Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Care, Identity and (mis)Recognition 1

Once again I include here an essay I wrote for my M.A. in Human Development.  The essay is an interdisciplinary one which straddles the areas of philosophy (that of the contemporary Canadian philosopher, Charles Taylor) and sociology (theories of care and the new feminisms).

1.   Introduction
Peacock, Dublin Zoo, May 15th, 2012
We moderns assume that the search for personal identity is a perennial one that stretches out into the future from time immemorial, though with a little study we soon find that it is a relatively recent quest spawned by the growing awareness of what it means to be an individual in those years in the wake of the Enlightenment. The quest for identity and belonging is universal for us moderns as we seek to live authentic lives amidst the plethora of confusing choices of lifestyle offered us today.  It was surely much easier for pre-modern humans to define themselves, as their personal identity was very much assigned to them by their traditional roles within society.
This paper seeks to explore our quest for personal identity from the dual perspectives of philosophy and sociology.  In particular, these explorations will attempt to explicate on the one hand the approach to this question by the contemporary Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor as it encounters and dialogues with the theories and practices of care as elucidated by modern feminist scholars and writers on the other.  In so doing, it will, moreover, explore the frameworks offered by these various scholars, frameworks which essentially give shape and meaning to the human enterprise of authentic living.  It will also contextualise this quest for meaning within the dynamic of the human thrust to recognise the other as other, and in turn be recognised by the other as truly unique.  In so doing it will essentially argue the case that care and identity are the core considerations of a just and enlightened society.
2.  Defining Care:
Firstly we will turn our attention to the theory of care advanced by Professor Carol Gilligan who is world-renowned for her book written against the male-centred personality psychology of Freud and Erickson, and the equally male-centred developmental psychology of Lawrence Kohlberg.[1]  Her complaint was not that it was solely unjust to leave women out of psychology but that it simply was not good psychology in the first place if it left out half of the human race.  Gilligan offered a new and fresh perspective on the moral development of the human being to that advanced by Kohlberg (with whom she had studied and worked) which was essentially male-oriented.  Her perspective suggests that men and women have tendencies to view morality in different terms, with women emphasizing empathy and compassion rather than the mere following of rules and choosing to act based on abstract principles, both of which are seen as more male preoccupations.
Gilligan (1995) argues that recent years have seen a “paradigm shift” in society from patriarchy to connection or connectedness as a way of operating in a more just and enlightened way.  Traditional male-oriented society highlighted separation (analysis of parts) rather than connection (networks and wholes) as do feminist theories of care. In the patriarchal framework, women simply were sidelined, if not included at all in some cases.  It is important here to state clearly that Gilligan’s feminism is inclusive, and in so being  embraces  also the concerns of men in startling contrast to patriarchy which is practically exclusive of the woman's voice by definition. 
Gilligan’s psychology of care is relational, a psychology of connecting with the other who is being cared for.  She hastens to inform us that this is a feminist psychology of care and never a feminine one, because the latter is a mere subset of patriarchal concerns where women are simply filling roles laid out for them by society.  A feminine ethic of care is “an ethic of special obligations” where “selflessness or self-sacrifice is built into the very definition of care...”  Consequently, a feminist ethic of care, which aims at connecting with the other, will never be self-diminishing in such a way.  It will, rather, be self-enhancing and self-affirming.  To this extent we can understand how Gilligan argues, after Brennan (1993), that the notion of a separate self, which she traces back to Descartes, is “a foundational fantasy” of more modern patriarchy.

We can also understand, when talking about such relational psychology, the concern the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has with the priority of recognition in our everyday lives as well as the dire consequences of the failure of such recognition, a failure he terms simply and obviously misrecognition.  It is to this overlapping concept we now turn our attention.

3.  Recognition, Identity and Care

Scimitar Oryx, Dublin Zoo, May 15, 2012
          It practically goes without saying that identity and recognition are, as it were, two sides of the one coin.  One simply cannot forge or create one’s identity as a separate and unique self without being recognised by another as worthy of respect.     Charles Taylor is arguably one of the most important contemporary philosophers of modern identity, and he offers us an interesting analysis of modern identity in his various books.[2] Other people, he argues (Taylor, 1994), act as a mirror of our selfhood and reflect back to us a positive or negative image of ourselves.  He gives his reader the example of the negative recognition (or misrecognition) of Black Southerns by their White Southern counterparts in pre-Civil Rights days in the United States.  We Irish could allude to the misrecognition of the Irish Gaelic peasantry over hundreds of years by its colonial masters.  The one time professor of history at U.C.G., Professor P.L. Henry (1978, 21) argued some years back that the constantly diminishing number of native speakers of the Irish language learned from 1795 onwards that “they and all they represented were inferior, unfashionable and gross; moreover, they were impoverished.”[3] Taylor (1994, 23 ff.) argues that the people around the Black Southerns, or indeed, we may argue, those around the Irish Gaelic peasantry just mentioned, mirrored back to these groups respectively what he terms “a confining or demeaning or contemptible” picture of themselves.  Such negative recognition or misrecognition, or even non-recognition, can and does inflict great harm on a person or on a group of people. 

