Misrecognition, Marriage and Derecognition

In Shane O'Neill Nicholas H. Smith (ed.), Recognition Theory as Social Research: Investigating the Dynamics of Social Conflict. Palgrave-Macmillan (2012)
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Contemporary recognition theory has developed powerful tools for understanding a variety of social problems through the lens of misrecognition. It has, however, paid somewhat less attention to how to conceive of appropriate responses to misrecognition, usually making the tacit assumption that the proper societal response is adequate or proper affirmative recognition. In this paper I argue that, although affirmative recognition is one potential response to misrecognition, it is not the only such response. In particular, I would like to make the case for derecognition in some cases: derecognition, in particular, through the systematic deinstitutionalization or uncoupling of various reinforcing components of social institutions, components whose tight combination in one social institution has led to the misrecognition in the first place. I make the case through the example of recent United States debates over marriage, especially but not only with respect to gay marriage. I argue that the proper response to the misrecognition of sexual minorities embodied in exclusively heterosexual marriage codes is not affirmative recognition of lesbian and gay marriages, but rather the systematic derecognition of legal marriage as currently understood. I also argue that the systematic misrecognition of women that occurs under the contemporary institution of marriage would likewise best be addressed through legal uncoupling of heterogeneous social components embodied in the contemporary social institution of marriage.

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Christopher Zurn
University of Massachusetts, Boston


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