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Recognition is a basic human need, but it is not a panacea to all societal ills. This volume assembles contributions from International Relations, Political Theory and International Law in order to show that recognition is a gradual process and an ambiguous concept both in theory and political practice.



Conceptual Foundations


1. Gradual Processes, Ambiguous Consequences: Rethinking Recognition in International Relations

‘Recognition’, or its negative counterpart, ‘misrecognition’, is relevant wherever people or their collective organizations interact—or fail to interact. Individuals and collective political actors seek recognition of certain qualities, positive characteristics, competencies, achievements, or of their status within a specific group of people, a society, a political system, or the international political realm. The addressees of this recognition-seeking behaviour vary broadly, depending on the respective situation and depending on what exactly one actor would like to see recognized by another. A child might seek recognition from her parents or from fellow children of her first colour painting; a scholar might seek recognition of her opus magnum from fellow scholars or the public. A non-governmental organization might seek recognition of its humanitarian work from governments, the UN, potential donors, or from the needy people it supports. The violent group ‘Islamic State’ might seek recognition of its self-proclaimed ‘caliphate’ from Muslim believers, Muslim leaders, or regional organizations. Even a superficial scan of the daily news shows the ubiquity of issues related to ‘recognition’ in politics and society. Yet, what a certain actor seeks recognition of and from whom, how exactly recognition comes about (or fails to come about), and how it can be ‘measured’ is not as self-evident.

Anna Geis, Caroline Fehl, Christopher Daase, Georgios Kolliarakis

2. Recognition between States? Moving beyond Identity Politics

In recent years, several approaches within the field of International Relations (IR) have tried to broaden our theoretical horizon —from the narrow notion of states’ prudential self-interest to their ‘experiences of disrespect’. However, is it conceptually even possible to conceive of states as ‘experiencing’ disrespect? And if yes, for what kind of recognition do states struggle?

Mattias Iser

Recognition among States


3. China’s Place in Four Recognition Regimes

China is a distant empire, a wondrous kingdom, an economic miracle, a revolutionary utopia; China is where all cheap stuff is made, where pandas come from, and pollution, and bespectacled politicians in black suits with awkward smiles who deny human rights to their people. China is stagnant and history-less, without progress unless foreigners supply it, but also standing up, ever rising peacefully yet menacingly with a Communist Party that bans trade unions on behalf of global capitalism. Today, the East is Red and the dragon finally soars, expanding its influence across the world, lending us money and convincing us all that we need to learn its language. Civilizations are clashing, East and West are meeting, and China is no different from everybody else in an increasingly borderless world, except that the Chinese are xenophobic and two-faced. The twenty-first century belongs to China unless they screw up, global capitalism withdraws its favors, the people revolt, or the rest of the world finally grows tired of China-watching and applies the collection of fanciful metaphors to some other, equally badly understood, country in some other, equally distant, part of the world.

Erik Ringmar

4. Constructing the July Crisis: The Practice of Recognition and the Making of the First World War

The decade preceding the First World War saw the major European powers become embroiled in a series of crises that threatened general war. In each of these crises, the great powers confronted one another about the nature of the European order and inched the Continent closer to war through increasingly aggressive and dangerous threat making. On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, initiating the final diplomatic crisis before the war. Like the four that preceded it, no European power had a vital material interest at stake in the dispute, and for most of July the great powers worked to resolve the crisis short of war. However, unlike the crises that went before, the great powers were not able to resolve their differences: on 1 August, Germany declared war on Russia, bringing about the start of World War I. Why were the European powers able to solve the previous diplomatic crises short of conflict, whereas the July Crisis quickly escalated to continental war? What was it about the events of July 1914 that pushed Europe over the precipice to war?

Michelle Murray

5. Seeking Status Recognition through Military Symbols: German and Indian Armament Policies between Strategic Rationalizations and Prestige Motives

Actors operating in a social system acquire an identity that includes a sense of who they are and where they stand in relation to others. Such a (subjective) identity enhances social relations only to the extent that it matches the perceptions of relevant interaction partners1. Unless it is largely confirmed by their actions or communications, the resulting mismatch creates tensions that can be resolved either by an adaptation of subjective identities to prevailing perceptions or by an actor’s endeavours to change the latter. Thus, to remain ‘workable’, an agent’s identity constantly needs to be (re)negotiated with the surrounding social structure (Wendt, 1999, ch. 7). Sometimes, such a ‘negotiation’ may be quite easy. For instance, some agents may have become so insecure about (parts) of their identity that they search for social cues telling them ‘who they really are’. In other cases, however, agents are so firmly convinced of their subjective identity that they simply try to force their social environment to affirm it. Most of the time, however, identities are formed and adjusted in two-way communications, that is, they are reproduced and recognized in an ongoing ‘dialogue’ (Taylor, 1994).

