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Ruth Lister's Paper

Justice, Equality and Dependency: A critical social policy perspective

Symposium on Nancy Fraser's work, Warwick 22 March 2003


  • My brief - to draw out 'the policy implications of some of the debates' that NF has been involved in. In fact, I'll be talking as much about the social politics as specific social policies, for among the great strengths of Nancy's work are its dynamic quality - an emphasis on process as much as outcome - and its integration of the political and the social. She's one of the contemporary political and social theorists whose writings have had a particular influence on critical social policy and therefore I'm delighted to have been invited to provide a social policy perspective on her work.
  • Rather than enter into the theoretical debates around her work, I have taken as a kind of methodological motto for my paper that advocated by N in Feminist Contentions: 'an impure, eclectic, neopragmatist approach'. The paper is divided into two main parts. The first both engages with some of N's writing on feminist welfare politics and questions the silence around disabled women and disability politics in her work.
  • This also provides a link to the second part of the paper, which focuses on recognition and redistribution. First, I want to consider the value and practical implications of a politics of recognition for the politics of poverty. Second, I pose what is perhaps today, in Europe at least, an even more burning question than that addressed by N re the integration of redistribution and recognition. That is, in a breathtakingly unequal 'postsocialist' and globalised condition, who do we recognise and to whom are we prepared to redistribute? I will pose this question in relation to the treatment of asylum-seekers in particular.

