Multiculturalism according to Nancy Fraser

Toward An Integrative View in the

Multiculturalism Discourse

A Brief Review on the Political Philosophy of Nancy Fraser

Reza A.A Wattimena

Abstract: The Contemporary Political Philosophy divided into two camps. On one side is the proponents of redistribution politics, and the other side is the proponents of politics of recognition. Fraser contributes to this debate, and conceptualizes her own approach that she called the pragmatic approach on status model of recognition. In this paper I will explain Fraser’s view about multiculturalism on the basis of status model of recognition and its basic aspects, especially about participation parity, ‘distinctiveness’, justice, morality, and identity. At the end, I will argue that Fraser’s view about Sittlichkeit is a reductive version of Hegel’s Sittlichkeit.

Keywords: Politics of Recognition, Redistributive Politics, Identity, Participation Parity.

There are two concepts of politics in the contemporary political philosophy debates. The first one is the redistributive politics. The other one is the politics of recognition.[1] Redistributive politics means that everyone wants a fair distribution of wealth to achieve social and economic justice. On the other hand is the politics of recognition, which means that everyone wants to create a society which friendly to cultural difference, or what Fraser called as “difference-friendly-culture” (2002: 21). The society has to be managed, so the minorities do not have to assimilate with the majority lifestyle and way of thinking. The minorities have their rights to be recognized as equal. In conclusion, the proponents of redistributive politics want a fair distribution of wealth for all, and the proponents of politics of recognition want to fight for full recognition of their particularity of ethnic, race, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The contemporary political philosophy focuses on this issue.

In many cases, according to Fraser, the fight for a fair distributive system of national wealth separates itself from the fight for equal recognition of the minorities’ way of life, i.e. the discourse and the political movement of feminism. For many feminist thinkers, a just and fair distribution of wealth is not enough. The concept of fair distribution of wealth only strengthens the male-discourse domination in the public sphere, especially when the distribution viewed as some kind of charity. What many feminist thinkers want are the recognition of their particular identity and way of life. The debates also focus on this issue, what is the nature of gender? Is it socially construct, or have its ontological basis that permanent? According to Fraser, these debates are a symbol of the separation between on the one hand the cultural politics, and the other hand is social politics, or we can call it practical politics, and also the separation between on the one hand is politics of difference, and the other hand is politics of equality. (2002: 22)

The proponents of redistributive politics think that the politics of recognition is a false consciousness that become the barrier to achieve social and economic justice in the society. On the other hand, the proponents of politics of recognition think that the discourse of redistributive politics does not understand the nature of the social and cultural injustice which experienced by minorities all over the world. In this debate, we seem to have to choose only between these two types of discourse and theories: politics of recognition that focuses on identity politics, or redistributive politics that focus on social and economic equality. Do we have other options?

According to Fraser, this debate based on big misunderstanding. She argues that every society needs both, namely the fair distribution of wealth on the one hand, and the recognition of the particular and cultural identity of the minorities on the other hand. The problems are how can we combine the two types of political discourse to achieve conceptual coherence and effective social practices? Fraser has an interesting argument. She argues that the debates on the nature of politics cannot be separated from the ideal of justice. Therefore, the main problem is to formulate the concept of justice that can contain both of the political philosophy discourse. In this paper, I will try to explain how Fraser creates a synthesis between redistributive politics and politics of recognition. At the end of the paper, I will give some critical remarks on her theory.

For this purpose, this paper will have four points. At first, I will explain Fraser’s arguments concerning the politics of recognition in the discourse of multiculturalism (1). Then, I will try to analyze some cases based of Fraser’s theory (2). Next, I will try to conclude Fraser’s political philosophy, especially concerning the discourse of participation parity and the pragmatic model of social status as the synthesis between two conflicting paradigms in the contemporary political philosophy (3). At the last chapter, I will give some critical remarks on Fraser’s theory (4).

