Work and the struggle for recognition

Nicholas H. Smith*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Citations (Scopus)


This article examines a neglected but crucial feature of Honneth's critical theory: its use of a concept of recognition to articulate the norms that are apposite for the contemporary world of work. The article shows that from his first writings on the structure of critical social theory in the early 1980s to the recent exchange with Nancy Fraser on recognition and redistribution, the problem of grounding a substantive critique of work under capitalism has been central to Honneth's enterprise. This answers the routine objection that the recognition paradigm fails to take into account economic or material realities. At the same time, Honneth's approach to the critique of work has undergone significant shifts, and it is yet to be fully developed. The article traces these changes in direction, and it proposes an expressivist conception of work that builds upon the 'normative content' of the concept of work described by Honneth in his 1980 essay 'Work and Instrumental Action'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)46-60
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Theory
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2009


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