Feminist welfare politics

Beyond equality and difference

  • N has characterised second-wave American feminism in terms of three phases, the first of which, 'gender difference', was dominated by the still unresolved equality vs difference debate. The tension between equality and difference has long been at the heart of feminist debates about how to re-gender citizenship on terms more favourable to and inclusive of women. In terms of current feminist politics in the UK - and some other European countries - it has taken on a new momentum in the face of the espousal by governments of what N calls the 'universal breadwinner' and Jane Lewis 'the adult worker' model, in place of the old, discredited, 'male breadwinner' model. Paid work has been elevated to the primary citizenship obligation for all those capable of it.
  • The policy debate may not necessarily be couched explicitly in terms of feminist ideals - not least as feminists engaging with New Labour can't afford to be too vocal in their use of the 'f' word, feminism being seen as 'yesterday's politics' (the kiss of death as far as modernising New Labour is concerned). But policy debates around, for instance, the extent to which lone mothers should be expected to be part of the paid labour force and the changing role of fathers reflect more fundamental questions raised by many feminist welfare theorists in relation to the equality vs difference dilemma.
  • The debate about lone mothers and paid work illustrates how the equality vs difference dilemma is played out in different ways in different national, and sometimes local, contexts. Duncan and Edwards have suggested the notion of 'gendered moral rationalities' to describe 'collective and social understandings about what is the proper relationship between motherhood and paid work'. Dominant gendered moral rationalities vary between countries and also between social and ethnic groups within countries. In the US, where female labour market participation, in line with the equality model, is the norm, there was remarkably little opposition to the harsh intensification of the paid work obligations imposed on lone mothers. The Netherlands, in contrast, provides an example of how a policy that goes against the grain of dominant gendered moral rationalities has been largely unsuccessful in its attempt to require lone mothers of school-age children to enter the labour market.
  • The UK is one of very few OECD countries that imposes no work obligations on lone parents. The fierce resistance to any such obligation reflects both dominant gendered moral rationalities (at least in relation to young children) and the barriers created by an inadequate social intrastructure and inflexible employment practices.
  • In the 2nd ed of my book on citizenship I argue that in 're-gendering' citizenship we have to move beyond both the supposedly gender-neutral equality model of citizenship and the gender-differentiated model. Our aim instead should be a gender-inclusive model. Such a model would reconstruct both equality and difference within the framework of diversity - what N terms 'multiple intersecting differences'. In the social welfare sphere, this reconstruction would 'take as a touchstone the creation of the conditions that facilitate the meeting of human need and the exercise of caring responsibilities in such a way as to ensure that all individuals can develop and flourish as citizens. In this way difference is incorporated into strategies for gender equity without reference to potentially essentialist notions of women's qualities and nature'.
  • In policy terms, I have argued that the critical lever is shifting the gendered distribution of labour and time in both the public and private spheres. A key element of the policy context is the 'care gap' that has opened up with the demise of the male breadwinner model. As Jane Lewis has observed, care work still needs to be done. The question is by whom and 'on what terms'. N's answer is the 'universal caregiver' model, which reflects what many feminists are arguing for today as a practical resolution of the equality vs difference dilemma. At the heart of this model is the unashamedly normative aim 'to induce men to become more like most women are now, namely, people who do primary carework'. Indeed, even Gosta Esping-Andersen has begun to engage with these debates and concluded (without reference to most feminist work in the area) that 'true gender equality will not come about unless, somehow, men can be made to embrace a more feminine life course' (2002, p. 95).
  • The critical policy question of course is 'how can men be so induced?'. The Scandinavian countries, in their different ways, have gone furthest in attempting to engage men in care work. Their main policy instruments have been: paid parental leave with at least a month earmarked for fathers; working time policies; and public education programmes.
  • In the UK, even though New Labour has begun to talk about the importance of men's role as active fathers - and not just breadwinners - they have balked at introducing the kind of policies that would enable and encourage men to be more active fathers - beyond the introduction of two weeks' statutory paternity pay. Although the Government is to be commended for overturning the previous Government's refusal to introduce parental leave in line with EU obligations, the question of paid parental leave simply is not on the political radar screen. Without adequate payment, and policies targeted specifically on fathers, insofar as parental leave is taken, it will be taken by women, thereby cementing rather than challenging the traditional gendered division of labour. As a report published recently by the EOC observed, 'the government's view of fatherhood remains unclear, in part reflecting the continued emphasis which policy places on the economic role played by fathers'. It is very much the universal breadwinner not the universal caregiver model.
  • How the model operates and its implications for care in different societies depend in part on the adequacy of the infrastructure of services and financial support for parents. Likewise, a genuinely progressive universal caregiver model would have to be combined with an adequate social infrastructure.
  • One final point to make about the universal caregiver model is that it values both paid work and caring work. In this way it can be supported both by those who place greater emphasis on women's equality through paid work and those who place greater emphasis on care as an important responsibility of and resource for citizenship, rather than simply viewing it as a barrier to equality in paid work. It avoids the potential trap of further locking women into the care-giving role, which is the danger of the 'caregiver parity' model of supporting informal care work, described and rejected by N.
  • I like the vision N conjures up at the end of her 'Beyond the Family Wage' essay. That of 'a social world in which citizens' lives integrate wage earning, caregiving, community activism, political participation, and involvement in the associational life of civil society - while also leaving time for some fun'. Time is a crucial resource that is part of the politics of redistribution and we need time just to be as well as to do.

'Multiple intersecting differences' - where is disability?

