08. Recognition and the ideology of merit


  • Heidi Elmgren University of Jyväskylä




This paper discusses pathological forms that the ideal of merit takes in ideological uses of meritocratic ideas. According to the French philosopher Dominique Girardot (2011) the possibility of our genuinely recognizing one another is impaired by the ideology of merit: this new ideology standardizes recognition and forces competition, thus creating hierarchies and what Axel Honneth calls social pathologies. The ideology also threatens the category of action in Hannah Arendt’s (1958) sense. The paper elucidates Girardot’s stance and sketches a comparison between Honneth’s and Girardot’s views on recognition. Despite the explicit connection to Honneth’s theory, Girardot actually creates an Arendtian theory of recognition. It is against the background of that theory that the pathological forms of contemporary meritocracy best come to light.

Author Biography

Heidi Elmgren, University of Jyväskylä

Heidi Elmgren (heidi.elmgren@jyu.fi) is a PhD student at the University of Jyväskylä.


Arendt, H. (1998 [1958]) The Human Condition, 2nd ed., Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Arendt, H. (1992) Lectures on Kant’s Political Philosophy Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Arendt, H. (1986) The Origins of Totalitarianism London: André Deutsch

Arendt, H. (1971) ’Thinking and Moral Considerations’ Social Research 38:3, New York: New School for Social Research, pp. 417-446

Benhabib, S. (1988) ‘Judgment and the Moral Foundations of Politics in Arendt’s Thought’ Political Theory vol. 16, no.1, pp. 29-51

Birmingham, P. (2006) Hannah Arendt and Human Rights. The predicament of Common Responsibility Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press

Fraser, N. & Honneth, A. (2003) Redistribution or Recognition? A Political-Philosophical Exchange London: Verso Publishing

Friedman, M. (2013) ‘Women in philosophy: Why should we care?’ in K. Hutchinson& F. Jenkins (eds.) Women in philosophy - What needs to change? Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press

Girardot, D. (2011) La Société du mérite - Ideologie méritocratique & violence néoliberale Lormont: Bord de l’Eau

Graeber, D. (2008) ‘Give it away’ The Anarchist Library Available online, accessed 11/14/2014: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/david-graeber-give-it-away

Heinämaa, S. (forthcoming) ‘Chapter 6: Future and Others’ in R. M. Schott (ed.) Birth, Death and the Feminine: Essays in the Philosophy of Embodiment Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Honneth, A. (1995) The Struggle for Recognition - The Moral Grammar of Social Conflicts (trans. J Anderson) Cambridge, MA: MIT Press

Jenkins, F. (2013) ‘Singing the Post-Discrimination Blues: Notes for a Critique of Academic Meritocracy’ in K. Hutchinson & F. Jenkins (eds.) Women in philosophy - What needs to change? Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press

Lareau, A. (2003) Unequal Childhoods: class, race, and family life Berkeley: University of California Press

Mill, J. S. (2001 [1863]) Utilitarianism Kitchener, Ontario: Batoche Books, Available online, accessed 04/24/2014: http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/mill/utilitarianism.pdf

Murphy, E. & Oesch, D. (2015) ‘The Feminization of Occupations and Change in Wages: A Panel Analysis of Britain, Germany and Switzerland’ SOEP paper No. 731 Available online: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2564612##

Pearson D. T., Naughton G. A., & Torode, M. (2006) ‘Predictability of physiological testing and the role of maturation in talent identification for adolescent team sports’ Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 9 iss. 4, pp. 277—287. Available online, accessed 05/10/2014: http://www.fisioex.ufpr.br/resources/BE711/BE711---Pearson-JSMS-2006.pdf

Rini, A. (2013) ‘Models and values: Why did New Zealand philosophy departments stop hiring women philosophers?’ in K. Hutchinson & F. Jenkins (eds.) Women in philosophy - What needs to change? Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press

Rosanvallon, P. (2013) The Society of Equals Cambridge & London: Harvard University Press

Sennett, R. (2006) The culture of the new capitalism New Haven: Yale University Press

Spencer, S. J., Steele, C. M., & Quinn, D. M. (1999) ‘Stereotype Threat and Women’s Math Performance’ Journal of Experimental Social Psychology vol. 35, pp. 4–28 Available online, accessed 06/14/2015: http://www.leedsmet.ac.uk/carnegie/learning_resources/LAW_PGCHE/SteeleandQuinnStereotypeThreat.pdf

Stone, J., Sjomeling, M., Lynch, C. I., & Darley, J. M. (1999) ‘Stereotype Threat Effects on Black and White Athletic Performance’ Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 77 no. 6, pp. 1213-1227. Available online, accessed 06/14/2015: http://www.u.arizona.edu/~jeffs/golf1.pdf

Wortham, S. (2010) Derrida Dictionary London & New York: Continuum

Young-Bruehl, E. (2006) Why Arendt Matters New Haven & London: Yale University Press




How to Cite

Elmgren, H. (2015) “08. Recognition and the ideology of merit”, Studies in Social and Political Thought, 250. doi: 10.20919/sspt.25.2015.32.