Taylor and the problem of recognizing cultural groups

Onni Hirvonen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Recognition of cultural groups is an issue that puzzles those involved in the discussions around multiculturalism. Charles Taylor (1994) has done important groundwork in his ‘The politics of recognition’ where different possibilities of multicultural policy-making are discussed. This article concentrates on one social ontological problem that can be found in Taylor’s widely recognized theory. This article proceeds as follows. At first, Taylor’s view on recognition is briefly introduced. This view potentially faces the reification problem, which states that recognizing a group that is not really an agent might result in misrecognition and disrespect of individual members of the group. The forms of misrecognition and disrespect range from homogenizing sets of individuals to forced identities and dissonance between individual and collective identities. After the problems of cultural recognition have been made clear, insights from the field of social ontology are brought into the picture. The agency of cultural groups is not self-evident, and in this paper it is argued that Taylor faces a problem when he grants agency to certain kinds of groups that are not really agents. This can be shown using the tools provided by contemporary analytical social ontology. Finally, a tentative way of conceptualizing cultural recognition is offered. The suggestion is that, despite its vagueness, Taylor’s position includes elements that enable incorporating a robust social ontological theory into it. If this is done, many of the worries stated in the reification problem might be avoided.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-124
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • Cultural groups
  • Group recognition
  • Multiculturalism
  • Recognition
  • Social ontology
  • Taylor

Fingerprint Dive into the research topics of 'Taylor and the problem of recognizing cultural groups'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this