  • Turn now to the third of the phases of contemporary US feminism identified by N - 'multiple intersecting differences'. This shift, she suggests, seemed 'to invite a turning outward' to focus on 'crosscutting axes of difference and subordination...Not only gender but also "race", ethnicity, nationality, sexuality, and class would now require feminist theorization' (p. 180). What has surprised me and elsewhere in N's work is the absence of any mention of disability as an axis of difference and subordination.
  • It surprises me for two main reasons. First, because disabled feminists' critique of traditional feminism has been important in the shift from a unifocal to a multifocal feminist lens, even if disability is still all too often out of focus. In the UK, Jenny Morris, has written that disabled feminists 'feel betrayed and excluded by feminist analysis and activism'. In the US, Anita Silvers is critical of those feminists who would substitute an ethic of care for an ethic of equality, on the grounds that an ethic of care invites the marginalisation of those 'consigned to the position of dependence' and 'an even more oppressive paternalism' (1997: 33). She also explores one of N's themes - the equality vs difference dilemma - from a disability perspective.
  • This brings me to my second reason, which is that disability politics has exemplified so many of the themes in N's work. Indeed when teaching social policy theory I use it to illustrate both her earlier work on the politics of needs interpretation and her later work on redistribution-recognition. Just like the women's movement, the disabled people's movement has been instrumental in the establishment of the political status of needs, which were not previously recognised as such - most notably the need for public and private spaces to be accessible. The movement's demands provide a clear example of the clash between 'oppositional needs discourses' and 'expert needs discourses', as disabled people have struggled against the professionals' medical model of disability, which had previously defined their needs in narrow medical terms.
  • As Mike Oliver, a leading disability activist and academic, has written: it is 'rights to appropriate welfare services to meet their own self-defined needs that disabled people are demanding, not to have their needs defined and met by others'. Indeed, he notes, there has been a challenge to the whole notion of needs-based welfare, with its implications of paternalistic professional gate-keeping to rationed resources, in favour of 'welfare services based upon the idea of citizenship'. In other words, as N writes in Unruly Practices, the translation of 'justified needs claims into social rights' (183).
  • I would also argue that disability politics provides a perfect eg of the integration of a politics of redistribution and recognition. I show my students a brilliant video called the Disabled Century, which shows how disabled people have been subject to misrecognition, hostility and humiliation as 'different' and 'other'. Disability pride politics today is challenging such misrecognition but at the same time disabled people are still much more likely to be in poverty than non-disabled - so the struggle is for difference and equality, for both cultural and material forms of justice.


  • Another issue taken up by disability theorists is that of dependency. The classic essay by N and Linda Gordon traces the historical roots and ideological underpinnings of the concept of dependency - the 'single most crucial term' in US welfare reform debates. Unfortunately, it is among the discursive imports from the States that has had particular resonance in welfare politics here under both the Conservatives and New Labour - though it hasn't carried the same racialised connotations.
  • Their essay sketches the beginnings of 'an alternative semantics premised on the inescapable fact of human interdependence'. This involves, they argue, both challenging the false dichotomy between dependence and independence and the revaluation of the devalued side of that dichotomy - the rehabilitation of 'dependency as a normal, even valuable, human quality'. They recognise, though, that this needs to be done cautiously, given that 'dependence' on welfare can reduce self-esteem and autonomy - though I would prefer a less ideologically charged term such as 'reliance' in this context.
  • The emphasis on human interdependence is, of course, important and it reflects one of the key arguments of feminist care ethicists. However, women's economic independence has always been a central tenet of my feminism and the case for social and employment policies that promote women's economic independence has been an important strand in British feminism and in feminist social policy. We mustn't forget that, as Fraser and Gordon themselves acknowledge, dependency can represent 'a social relation of subordination' and that, as N argues in 'After the family wage', exploitable forms of dependency are inimical to gender equity. The unequal power relationship that underpins the economic dependence of some women on men means that the interdependence of which it is a part is skewed in men's favour. It is not surprising therefore that the other element of the equation - men's dependence on women for care and servicing, which facilitates their own independence as workers and citizens - is conveniently obscured.
  • It's important that our arguments for recognition of human interdependence are not used to obscure or even to justify economic dependence, which, even though much less prevalent today, still exists for some women. In the UK, at a time when the principle of independent taxation is under threat and the individualisation of benefits is turning into a pipe dream, with the new tax credits system, the principle of financial independence in income maintenance policy remains important.
  • Fraser and Gordon distinguish between 'socially necessary' and 'surplus' dependence. The former represents the need for care, which is 'an inescapable feature of the human condition'; the latter, in contrast, 'is rooted in unjust and potentially remediable social institutions'. The goal, they argue, is to eliminate the 'surplus' dependency, which currently adheres to the care-giving involved in the 'socially necessary' dependency.
  • Again, though, what is missing is the perspective of care- receivers, in particular disabled people who have also engaged in the debate around dependency. Disability theorists such as Jenny Morris argue that insofar as disabled people are physically dependent it is the result of disabling physical and socio-economic environments ('surplus' dependency perhaps) rather than of their impairments as such. Moreover, disabled people's reliance on others for help with the tasks of daily living is confused with dependence whereas, according to the independent living movement, independence stems from the ability to control the assistance required. The dependence that results from the lack of such control is, it is argued, corrosive of disabled people's rights as citizens.
  • Other disability theorists such as Tom Shakespeare and Anita Silvers, are concerned not to displace independence as a goal for disabled people. Shakespeare argues that the 'crucial move here is not just to recognize that everyone has needs, but to break the link between physical and social dependency...The independent living model argues that independence consists in being able to make choices and exert control over one's life.' He points to the importance of direct payment and independent living schemes in achieving this. However, he does concede that the direct payments model may not suit everyone and that 'there can be too much stress on independence and autonomy within disability rights discourse'.