          One need not travel too far to meet contemporary examples of such misrecognition.  Indeed, we might have personally experienced such in our own lives.  How many teachers over the years have intentionally, or unintentionally, or in sheer desperation, called any of the pupils in their care “stupid” or “foolish”?  One can only be at one with Taylor where he argues cogently and passionately that due recognition is never a courtesy, but always a human right, indeed a basic human need.  Those that do not acknowledge this right or need, diminish not alone others but also themselves.

Taylor (1994, 26 ff.) argues that a politics of equal recognition was ushered in with the growth of democracy from the eighteenth century onwards.  Gradually individuals realised that they had a unique or “individualised identity”, particular to themselves alone.  This unique identity particular to the individual is his/her authenticity.  He goes on to stress that each individual’s unique identity is “inwardly generated” rather than “socially derived.”  Any identity defined by the latter is the result of misrecognition because it is based on the framework of patriarchal values inherent in all traditional hierarchical societies, societies which recognise one’s dignity in virtue alone of the role one is assigned by society at large.

We have seen above that identity and recognition are two sides of the one coin.  I now intend to examine how identity and recognition interact with the presence or absence of care in any individual’s life.  Building on the work of Kathleen Lynch (2007) – whose three concentric circles of care relations are discussed below [4] - Feeley (2008, 2011) proposes a model of what she terms “literacy learning care.”  She found in her study of 28 adults engaged in a literacy programme (a group of these respondents were survivors of industrial schools) that learning has a strong “emancipatory potential” when it takes place in a caring environment, but that when it occurs in an uncaring or even hostile and frightening one, it has the opposite effect of being oppressive and disempowering.  Feeley coined a powerful term, building on Lynch’s research, viz., “learning care.”  Indeed, she proposed and analysed three aspects of such learning care, viz., primary, secondary, and solidary, again basing her research on the findings of the same scholar.  Feeley argues convincingly that affective dimensions of equality are pivotal in establishing more just literacy outcomes.  She found from her research that these literacy outcomes mirrored the levels of care in the lives of her respondents. 
Feeley’s work is good solid research which supports the anecdotal contentions of some teachers of long standing known to this present author, views that argue that when a teacher cares for his/her students only then can real learning take place.  Further, using the framework offered us by Taylor we may say that once the teacher recognises the student in his/her uniqueness, authenticity and, indeed in his/her fragility and vulnerability, s/he will grow in positive self-esteem and identity as a learner.  In so doing the teacher is engaging in true care for his/her pupil.  This also ties in nicely with Carol Gilligan’s (1982) psychology of care as relational and as connecting with the other.  Likewise this study confirms in practice the philosophies of education offered by two major twentieth century writers on education, namely Martin Buber and Paulo Friere.[5]

[1]The book in question here is In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development , Harvard University Press, (1982)
[2] In Sources of the Self: the Making of the Modern Identity, Taylor attempts ‘to articulate and write a history of the modern identity’ (Taylor, 1989: ix).  Interestingly, Alison Weir argues that Michel Foucault and Taylor are two of the most important contemporary philosophers of modern identity, and says that they offer us two very different descriptions and analyses of modern identities. See Weir (2009, 534)
[3] See “Anglo-Irish And Its Irish Background” in The English Language in Ireland, (Mercier, 1978), edited by D.Ó Muirithe, for an extensive account of the fortunes of the Irish language and how its decline led to a sort of “inferiority complex” on the part of Gaelic speakers.  It could equally be argued that the Irish in general have a sort of national inferiority complex due to hundreds of years of occupation by an outside power.  Kiberd (1995, 6) argues similarly that colonialism took various forms in Ireland over the centuries, forms that were accompanied by a “psychology of self-doubt and dependency among the Irish, linked to the loss of economic and political power but also to the decline of the native language and culture.”
[4] See pages 17 and following of this essay under the subheading “Who are the Carers?”
[5]Buber's focus on dialogue and community would mark him out as an important thinker for educators. But when this is added to his fundamental concern with encounter and how we are with each other (and the world) his contribution is unique and yet often unrecognized. For him the teacher encounters the pupil in an I-thou reciprocal relationship which is a real recognition of unique identity. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), Freire, reprising the oppressors-oppressed distinction, differentiates between the two positions in an unjust society, the oppressor and the oppressed. He makes no direct reference to his most direct influence for the distinction, which stems back at least as far as Hegel’s master and slave dichotomy.

No comments: