverty as a form of recognition deprivation.

This would not replace other measures of poverty, it would rather be necessary to include some of them, but this could open new research areas and produce new knowledge about poverty, about what it means to be poor, and about the social formation of modern capitalism in general. The notion of poverty as recognition deprivation could then be operationalized or further substantiated by distinguishing important experiences of recognition that form an absolute core of poverty.

These could be, for example, having social contacts a measure of social inclusion and the experience of love , having a job with decent pay a measure of social esteem and having equal rights or access to social security a measure of legal respect. If a person is deprived in one or all of these aspects, meaning that he or she does not have lasting social contacts, does not have a job with decent pay or does not have access to welfare provision, then he or she is living in poverty or suffering from recognition deprivation. There are serious objections against such a use of the concept of poverty.

Exclusion could be argued not to be poverty, that being unemployed is not poverty, that having fewer or no rights at all is not poverty. Such arguments want to reserve poverty for material hardship or even only for a lack of money. But what forms of hardship should then count as poverty? Only food, shelter, and clothes? Then practically no one is poor in modern welfare states Fahey, If one agrees that the core of relative poverty is having less than others, the question is less of what. And having less of certain social, symbolic or material forms of recognition can constitute poverty.

It would be wrong to argue that the mere experience of denigration or of not being loved or appreciated - all of which are important experiences of misrecognition that can have devastating effects on one's life -constitutes poverty, but it is undeniable that the experience of those forms of misrecognition that violate the core conditions of being included into society and that enable people to walk as equals among their peers have something to do with poverty. If the recognition approach has something to say about how modern societies function, then it has something to say about one of its main dysfunctions: Poverty is almost never used as a neutral description but mostly as a moral verdict.

It is a common understanding that being poor is somehow bad and morally wrong. In this sense, poverty is a thick concept which combines descriptive and prescriptive elements Williams What this exactly means is highly disputed and unclear. There are basically two approaches for any normative or moral evaluation of poverty. One can start by taking poverty as something bad or wrong. Then the wrongness is part of the whole definition of poverty.

Amartya Sen has called this the "absolute core" of poverty that can and should not be dismissed by mere inequality. Or one can start the other way and take poverty as a neutral condition which can be morally wrong but which does not have to be. Most theories within philosophy go down the first route and assume that poverty is wrong simply because it is poverty, that poverty the way they use it cannot be good or neutral.

As Honneth or others within the recognition approach use the notion of poverty, it seems as if they understand it this way. Honneth refers, for example, to the expansion of the welfare state as moral progress because it decreased the possibility of poverty. For there can be no question that it was in the interest of the classes constantly threatened by poverty to decouple part of social status from the achievement principle and instead make it an imperative of legal recognition.

We can thus speak of moral progress in such cases ofboundary-shifting when a partial shift to a new principle lastingly improves the social conditions of personal identity-formation for members of particular groups or classes Honneth, , p. Such an assumption, as well as all other approaches to a moral evaluation of poverty, depend on what one understands as poverty.

If poverty is defined as not being able to feed oneself, it appears clear that such a condition is wrong. If one defines poverty as having less than others, one can argue that this might be justified and not wrong in at least some cases. Think of the example of relative poverty as living off less than the 60 per cent median income.

This is the condition of many people that are unemployed because they have to take care of their young children. Then it could be the right conclusion to say that this kind of poverty is morally wrong. Or, to use the terminology of recognition, that this condition of poverty is a harmful experience of misrecognition.

But also, all people in prisons are relatively poor in the sense of having less than 60 per cent of the median income. Is their condition morally wrong, and if it is not, what is the categorical difference between those prison inmates and single mothers?

Recognition and Poverty | Schweiger | Eidos

Poverty always depends on circumstances and this is not just true for relative poverty. Are those who are shipwrecked on a desert island without food and shelter poor? I do not think so. It is clear that the normative evaluation of poverty always depends on how one conceptualizes poverty and under what circumstances this social condition arises. One and the same definition of poverty can provide plenty of insights into one social formation, while the same concept can be rather useless in another one.

So, if I want to show herein that the recognition approach can in fact explain what is wrong about poverty, this will be different -and may not be true- for all different kinds of poverty and under all possible and realized circumstances. Social critique in this sense is not a universal science, but rather context-sensitive. I want to stick with the distinction between absolute and relative poverty as two ideas of conceptualizing poverty by either putting it in relation to the actual living standard in the target society or by using absolute thresholds of which no one, and under no circumstances, should fall short.

I think there are three general aspects which constitute the moral harm of being poor, which are shared by relative and absolute forms of poverty but each in a different manner. First, poverty is morally harmful and wrong if, and insofar as, it is the result of processes of misrecognition.

Second, poverty is morally harmful and wrong if, and insofar as, it is experienced or connected with such experiences of misrecog-nition that may ultimately make it impossible to live a good life in the sense of realizing oneself.

Third, poverty is morally harmful and wrong if, and insofar as, it violates embedded normative claims that are immanent within these societies or that have been legitimately requested from them. The first point refers to the cause of poverty and understands it as the result of social processes rather than personal failure.

Individuals do influence their social condition but there is overwhelming evidence that people are born poor and only seldom become poor because of their own decisions. These causes of poverty - and also social exclusion - can be reconstructed as processes of misrecognition, such as the absence of personal relations and care, the absence of actual inclusion into the main social spheres of education, citizenship, culture or the labour market, and the absence of social esteem.

Poverty is the result of capitalism and serves diverse functions for it Gans, This is true both for relative and absolute poverty. While relative poverty is the result of social pathologies within capitalistic societies, the result of inequalities in education, social capital and earnings, absolute poverty is the result of differences within and mostly between countries and the exploitation of those poorer countries and their weak position within global capitalism.

If recognition can be reconstructed on the global level, then it can take the form that the divide between rich and poor countries is the result of processes and politics of misrecognition that are forced upon the latter. This does not mean that there are no internal deficiencies in those poor countries but that they should be understood as the result rather than the cause of underdevelopment. The second point concerns some of the most pressing effects and consequences of poverty under which those people suffer.

The core of any good life is the experience of undistorted recognition and the opportunity to realize oneself by choosing to live the kind of life one has good reasons to value. Personal freedom is based on social conditions that the individual can only partly control, and poverty is a limitation of this personal freedom on many levels.

Poverty limits life chances because people who are poor do have far fewer resources, because they can participate in far fewer social contexts and practices, because they are trapped in their situation, they have fewer opportunities to choose from and because they are more vulnerable to changes. Poverty means that those who are poor are limited in their ability to care for themselves and for those whom they want to take care of, such as family, children, partners and friends.

Some of these limitations are experienced as misrecognition by the poor and some are accompanied by such experiences. Many of the poor are ashamed of themselves, they are afraid of the others' reactions, they are hurt by what they read and hear from others in the media, from their children's teachers, from their own family members, from their friends and from the strangers they have to go to ask for help and provision. Avishai Margalit has written impressively about the decent society whose institutions do not humiliate, and probably no other sphere is as full of experiences of humiliation as is poverty.

But these symbolic and psychological forms of harm that are inflicted on poor people come together with the material hardship of poverty, which heavily affects the social life of the poor. These are all different areas in which misrecognition takes place, not static but as processes that become increasingly more manifest over time until they ultimately break those people. It is not a personal weakness of those people that break under poverty, that drop out, that resign and more or less give up any hope and quit.

They are no longer able to struggle, to struggle for a better. This is true for poverty in relative and in absolute terms, but the absolute poor outside the Western world are in a much weaker position, because their poverty is often life-threatening, the social protection is much weaker, often even the basic social institutions are missing and people are confronted with war and forced to migrate.

Under such circumstances, recognition in all its forms of personal relations, legal respect and social esteem becomes precarious and often even impossible. The recognition approach wants to use a methodology of immanent critique and poverty should also be criticized in this way.


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On the one hand, this can be an effective and fruitful strategy. Immanent critique is especially powerful in societies that are already highly developed and understand themselves as welfare states. The idea that at least a basic social security is needed for civil rights and duties to be assumed can be mobilized for a critique ofpoverty in such liberal and democratic societies.

The widely shared understanding of social equality, the idea of equality of opportunity and solidarity with the vulnerable, the sick and the poor, does in fact form the background to much of the anti-poverty politics and social policy in general in such welfare states. There are obvious differences in the shaping and institutionalization of the welfare state and this idea has come under pressure in recent years, but the aim to help those in need is still widely supported by the public and incorporated in many ways in the legal system.

On the other hand, things are quite different if one looks at the global picture. On the global scale, immanent critique is obviously limited because there are no shared standards or otherwise institutionalized normative claims. As Heins argued, there are many societies which are far from being 'modern', democratic or welfare societies and they do not have any adequate internal and immanent standards which could be used to criticize.

There is no easy and simple solution to this problem of globalizing the recognition approach that does not either give up the whole idea of immanent critique. The most but not fully convincing solution I can think of it is to show that poverty does violate such claims that arise from the core of recognition itself, that the experience of recognition forms the social conditions of any good life Schweiger, b.

No matter what the internal standards within a society might be, absolute poverty limits the opportunities for self-realization so that they are negligibly small. In contrast, claims of recognition can refer to this absolute core in every society and under all circumstances - in a refugee camp in Africa, in custody pending deportation in Austria or in an automobile plant in the USA - and can demand that the intersubjective conditions and social relations should change in order to make undistorted self-realization possible.

The anthropological and universal roots of the recognition transcend the borders of any given society. In the previous sections I have tried to show that the recognition approach can contribute to the understanding of poverty and that it can especially contribute to understanding why poverty is morally wrong. But it is not enough to produce knowledge about poverty, social critique wants to contribute to its end, or at least to such social and political practices that alleviate poverty, help the poor and give them space and a voice.

A recognition-based approach to poverty also has to engage with therapeutic measures for the social pathology of poverty and what the social institutions, relations and practices should look like to bring forward the idea of an inclusive and socially just society, in which the experience of undistorted recognition is possible. Honneth often refers to the social democratic welfare state in which everyone has access to welfare provision and as much personal freedom as possible, and these two build the basis for a flourishing society, in which everyone finds his or her place.

This ideal points back to the better times of welfare capitalism after the Second World War, in which the unemployment rates were low, workers' rights were protected and the wealth distributed more justly. In many respects, this line of argument to defend what has been achieved is also applicable to a critique of poverty politics. And it is also true that poverty, in the welfare states but also globally, is caused by Neoliberalism in the sense that it - or the politics in its wake - produces unemployment, badly paid and insecure jobs, and cuts off many from adequate education or health care.

The ongoing crisis has further stipulated and intensified these developments. Unemployment is on the rise; people, especially the youth, are pushed into poverty and trapped in low-wage jobs. The approach to establish such institutions that secure basic provision for all and a functioning legal system, which provide the conditions in which personal relations, love, caring, friendships, the proper execution of rights and duties, political participation, access to the labour market or equality of opportunity are possible, is not wrong at all.

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