Disrespect Honneth Nepali Female Migrants Recognition

Recognition and Forms of Disrespect

This third blog post will continue my reflection on issues pertaining migrant women, integration and discrimination topics. I will propose here a special focus on the general forms of disrespect based on Axel Honnet’s (1992-2021) perspective concerning recognition theories and also on the multiple ways how those forms of disrespect and misrecognition or non-recognition might impact human beings and relationships. Females, namely migrant women, are especially concerned – although they can be agents of disrespect as well, or become active accomplices in it. 

© Alexandra Pereira, CECC, UCP, 2022

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According to Ruyssen and Salomone[1], while in previous times “women migrated mainly as wives, mothers or daughters of male migrants, they now increasingly move about as independent or single migrants” (Ruyssen and Salomone, 2018: 150, quoting Oishi, 2002 and Pedraza, 1991). The inescapable reality that constitutes the so-called “feminization of migration” has been recognized consecutively by United Nations officials over the last decade, as well as by international organizations such as the Caritas[2], with their representatives stating on several occasions that “the face of migration is a female one”. Although most of the new international female migration is driven by economic factors (a majority of women migrate looking for jobs, towards more developed countries or places where there is a shortage of labour, and an increasing number of them become the main breadwinners of their families), other factors such as conflicts and wars, political instability, persecution and insecurity, climate change, epidemics, loss of livelihoods and land degradation, famine and natural disasters continue to play an important role in female migration. A “non-economic determinant of female migration that has recently proved to be of particular importance (…) is gender discrimination” or the inequalities between genders recorded in terms of freedoms and opportunities (Ruyssen and Salomone, 2018: 150, quoting Ferrant and Tuccio, 2015; Baudassé and Baziller, 2014; Nejad and Young, 2014; Nejad, 2013; Bang and Mitra, 2011). This determinant has, however, an ambiguous nature that turns its assessment difficult: not only does its impact depend on what exactly is meant by “gender discrimination” at the outset. On the one hand, gender discrimination can influence the decision to migrate, on the other hand, it can be an obstacle to that migration.

The SIGI (Social Institutions and Gender Index of the OECD Development Center) establishes five dimensions for discriminatory social institutions, covering the main socio-economic areas that affect women’s lives: discriminatory family code, restriction of physical integrity (including gender-based violence and lack of reproductive autonomy), prejudices/biases favoring male children and offspring (including in household investment and care provided by the household to boys, or social practices and norms that devalue daughters), restriction on resources and assets that they may own/to which they can access, and restriction of female’s civil liberties (laws and discriminatory practices in women’s access to public space, political participation and public life in general) (Ruyssen and Salomone, 2018: 158). The SIGI Index (compared through 160 countries) has shown that, despite the great advances made in recent decades, there are female disadvantages in terms of opportunities and freedoms in three major areas and especially in developing countries: education, political empowerment and the labour market (where there is increasing access by women, but with less secure jobs than men).

Ruyssen and Salomone (2018) sought to elucidate the relationship between gender discrimination and female migration, using Gallup World Polls unexplored at the micro level and across different countries (cross-country analysis): these authors found that perceived gender discrimination was significantly and positively correlated with intentions to move to another country, however they did not find a direct relationship between perceived gender discrimination and migratory behavior – having suggested this as a first indication that women who feel discriminated against are more willing to migrate, but precisely this discrimination constitutes the first element preventing them from actually carrying out the desired migration. These authors also proposed a microeconomic multivariate analysis as a future study necessary to better assess the evidence already collected by different researchers, regarding the relationship between gender imbalances and female migration (Ruyssen and Salomone, 2018: 168).

