Alexander von Humboldt Lecture

Alexander von Humboldt Lecture
and Opening Lecture of the 2020-2021 Human Geography Master Programme

Thursday, Sept. 3, 2020, 15:30-16:45 (Dutch time)
Public Virtual Lecture by means of Zoom:
Meeting ID: 929 7302 8257
Passcode: 748148
Free entry

Prof. Eberhard Rothfuß, University Bayreuth, Germany

The Theory of Recognition and its relevance for Geography
Empirical evidence from urban Latin America and rural Sub-Sahara Africa

Abstract: The aim of this presentation is twofold: Firstly I will try to explain, why the Theory of Recognition by Axel Honneth (1994) – the most prominent protagonist of the third generation of the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory – has a high potential for Human Geography and secondly to illustrate the empirical evidence of recognition theory from two different socio-spatial contexts of the Global South, to understand the struggles of social groups in their ‘fights for recognition’.

The first case study will focus on a marginalised neighbourhood (“favela”) in Salvador da Bahia – Brazil, which is constantly confronted with exclusion and ‘social invisibility’. The point which is being made is that the Brazilian favelas are, on the one hand, in terms of their media coverage and stigmatisation, the most visible urban spaces in Brazil. On the other hand, however, with regard to societal recognition and human relevance of the Favela residents, these disadvantaged urban spaces remain socially invisible. This involves a double humiliation of this Brazilian declassed class.

The second case study will address aspects of energy justice in Ghana. Many urban households in Ghana are keenly installing Solar Home Systems (SHS) to mitigate frequent grid power outages and ensure stability in the performance of social and energy-saving practices which grant them recognition as ‘enlightened’ social groups or as individuals staying au courant with modern energy technologies. Many rural community residents, however, claim the SHS facility restricts performances of ‘modern’ practices in comparison to fellow ‘Ghanaians’ who have access to electrical grids and that its acceptance may perpetually reduce them to ‘second-class-citizens’. Empirical evidence suggests that energy justice visions remain fuzzy unless they are set in relation to how and why practical solutions to the energy ‘needs’ and ‘visions’ of socially and spatially differentiated groups could be realised. I call this practical recognition.

In this lecture, I advocate practical recognition as a suitable alternative pathway in Geography for researching just urban and rural futures by emphasizing connections between socio-spatial justice, human agency and entitlement notions.