Sven-Eric Fikenscher, Lena Jaschob, Reinhard Wolf

6. Understanding the Puzzle of Unequal Recognition: The Case of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Struggles for recognition have long constituted a central focus of discussion in Political Theory, as reflected in the work of Charles Taylor (1994), Nancy Fraser (1997; Fraser and Honneth, 2003), and, above all, Axel Honneth (1992; 1996; 2004). More recently, the debate has crossed the disciplinary boundary into the field of International Relations (IR). A growing number of International Relations (IR) scholars draw on it to explore how the desire of state and non-state actors to have their identities or social status recognized by others can drive and shape international conflicts (e.g. Agné et al., 2013; Greenhill, 2008; Lindemann and Ringmar, 2012).1

Caroline Fehl

Recognition of States and Governments


7. (Non-)Recognition Policies in Secession Conflicts and the Shadow of the Right of Self-Determination

Recognition is a constant issue in writings on Public International Law. This is mainly due to the exclusivity of the club of formal ‘subjects of international law’. Belonging to this club is of utmost importance for political entities, and denying recognition is a strong sanction that excludes new political entities from membership in the community of states. But besides the fundamental importance of recognition as a gate-keeping practice, much is disputed in international legal doctrine.

Stefan Oeter

8. Reconceptualizing Recognition of States and Governments

Much recent scholarship has identified the striving for recognition as a common denominator of political conflicts at all levels (e.g. Honneth, 1995; Lindemann and Ringmar, 2012). In some political conflicts, the quest for recognition is informal and embedded in other, less esoteric, demands. According to Axel Honneth, ‘even distributional injustices must be understood as the institutional expression of social disrespect—or, better said, of unjustified relations of recognition’ (Fraser and Honneth, 2003, p. 114). Unfavorable outcomes taken to imply misrecognition are experienced not as mere harm to be remedied (or endured), but as indignity to be redressed. Honneth points out that this sense of indignity can drive international as well as local conflict, as in both democratic and authoritarian states, makers of foreign policy must respond to (or can mobilize for their own advantage, as in the case of the Nazi exploitation of the perception of Germany’s national humiliation at Versailles) ‘collective strivings for identity’ (Honneth, 2012, p. 32). This observation argues for attention to the ways in which policies may mitigate or exacerbate international conflict by symbolically conveying respect or disrespect for a foreign population’s sense of collective identity.

Brad R. Roth

9. Statebuilding and the Politics of Non-Recognition

Recognition of sovereign statehood is the final obstacle facing those political entities in the international system that want to be states. For unrecognized states — those political entities existent within the international system that are states in everything but legal standing — recognition of sovereign statehood is the ultimate goal. The very act of granting recognition imparts a drastic change in the juridical legality and placement of the political entity under question, even though empirical change is unlikely in what are already developed political systems. Vague and inconsistent legal and quantifiable standards and precedents surround how much recognition, and by whom, equates to the granting of sovereignty. Still, those entities aspiring to statehood continue to hold it up as the goal to be reached. For most, it is the Holy Grail, a mythical achievement that will exist only as an aspiration. Regardless, the quest for recognition, and existence within the space of non-recognition, carries powerful political agency within these unrecognized states.

Rebecca Richards, Robert Smith

10. Recognition as a Second-Order Problem in the Resolution of Self-Determination Conflicts

On 10 September 2012, after nine years of United Nations (UN) administration and four years of international supervision following the self-proclamation of independence in February 2008, Kosovo celebrated in Pristina the beginning of its full and unconditional sovereign career as a state.1 Yet, and in contradiction to public assertions of sovereignty, more than half of the 193 UN member states refused, as of October 2012, to grant recognition to Kosovo. At the same time, the European Union Rule of Law Mission (EULEX) in Kosovo, the biggest and most expensive European Union (EU) support mission to date, the United Nations Interim Administration Mission (UNMIK), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Kosovo Force (KFOR), and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) peacekeeping mission were still on the ground. The fragile Kosovar institutions together with the separatist insurgency in the Serbian-dominated North, made security and stability in the region, the original objectives behind promoting Kosovo’s independence, appear to be wishful thinking.

Georgios Kolliarakis

Recognition among States and Non-State Actors


11. Recognition Going Awry: NGOs and the Global Rise of the Unelected

There is a growing consensus that the key to social and global justice is to overcome the sense of powerlessness and the lack of self-respect that prevails among impoverished, marginalized, and oppressed populations. As political theorist John Rawls puts it, self-respect is a ‘primary good’ whose production depends on the make-up of basic social and political institutions. More precisely, justice is the name of behaviours that form the ‘social bases of self-respect’ (1993, p. 319). Like Rawls’s liberal theory of justice, neo-Hegelian theories of recognition emphasize the centrality of mutual respect and esteem in the development of human relations and identities (Honneth, 1995; Ikäheimo, 2014; Ricoeur, 2005; Taylor, 1994). The core notion underpinning theories of recognition is that human autonomy and agency are not givens, but are the result of a continuous and dynamic process of mutual recognition between persons and groups. Recognition is about constituting and performing inclusion, actorness, and membership. To be recognized as a legitimate actor and a full member of society implies more than simply having legal rights. In modern societies, there is a wide range of social relations based on respect, esteem, and affection, which, taken together, constitute ‘the opposite of practices of domination or subjection’ (Honneth 2007b, p. 325; Honneth, 2014).