On Recognition

David Owen (2016, 2021)[3] distinguished two different orientations regarding the struggles for recognition, in the philosophical reflections developed on that theme: a teleological orientation and an agonistic orientation. The teleological orientation would depart from Rousseau and spread its branches to Hegel and Axel Honneth, focusing on trying to philosophically articulate the norms of recognition that are required to support and sustain the achievement [faced as a desirable one] of “social freedom”. This orientation appeals to philosophical anthropology or to the immanent historical reconstruction and seeks to detect the forms of pathology that emerge from non-recognition, “de-recognition” and misrecognition – as well as the forms of recognition essential to build a society that can be considered as a good and fair one. The agonistic orientation, on another hand, departs from Nietzsche and reaches Foucault, Tully and Rancière. It sees the role of Philosophy as one of (re)describing the social and political practices in which the participants are situated, in order to enable them to free themselves from the grip of the norms of current recognition, or it attempts to help participants to subject standards to challenge and critical evaluation. However this orientation, in addition to presenting the issue of recognition and related concepts/problematizations in the negative form (thus emphasizing the shock in the relationships and with the social norms), would presuppose considerable agency and ability for critical evaluation on the part of the individuals – wouldn’t it be, in this sense and paradoxically, too optimistic? From this perspective, we can propose that while Honneth has a clearly teleological affiliation, Judith Butler’s work would make a stronger bridge with the agonistic orientation.

Our research project with 1st and 2nd generation Nepali female migrants in Portugal is not only directed at detecting forms of pathology that emerge from the non-recognition and misrecognition of these migrants – it also aims to identify and promote some essential forms of recognition for them. “Essential” not only for the construction of a society that can be seen as fair, but for the relational construction of the composite identities of our interviewees as well (the adoption of the notion of compound identities seems preferable to us, when compared with the alternative notions of hybrid identities, alternate identities or even unsubjugated identities). In this sense, the teleological approach definitively appears to be more compatible with the notion of composite/compound identities adopted by us, and more linked to relationships and social interactions.

The self-recognition of these female migrants will involve a symbolic knowledge and performative responsibilities – on another hand, their notorious ambivalence is not original: we all experience it when we are called to make bridges of the same type, in our personal lives. Religious identity represents, for these women, an element related to family belonging. Identity definitions will be made together and not just by the interlocutor: through mutual recognition via negotiations and counter-negotiations (starting with interests, values, goals and self-determinations that may be conflicting). Only in front of an Other is one challenged to recognize him/her, welcome her and consider her – if one understands freedom as a call within oneself and as an answer to another human being who cries out for recognition. The relationship with the Other isn’t moral just yet: the formation of moral conscience cannot be understood if we do not depart from the experience of encounter-meeting with the Other. There are conditionings to our freedom, even in the relationships with Others, and self-awareness is not conscience in its entirety: moral conscience is the conscience of oneself in a relationship with the Other (one sees in the Other someone called to be free, aware of him/herself and responsible). Meeting the Other means seeing him/her, listening to her without the distance summoned by fear and mistrust. Furthermore, Taylor (1994) reminded us that identity has a fundamental performative moment linked to authenticity, which is deeply ethical.

We can ask ourselves: will these females be able to build a composite but profoundly individual identity of “European Nepalis”, in relation with their local political community (the portuguese one)? Amartya Sen (2006)[4] postulated that the consideration of a European culture as the legitimate heir of Greek democracy automatically corresponded to a “classificatory arbitrariness that defined civilizations in racial terms” (of course, there is great simplism in the view according to which any material culture or ancient writing was produced by racially homogeneous individuals and groups…). Sen proposes that each individual defines their identity freely, without ties nor constraints connected to their social relationships, each person rationally freed from contexts and situations, from their interactions or the “weight of the Other” – he praises, above all, the possibility and the determining role of individual choice and rationality, regarding ponderations on each one’s own identity (ie, the freedom of the subject). Therefore Sen analyzed the relationship between violence and identity while attributing a special relevance to individual freedom. However, we may question whether identity does not inherently result from a construction based on relational dialectics, dialogues and conflicts with the surrounding people and environments[5]. Sen’s position contrasts strongly, and on different levels, with the perspective espoused by Sergio Bastianel (2011)[6], who placed relationality at the centre of personal identity construction and identified ethical pluralism as a specific contribution by the Christians. This author tells us that the world of relationships is given: it is not primarily created by ourselves. Furthermore, our freedom is challenged to become responsible. The answer to the fragility of the Other is the responsibility that makes one free. Here, Bastaniel affiliates himself with Levinas and all those who followed him: it is face-to-face with the Other that all meaning erupts and the subject discovers him/herself as responsible. As such, personal moral conscience is in fact a product of self-awareness marked by the wisdom of freedom in the context of a relationship with the Other. It becomes also important that one recognizes the real (and not ideal) possibilities, so that one doesn’t end up assigning responsibilities which are not suited to the people targeted, nor to their abilities.

