Redistribution and Recognition are two major philosophical registers under which we measure our personal worth. These two concepts are also the subject of major debates in academia as well as in the matters of public policy and politics. According to my research and based in personal experience, I find recognition as more important than redistribution. But let us first explain the two terms.

Recognition and Redistribution

Whenever we think in terms of equitable distribution of material resources (wages, healthcare, education etc etc), we are in the realm redistribution and redistributive justice. Most Marxist and socialist thought is built around the politics of redistribution. In purely capitalistic terms, we consider just monetary compensation as one way of acknowledging our value in any given work. Most of the times people who look at the world within the logic of redistribution also assume that when redistributive justice is achieved, the world will be come a better place for all humans. Thus, overall, redistribution is more concerned with material distribution of national, regional, and world resources so that more and more people can benefit from whatever is available in the world.

Recognition, on the other, hand is more concerned with a recognition of our identities by others. The fight under recognition is about being acknowledged and recognized as equally human as the others. Most identity politics is based in questions of recognition. Studies have shown that without a thorough accounting of recognition, material redistribution may not be able to make people happy. People, by and large, like to be respected, valued, and praised. Recognition also plays a huge role in pedagogy and can enable us to offer teaching that is cognizant of the particular identity needs of our students and then cater to, or at least, take into account, those identity needs.1

Recognition and Redistribution: An Example

Think of it this way: Let us assume you work in an office and your boss stops by to talk to you. She lets you know that she really appreciates what you do for the company, but that because of the current economic situation she will not be able to give you a raise. Chances are more likely to be okay with this, and may even feel elated at the attention, because her rational explanation of the economic constraints allays your “redistributional” concerns, but her encouraging words of “recognition” actually bolster your sense of your self. Chances are if the situation was reversed and a boss gave you a small raise without acknowledging your value to the company, you will not feel as satisfied as you do when you receive the gift of recognition.

Thus, in interpersonal relationships positive recognition helps reduce tensions, builds trust, and makes people feel a part of the world around them. So, next time you are out in the world, some of the small things listed below could makes somen’s day and their idea of their own value much better:

  • Thank people who serve you in any way.
  • Take your time to talk to people; get to know their names.
  • Look at the people when you talk to them.
  • If someone renders you any good service, let them know about it.

All people in leadership positions should also understand this significance of recognition within their organizations!

  1. For a detailed discussion of the two concepts and practices, please read this book: Redistribution or Recognition? []