I will jump to conclusion

3. Conclusion

What I am trying to say is, that in the process of policy legislation, or analyzing problems in the context of multicultural society, we do not have to refer directly to particular ethics, which belongs to one exclusive group in society, and automatically exclude the other world view and set of values that belongs to to other groups. Fraser repeatedly said, that ethics basically always be a part of particular social group, and embedded in particular cultural and set of values. Therefore, we have to refer from the deontological point of view that has a universal tendency and form, before we refer to particular set of values, or what Fraser calls as ethics. In my opinion, particular ethics are still important, especially for the related groups. However, as Fraser suggests, the priority has to be given to the policy that can contain various interests of different groups who also have different cultures. We cannot sacrifice a particular interest of minority group, which also have particular culture, in the name of the interest and cultural pattern of the majorities. (Fraser, 2002: 37)

Fraser also suggests that the debate between redistributive politics and the politics of recognition can find some common ground in what she calls the pragmatic approach of social status. This approach can contain various interests, cultures, and economic interest and at the same time reduces injustices social practices in the society. The focus is to guarantee participation parity between citizens, which live in the multicultural society. According to Fraser (2002: 38), this paradigm can offer a more integrative solution to the social problems that arise in the multicultural society.

4. Critical Remarks

Fraser has already formulated her political philosophy as reconciliation between redistributive politics and politics of recognition. She did it in very detail and systematic manner. This theoretical reconciliation came from what she calls the social status model of recognition. In this point of view, the politics of recognition do not trap on what Hegel calls as sittlichkeit, or, as Fraser translate it, particular ethics that belongs to particular social groups. Fraser then referred to more Kantian universalist morality that focus on duty, or what many moral philosophers identify as deontological ethics. She understands the politics of recognition in Kantian terms, namely as pragmatic approach, which focuses on participation parity and equal social status. In a sense, she already formulated an alternative point of view to understand and solve many social problems that arise in the multicultural society.

However, in my opinion, Fraser is incorrect, especially in her understanding concerning Hegel’s concept of Sittlichkeit. Fraser repeatedly wrote that ethics or what she understands as sittlichkeit, always remain particular in character, and always refer to particular worldview of particular social groups. Therefore, ethics cannot be a measure that can analyze various social problems and contain various interests of many social groups that live together in the multicultural society. This kind of thinking is incorrect. If we start to directly read Hegel’s writing about Sittlichkeit in The Philosophy of Right, we can be sure that Fraser’s understanding concerning Hegel’s Sittlichkeit is wrong.[2]

For Hegel, sittlichkeit is not always particular in character. Actually, he understood sittlichkeit as a synthesis between on the one hand particular morality that existed in one’s soul, and universal aspects that inherent in the positive law on the other hand. In conclusion, sittlichkeit already contains particular (morality) and universal (law) aspects of human social life. According to Hegel, morality does not refer to social structure. Morality still exists in the abstract level of human social life. On the other hand, law is all about social structure. Law exists in the concrete level of human social life. Sittlichkeit is a synthesis between morality on the one hand, and law on the other hand. Let me explain more about sittlichkeit.

According to Hegel, sittlichkeit contains three moments, namely family, civil society, and the state. In these three moments, human freedom gradually increases to achieve its peak. In other words, sittlichkeit is the peak of human freedom, which already beyond family, civil society, and state on the one hand, and morality and law on the other hand. In sittlichkeit, law already contains morality and human freedom. Therefore, it is natural for citizens to obey law wholeheartedly. We can understand sittlichkeit as a synthesis between collective will of the society and individual will of a person. The public policies that govern society created based on this synthesis, namely sittlichkeit itself. (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, 4, 94)

With this argument, we can conclusively say that Fraser’s critics of Hegel’s concept of ethics and sittlichkeit actually based on misunderstanding of what Hegel really means about sittlichkeit. Hegel never said that sittlichkeit is a particular ethics that belongs to particular social group. He repeatedly wrote that sittlichkeit is a synthesis between individual subjective will and collective will that already written in the forms of law. In Hegel’s dialectic logic, sittlichkeit is a moment where particularity and universality become identical and different almost at the same time. In it differences, the particular and the universal become identical. This is the philosophical substance of the sittlichkeit.