By Kieferpix on Pexels


On Disrespect

But let us return to recognition in its connections with disrespect. Axel Honneth (1992)[7], when describing the structure of the social relations of recognition, associated three modes of recognition (emotional dedication, cognitive respect and social appreciation) with three respective modes of practical self-relationship (self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth), as well as with three forms of disrespect: abuse and rape (threatening the “physical integrity” component of the personality); disenfranchisement and exclusion (threatening the “personal integrity” component of the personality); and degradation and offense (threatening the “honor and dignity” components of the personality). The corresponding forms of recognition are linked to primary relationships (love and friendship), to legal relationships (rights) and to the community of values ​​(solidarity), as well as to certain dimensions of personality (nature of needs and affections, moral responsibility, capabilities and properties). And, in the case of the second and third forms of recognition, they appear connected to certain developmental potentials (generalization and materialization; individualization and equalization). In this way, the differentiation between three models of recognition makes it possible to unveil several corresponding modes of disrespect. Physical mistreatment of an individual corresponds to a type of disrespect that results in a certain social shame and loss of confidence in oneself and the world; the experiences of torture and rape always imply a marked rupture of trust in the solidity of our social world and in self-security (Honneth, 2011: 181). “Disrespect” and “offense” can result in palpable or subtle humiliation. Disrespect modes can also shake and undermine a person’s practical self-relationship, by denying one the recognition of certain identity claims (Honneth, 2011: 180).

While welcoming Nepali female migrants in Portugal one can ask oneself and question them about what forms of disrespect they have experienced – within their axiological community of belonging and within their local political community. In order to transform and match the modes of disrespect identified by them with models of recognition that can be developed, strengthened and trained together with them (dignifying them in their primary relationships, in their legal relationships and within their community of values). One way forward is to inquire about examples of the three modes of practical self-relationship (self-confidence, self-respect and self-worth) in the context of relationships that constitute the family, work, social, community and sexual spheres of belonging and within the scope of their legal and symbolic self-determinations, as well as considering their personal experiences with migratory paths. Moreover, one can ask: is there a female specificity regarding the migrant condition, or is that not the case? How do these migrant women inhabit pre-constituted identities and the experience of the contrast[8]? On the other hand – conflict is also a condition for recognition. Without intergenerational conflict, for example, there is no recognition nor political innovation: what is the perception of these women (older and younger) concerning the cultural gap between Nepali generations? We know that, in Western societies, there is a certain fading out of such intergenerational conflict, leading to marginal disputes and little-known innovations, almost restricted to the consumerist ritual. Does the Nepali diaspora convey a greater potential for promoting political and cultural innovations (or new habitus, in the sense of Pierre Bourdieu) than the host community, when we analyze its 2nd generation?

If institutional discrimination and disrespect were systematized either by the SIGI Index or by Axel Honneth, disrespect still has a markedly subjective dimension – it should be underlined. Disrespect is deeply connected to individual thresholds and it can be considered as the opposite of recognition (or, at the very least, it thrives on its absence). To some extent, it works like a poison: disrespect invades the veins of individual or group targets and slowly kills relationships, enthusiasm, impulse, motivation, and new possibilities. Disrespect does not allow for balanced relationships to prosper: where each member of a community or group is considered as a valued contributor and roles are distributed or rotated; rather it prohibits the establishment of boundaries and abhors all candor or dissension. Disrespect overwhelms the subject while loathing counter-arguments and open channels of communication: it has no ears, no eyes, no empathy (but a predominantly self-oriented, selfish and boringly predictable nature, alongside pregiven and mechanistic responses to the most basic, mundane human problems). It is expressed through single or repeated actions, words and omissions that belittle and hurt the basic dignity of other human beings, that do not recognize nor appreciate their limits and healthy needs, nor their commendable efforts; that nullify, ignore, belittle, mock, or even ghost them.