Volker M. Heins

12. Gradual Recognition: Curbing Non-State Violence in Asymmetric Conflict

Asymmetric conflicts, that is, armed struggles between states and non-state actors, are characterized by the antagonists’ diverging organizational structures, which imply different preferences concerning the conduct of hostilities (Daase, 1999, p. 93). Given their relative military strengths and weaknesses and limited commitment to international law, armed non-state actors (ANSAs) tend to use guerrilla strategies or even terrorism to pursue their political goals. States traditionally frame ANSAs as ‘terrorists’, ‘bandits’ or ‘fanatics’, aiming at denying their legitimacy and ruling out any official engagement other than through law enforcement, intelligence, or the military (Bhatia, 2005, p. 14). Similarly, traditional scholarship holds that defeating ANSAs by force trumps any other form of engagement (e.g. Cronin and Ludes, 2004). Recent studies offer a more nuanced view, however, and suggest that there might be alternative ways to engage ANSAs. While non-state actors are sometimes willing to commit themselves to the principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) (e.g. Herr, 2010), other groups have de-radicalized after more or less coercive persuasion by their state antagonists (e.g. Ashour, 2009). Some scholars even argue that ‘talking to terrorists’ might mitigate violence or end terrorism (e.g. Goerzig, 2010; Toros, 2008; Zartman and Faure, 2011).

Janusz Biene, Christopher Daase

13. The Dark Side of Recognition: Mutual Exclusiveness of Passive and Active Recognition in the Middle East Conflict

The role that recognition plays in conflict is ambivalent. Conventional wisdom argues that the non-recognition of an actor may lead to conflict and war (Agné et al., 2013). The number of asymmetric conflicts between a recognized actor, such as a state, and a non-recognized actor, such as a rebel or an insurgent group, speaks to that hypothesis. Concurrently, to Lebow and Lindemann, the struggle for recognition contributes to international conflict (cited in: Bartelson, 2013). States will protect their esteem at high costs, which leads to conflict (Bartelson, 2013). Conversely, the recognition of two actors in conflict should lead to peace, as the acceptance of each other’s legitimacy would allow for a mutually agreeable solution in any conflict. Bartelson, for example, assumes that recognition can be used as a tool to resolve contests over statehood (cited in: Fabry, 2013). Further, scholars such as Honneth or Wolf argue that international relations move into a peaceful direction if states recognize each other (cited in: Bartelson, 2013). Sharing a common framework is conducive to peace. However, this chapter argues that the relationship between recognition, war, and peace is more complex and includes dark sides of recognition in which the above hypotheses do not come to fruition. Kessler and Herborth already point out the reproduction of problems due to recognition:

No matter whether recognition is held to produce cooperation or mconflict among these entities, the very move of presupposing them indicates that the concept of recognition may merely reproduce the problem it was heralded to solve. (2013: 157)

Carolin Goerzig, Claudia Hofmann

Concluding Reflections


14. Legal Precision or Fuzzy Feelings? A Diplomatic Comment on Recognition Studies

When I started work at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1969, it was in many ways a different world from today. It was considered a sign of unusual keenness to arrive in the office before ten; my work as a junior included carrying coal along the corridor to feed the open hearth, which was all that we had for heating; and we wrote important policy messages to each other by hand with pen and ink, while typists made copies with carbon paper. In the department dealing with German affairs, where I got my first job at the bottom of the hierarchy in the so-called ‘third room’, much of our work still involved the aftermath of the Second World War: property and compensation disputes, the imprisonment of Rudolf Heβ and the whole system of military occupation of Germany by the three Western powers and the Soviet Union. The atmosphere was tense and exciting, and we could feel that the issues we dealt with were among the most important of the day for Britain’s own security. The Soviet blockade of Berlin was not far behind us, and we had still not negotiated the Quadripartite Agreement that brought some stability to the handling of day-to-day affairs in that isolated city.

Alyson J. K. Bailes

15. Acts of Recognition, Shades of Respect

Recognition of recognition’s importance has only come recently, and belatedly, to International Relations (IR) theory. The concept has been around for two centuries. G. W. F. Hegel had associated recognition and reciprocity among individuals in System of Ethical Life (Hegel, [1802–3] 1979, p. 111), held that Herr and Knecht (lord and servant, master and slave) ‘recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another’ in Phenomenology of Spirit, §184 (Hegel, [1807] 1977, p. 112), and argued in Philosophy of Right, §331 (Hegel, [1821] 1992, p. 367) that states have an ‘absolute entitlement’ to be recognized by other states. By that time states had engaged in express acts of recognition for several years as Spain’s American colonies achieved independence. Contrary to Hegel, Henry Wheaton (1836) declared in his Elements of International Law— the leading treatise of its time—that the recognition of a newly independent state’s sovereignty was, for other states, ‘a question of prudence and policy only’ (Wheaton, 1836, p. 98; also 1866, p. 40).

Nicholas Onuf


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