Forms Of Social Injustice: Exploring Remedies And Identifying Legitimate Claims


How is the identity of a person or group formed? For Charles Taylor, it is partly formed by the presence or absence of recognition by others (1). But what is recognition? In the article “Politics of Recognition”, Charles Taylor defines “recognition” as the acknowledgment of the inherent dignity and worth of individuals or groups, including the recognition of difference (2). Lack of recognition or misrecognition of certain groups or individuals based on their race, gender, etc can lead to the marginalization or exclusion of these groups. A person or a group can suffer great damage and distortions because of misrecognition (3). One of the existing ways of uplifting the marginalized is the
redistribution of resources (4). One of the major goals of the redistribution of resources is to eliminate economic inequality while calls for recognition seek to protect cultures or traditions that lie at the heart of certain groups or individuals. This, however, does not mean that they are mutually exclusive or incompatible. This paper reconciles redistribution and recognition and argues that the two cater to different kinds of marginalization, and one cannot be replaced by another. However, they are not incompatible, and a combination of both may be necessary for certain situations.

After reconciling recognition and redistribution, I shall refer to Taylor’s reference to the Canadian Charter of Rights and the laws passed by Quebec, which prohibit Quebeckers from sending their kids to English-medium schools or using English as a language in certain businesses because the Quebec government wants to preserve their language, French. The measures are said to be in line with the collective idea of good by Quebeckers (5). Taylor endorses the recognition of strong cultural goals or collective ideas of good life if they do not violate the rights of others but he does not throw light on how to distinguish between claims for recognition that are legitimate and the ones which are not (6).  I argue that recognition of collective goals can sometimes give rise to injustice at an individualistic level and then explore ways of differentiating legitimate claims of collective recognition from illegitimate ones so that recognition of strong cultural goals does not give rise to injustice at an individualistic level.

Existing Theories On Redistribution And Recognition Charles Taylor’s Idea Of Recognition:

One of the key concepts that Taylor talks about is the idea of  “recognition” which he argues is crucial for understanding human identity and self-worth. According to Taylor, recognition refers to the acknowledgment and validation of a person’s identity and worth by others in society. It involves being seen, understood, and respected as a unique individual with specific characteristics, values, and beliefs. Taylor argues that recognition is essential for individuals to develop a sense of self and to thrive in their personal and social lives.

Taylor distinguishes between two types of recognition: positive and negative. Positive recognition involves being valued and respected for who you are, affirming your identity and worth. It acknowledges and affirms your individuality, culture, and background. Positive recognition allows individuals to have a sense of self-esteem and to develop a positive self- image.

On the other hand, negative recognition refers to instances where individuals are not seen or acknowledged in a way that affirms their identity and worth. It can involve misrecognition, disrespect, or marginalization of certain individuals or groups based on their race, gender, ethnicity, or other characteristics. Negative recognition can lead to feelings of alienation, low self-esteem, and social exclusion.

For Taylor, recognition is not just a personal or psychological matter but also a social and political one. He argues that the way recognition is distributed in society is deeply connected to issues of power, justice, and equality. In his view, societies should strive for equal recognition, where all individuals and groups have their identities and worth acknowledged and respected. This requires creating inclusive social and political institutions that promote diversity, dialogue, and understanding.

Fraser On The Interplay Between Redistribution And Recognition:

In her essay “From Redistribution to Recognition”, Fraser addresses the shift in political discourse from a focus on economic redistribution to a concern for cultural recognition. Traditionally, social justice movements have focused on issues of economic inequality and the need for redistribution of wealth and resources to address social injustices. However, Fraser argues that in recent times, there has been an increased emphasis on the recognition of cultural identities and struggles for equal recognition within society.

Fraser contends that both redistribution and recognition are important dimensions of justice. She argues that a just society should address both economic inequality and cultural recognition in order to achieve full social justice. According to Fraser, the neglect of recognition can lead to the marginalization and subordination of certain groups based on their cultural identities, while the neglect of redistribution can perpetuate economic inequalities and social injustices.