In its development, sittlichkeit experience some changing in meaning. Many multiculturalism and politics of recognition theorist, such as Charles Taylor and Axel Honneth, often reduce the meaning of sittlichkeit in the context of struggle for recognition of particular identity and social groups. The universal aspects of sittlichkeit seem disappeared. If Taylor and Honneth more of proponents of politics of recognition, Fraser stand more in the middle trying to create synthesis between redistributive politics and politics of recognition. Beyond her weakness, especially in her reductive understanding concerning Hegel’s sittlichkeit, Fraser formulate a new approach that quite valuable as alternative point of view, and worthy to be discussed further.


Fraser, Nancy, “Recognition without Ethics”, in Recognition and Difference. Politics, Identity, and Multiculture, Scott Lash and Mike Featherstone (eds), London, SAGE Publications, 2002, p. 21-42.

————-, “Rethinking Recognition: Overcoming Displacement and Reification in Cultural Politics”, New Left Review 3 (May/June), 2000, p. 107-120.

Hegel, G.W.F, Philosophy of Right, New York, Oxford University Press, 1981.

Honneth, Axel, “Integrity and Disrespect: Principles of a Conception of Morality Based on the Theory of Recognition”, in Political Theory 20(2), 1992, p. 188-189

Kymlicka, Will, “Three Forms of Group-Differentiated Citizenship in Canada”, in Seyla Benhabib (ed), Democracy and Difference. New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1989.

Taylor, Charles, “The Politics of Recognition”, in Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, Amy Gutmann (ed), New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1994

Wattimena, Reza A.A, Melampaui Negara Hukum Klasik, Yogyakarta, Kanisius, 2007.

—————————-, “Keadilan dalam Debat Komunitarianisme dan Liberalisme”, in Respons. Jurnal Etika Sosial, Volume 12, Nomor 01-Juli 2007.

[1] In this article, my analysis inspired by Nancy Fraser’s writing: Nancy Fraser, “Recognition without Ethics”, in Recognition and Difference. Politics, Identity, and Multiculture, Scott Lash and Mike Featherstone (eds), London, SAGE Publications, 2002, hal. 21-42.

[2] I read G.W. F Hegel, Philosophy of Right, New York, Oxford University Press, 1981.


Diterbitkan oleh

Reza A.A Wattimena

Dosen Hubungan Internasional, Universitas Presiden, Cikarang. Peneliti di President Center for International Studies (PRECIS). Pendiri Program Pengembangan Diri dan Pengembangan Organisasi "Sudut Pandang". Penceramah, Peneliti dan Penulis di bidang Filsafat Politik, Pengembangan Diri dan Organisasi, Metode Berpikir Ilmiah dan Kebijaksanaan Timur. Doktor Filsafat dari Hochschule für Philosophie München, Philosophische Fakultät SJ München, Jerman. Beberapa karyanya: Menjadi Pemimpin Sejati (2012), Filsafat Anti Korupsi (2012), Tentang Manusia (2016), Filsafat dan Sains (2008), Kebijaksanaan Timur dan Jalan Pembebasan (akan terbit- 2016), Melampaui Negara Hukum Klasik (2007), Demokrasi: Dasar dan Tantangannya (2016), Bahagia, Kenapa Tidak? (2015), dan berbagai karya lainnya.

3 tanggapan untuk “Multiculturalism according to Nancy Fraser”

  1. A fascinating discussion is definitely worth comment.
    I think that you should publish more about this topic, it might
    not be a taboo matter but typically people don’t talk about these issues. To the next! Cheers!!


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