Disrespect can impose absurd and rigid unilateral rules; it can suspend, degrade and turn the other invisible or take away his/her voice, ignore his/her presence and dehumanize the target; it can postpone indefinitely the smallest logical actions necessary to advance individually or collectively; it can sabotage and compare, and it can create a general toxic environment where no shared knowledge may flourish and all common constructive initiative is positively canceled or shattered. Disrespect chooses its targets and it is uncompromising: it does not ask and it does not listen. Its internal machinery works surreptitiously, underground (consciously or not so much so) for the subject(s) or the group(s). In addition, it hinders all creativity. It is very intertwined with the pursuit of strategic self-interests, management or ethics failures in community life, work and personal relationships, personality differences, poor education, distorted development of moral reasoning, or its suspension and replacement by the archaic logic of the herd/group or the scapegoat. However, disrespect is not always avoidable, as perfection is inherently non-human and a quality reserved for Gods alone. Forgiveness and tolerance are as human as dislike and miff, especially when our personal boundaries are pushed and exceeded by action or omission – common sense has shaped this mere fact of life into a saying: “even peaceful dogs bite when one steps on their tails”.

Disrespect misrecognizes and unrecognizes. Deliberately sabotaging valid individual and collective efforts, treating other human beings as (un)useful idiots who can be instrumentalized for our own ends, gains, profits, agendas and according to our schedule; imposing goals, “goal posts” and expectations in constant motion while disregarding the importance of predictability and regular or constant reciprocity that generates trust; ignoring other people’s needs, avoiding their requests or a valid dialogue and connection with them; using vague and meaningless natter to repeatedly evade self-responsibility; insulting directly or indirectly, affecting third parties unconsciously or deliberately, invalidating, monopolizing speech, demeaning, isolating, harassing, being arrogant and sarcastic, dividing, physically injuring or harming financially, emotionally and mentally – all of these actions can be considered as part of a wide spectrum of experiences that we usually link to disrespect. Our personal history always influences and informs the ways by which we react to such experiences – it is only intelligent and natural if it happens so. When we reflect upon the experiences lived by migrant communities, especially by individuals with ethnicities which are distinct from the dominant ones in their reception context, disrespect emerges intertwined with various forms of discrimination. If we cross this mesh with gender issues and more or less universal female experiences, the result is a checkerboard that needs to be unraveled and systematized, in order to better respond to it. By avoiding and disintegrating the traps associated with less positive migrant experiences. So that their impacts are minimized and do not extend over time nor across generations.

⇒ The Code of Ethics and Conduct by Universidade Católica Portuguesa can be found under the section Internal Documents HERE.

*Please find the portuguese translation on the next page

*Para a tradução portuguesa da publicação, por favor aceda à próxima página 

[1] Timmerman, C., Fonseca, M.L., Van Praag, L., & Pereira, S. (Eds.). (2018). Gender and migration: A gender-sensitive approach to migration dynamics (Vol. 3). Leuven University Press. These authors recall that Özden and Neagu (in Morrison et al, 2007) found that, regardless of their country of origin, the participation of migrant women in the US workforce: (i) increased with their level of education and number of years of residence in the US; (ii) decreased with the number of children at home; and (iii) depended on marital status (single women and women married to American men were more likely to work). They also found that labour market participation was lower for female migrants from South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh), the Middle East and North Africa, but higher among migrants from Europe, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and East Asia.
[3] Butler, J., Honneth, A., McNay, L., Allen, A., Deranty, J.P., Celikates, R., & Owen, D. (2021). Recognition and Ambivalence (Vol. 77). Columbia University Press.
[4] Sen, A. (2006). Identity and Violence, New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
[5] For complementarities and points of tension between the Capabilities Approach envisaged by Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum and the Catholic Social Tradition, see Zampini-Davies (2014) and Schulz (2016) (Deneulin, 2018).
[6] Bastianel, S. (2001). Coscienza: autonomy and community. Didaskalia, 31(1), 3-20. & Bastianel, S. (2011). Ethical pluralism. The specific contribution of Christians. Ecclesiastical Studies. Revista de investigación e información teológica y canónica, 86(337), 267-289.
[7] Honneth, A. (2011). Luta pelo reconhecimento: para uma gramática moral dos conflitos sociais. Ed. 70.

[8] Dietmar Mieth, a German Catholic moral theologian, showed to us that even children born and raised in war environments are able to dream about peace, through the experience of contrast.

 By Alexandra Pereira, 2022: SGD Mapper

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Alexandra Pereira (2022, 28 Junho). Recognition and Forms of Disrespect. Desenvolvimento Humano Integral. Recuperado em 25 de Abril de 2024, de

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