Identifying Claims Of Recognition And Redistribution

Injustices in society can take multiple forms, and different forms require different kinds of remedies. One of them is socio-economic injustice, which is deeply rooted in the structure of the political economy. Economic exploitation and its ways have been discussed by theorists like Marx (8). The Marxian conception calls for the abolition of class society as a whole, not the recognition of the working class. This includes the restructuring of the class distinction in the political economy (9). The concept of redistribution of resources has been furthered as a way of correcting socio-economic injustices (10). However, the redistribution of resources does not take into consideration the problem of
cultural or symbolic injustices, which are rooted in patterns of communication, interpretation, and representation in society (11). This includes disrespect, non-recognition, or exclusion by virtue of one’s culture, which does not conform to the culture of the dominant groups in the society. This is where Taylor’s concept of recognition can be a way of upholding the inherent value of culture or recognizing certain cultures as legitimate by providing them with certain rights (12). To understand this, let us look at the injustice meted out to people who do not conform to the binaries of gender or the notion of heterosexuality. Homosexuality was illegal in India until the Supreme Court of India
decriminalised it (13). However, the recognition of same-sex marriages is still not regularised in India. Recently, a petition was filed in the Supreme Court for the recognition of same-sex marriage. What the petitioners wanted was recognition and legitimacy of their relationship and not redistribution of resources (14). Although one must also note that the queer community is also fighting for redistribution or affirmative action on some fronts (15). However, the claim for recognition obviously stands out, especially in the case mentioned earlier.

Therefore, redistribution and recognition seek to remedy different kinds of injustices in society. However, they are not distinct from or exclusive of each other. Cultural and socio-economic injustices often exist simultaneously in society, and both should be remedied (16). The structural subordination of Dalits can be used to understand how certain groups can be subjected to both socio- economic and cultural injustices. They are often disgraced or misrecognized by the dominant groups of society as their culture or idea of the good life does not conform to that of the dominant groups. On the other hand, they have been historically denied opportunities at jobs and means of economic upliftment (17). To remedy this, an intertwined version of redistribution, as well as recognition, is needed. Redistribution in the form of better access to resources, jobs, and other means is required to uplift them from socio-economic subjugation. On the other hand, Taylor’s conception of recognition is also required so that they are not made invisible or not disrespected (18).

The above discussion establishes that recognition is a remedy for cultural or symbolic subjugation, but can any group with strong cultural goals claim recognition or special rights? How to differentiate between claims for recognition which are legitimate and the ones which are not? The following section shall analyse Quebec’s claim for recognition as discussed by Charles Taylor and formulate a way of identifying claims that should be granted.

Identifying Legitimate Claims Of Recognition

Taylor mentions the unique legislation passed by the Quebec Government that prohibits Quebeckers from sending their kids to an English medium school and use of French as the only means of communication, among other things. The restrictions were defended on the ground of collective goals, the preservation of French as a collective good as Quebeckers form a minority in Canada (19). Taylor says that a society can be formed around a fixed idea of the good life, and such a society is not discriminatory as long as it can accommodate diversity and people from other communities who do not believe in their definition of the good life (20). Recognizing such cultural goals sounds good until
we ask the question of diversity within a particular culture (21). Further, cultures do not restrict themselves within a fixed geographical boundary, and recognizing such goals will give rise to minorities within the state of Quebec (22). Another question that comes up when we talk about cultural goals is, Who decides these goals? Recognizing these cultural goals can lead to fundamentalism or imposing the Quebec culture of the dominant groups over the minorities. The imposition of such a collective goal over all the citizens within a particular state can impinge on individual freedom (23). Habermas argues that cultures are made up of individual members, and only members should have
autonomy to decide how a culture should look or whether it should be reproduced (24). At this juncture, Taylor will try to suggest that such an approach will essentially be a difference-blind approach and will completely disregard the presence of cultural inequalities. It will also be detrimental to Dalit movements or fights that call for the recognition of differences. How can we differentiate between the Dalit or queer rights movements and Quebec’s claim for recognition?

