ABSTRACT

First I discuss the limitations of recognition for grounding both politics and ethics, the main problem being that recognition is distributed according to an axis of power that is part and parcel of systems of dominance and oppression. Next, I take up more recent attempts to link recognition to vulnerability rather than to self-consciousness. I challenge the concept of vulnerability on the grounds that it is not exclusive to, or constitutive of, humanity, on the one hand, and criticize it for ignoring differences in levels of vulnerability, on the other. I propose witnessing, grounded in response ethics, as a supplement to recognition models of political and ethical subjectivity. Witnessing takes us beyond recognition to the affective and imaginative dimensions of experience, which must be added to the politics of recognition. It requires a commitment to what Jacques Derrida calls “hyperbolic ethics,” an ethics of impossible responsibilities for what we do not and cannot recognize.

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