Collective goals can be divided into two types in order to find a way of differentiating claims for recognition that should be granted. Firstly, the one that tries to protect the culture from internal dissent, that is, prevent the members of the community from not following the norms of the culture. Secondly, the one that tries to protect the community from external decisions that are detrimental to the interests of the group (25). Quebec’s claim can be classified under the first type, where the Quebec government has imposed certain internal restrictions on the members of the group itself. Dalit or Queer movements can be placed in the second type where the group is claiming recognition from the larger society and is trying to get external protections in order to safeguard its interests. Therefore, claims of recognition may be accepted only if the case falls into the latter category, which is the one where protection is sought against external decisions that are harmful to the group. Claims falling under the former group, that is, the one where protection is sought from internal dissent, cannot be accepted, as that might give rise to linguistic imperialism, as in the case of Quebec or religious orthodoxy by forcing the members of a particular community to conform to the dominant groups’ idea of the religion (26). Claims for recognition, however, should not be used to assert dominance, for
example, a claim for recognition of Brahminical or saffron supremacy, that is, how some Hindus claim to speak on behalf of all Hindus today, or white supremacy in the West, cannot be accepted. Recognition should uphold the idea of parity in participation (27). A group claiming recognition or certain rights must successfully show that the existing societal structures are preventing them from participating at par with others in society. They should be able to show that the changes or rights which they are seeking will help them to achieve parity of participation without affecting the rights of others or worsening some other inequality that exists in society (28).


Cultural inequalities can therefore take different forms in a multicultural society, and the remedy cannot be a one-size fits all solution. This paper started by contextualising recognition among different forms of social inequalities and their remedies, redistribution being one of them. I have then argued that recognition and redistribution cannot be replaced for one another; sometimes both may be required for a particular community. The paper then moved on to the claims for recognition by different groups in a multicultural society and explored ways of identifying cultural claims that would not be at loggerheads with individual rights. This paper has built on Taylor’s argument for recognition by suggesting ways of identifying claims that will not adversely affect some other social inequality.


1.Charles Taylor and Amy Gutmann, Multiculturalism and ‘The Politics of Recognition’: An Essay (Princeton University Press 1992).
2. ibid
3. Taylor and Gutmann (n 1). 25
4. ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? By Nancy Fraser’ <> accessed 7 January 2023.
5. Taylor and Gutmann (n 1). 52-53
6. ibid. 59
7. ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? By Nancy Fraser’ (n 4).
8. ‘Estranged Labour, Marx, 1844’ <> accessed 7 January 2023.
9 Karl Marx, Ben Fowkes and David Fernbach, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy (Penguin Books in association
with New Left Review 1981).
10. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Original ed, Belknap Press 2005); ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? By Nancy Fraser’ (n 4).
11. ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? By Nancy Fraser’ (n 4).
12. Taylor and Gutmann (n 1).
13. Navtej Singh Johar v Union of India AIR 2018 SC 4321
14 ‘Same-Sex Marriage Case: Supreme Court Transfers All Petitions before High Courts to Itself’ (Bar and Bench – Indian Legal news) < all-petitions-before-high-courts-itself> accessed 7 January 2023.
15. Sandhya Swaminathan and Prakhar Raghuvanshi, ‘Editorial: Horizontal Reservation for Transgender Persons: Resolving the NALSA Conundrum’ [2022] Comparative Constitutional Law and Administrative Law Journal.
16. ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? By Nancy Fraser’ (n 4).
17. K Ilaiah, Why I Am Not a Hindu: A Sudra Critique of Hindutva Philosophy, Culture and Political Economy(2nd ed, Samya 2005).
18. ‘From Redistribution to Recognition? By Nancy Fraser’ (n 4).
19. Taylor and Gutmann (n 1). 52-53
20. ibid. 59
21. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Struggles for Recognition in Constitutional States’ (1993) 1 European Journal of Philosophy 128.
22. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Struggles for Recognition in Constitutional States’ (1993) 1 European Journal of Philosophy 128.
23. ibid.
24. Habermas (n 20).
25. Will Kymlicka, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights (Clarendon Press ; Oxford University Press 1995).35-36
26. ibid. 36

27. Nancy Fraser, ‘Recognition without Ethics?’ (2001) 18 Theory, Culture & Society 21. 28
28. ibid.

Srinjoy Debnath
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