Redistribution- recognition

  • I want to move on now to the second part of my paper, which takes as its starting point N's more recent work on recognition-redistribution. In line with my pragmatic methodological motto, I will treat the two as a heuristic device, which is how N described them in her original NLR article, to analyse in turn the politics of poverty and low pay and of asylum.

Poverty and low pay

  • Poverty and low pay stand at the extreme redistribution end of the recognition-redistribution 'conceptual spectrum'. In her initial exposition, N mentioned economic marginalisation and deprivation as examples of 'socioeconomic injustice', although her analysis at this end of the conceptual spectrum has tended to focus on the wider working class. She observes, rightly, that 'the last thing [the proletariat] needs is recognition of its difference' (1995: 76).
  • Diana Coole has discussed in more detail the inappropriateness of a discourse of difference in relation to what she calls the 'underclass' - a term I think we're best avoiding because of the pejorative connotations it has acquired. She writes that this group 'has no identity to be wielded with pride for which respect is demanded' and that 'a celebration or fostering of difference becomes simply nonsensical' (p21& 22). Indeed, she goes further and argues that 'respect for those on lower echelons is patronizing'.
  • On the face of it, this doesn't look very promising for the application of a politics of recognition to claims for justice among those in poverty. However, a shift in emphasis in N's more recent elaboration of her thesis helps point to its relevance, even though she herself doesn't apply it to poverty.
  • First, she contests a 'widespread misunderstanding', which equates a politics of recognition with identity politics. As she points out this 'forecloses the recognition dimensions of class struggles' and 'reduces what is actually a plurality of different kinds of recognition a single type, namely, claims for the affirmation of difference' (1999: 27). The appropriate form of the recognition claim, she argues, depends on the nature of the misrecognition: 'in cases where misrecognition involves denying...common humanity..., the remedy is universalist recognition' (1999: 38). So my argument is that what people in poverty want is the universalist recognition of their common humanity and citizenship and of the equal worth that flows from that.
  • Second, contra Axel Honneth, she insists on the need to break with the standard 'identity' model of recognition, under which 'what requires recognition is group-specific cultural identity. Misrecognition consists in the depreciation of such identity by the dominant culture and the consequent damage to group members' sense of self' (2001: 23). Instead she proposes a 'status model' under which recognition is treated as a question of 'social status'. 'What requires recognition is not group-specific identity but rather the status of group members as full partners in social interaction' - or 'participatory parity'. Again, this is a much more helpful formulation of recognition politics from the perspective of people in poverty.
  • However, I do not go all the way with N on this argument. In distancing herself from the identity model, she appears to deny any significance to the psychological effects of misrecognition. I say 'appears' because the formulation she uses in more than one place is ambiguous. On the one hand she says that to be 'misrecognized, in this view, is not simply to be thought ill of, looked down on, or devalued in other's conscious attitudes or mental beliefs'. I have no quarrel with that. But she then goes on to say 'it is rather to be denied the status of a full partner in social interaction and prevented from participating as a peer in social life as a consequence of institutionalized patterns of cultural value that constitute one as comparatively unworthy of respect or esteem'. I have no problem with that formulation either except for the 'rather' which implies an either/or. This is then reinforced by her argument that 'when misrecognition is identified with internal distortions in the structure of self-consciousness of the oppressed, it is but a short step to blaming the victim', thereby she argues, seeming 'to add insult to injury'.
  • To make the case for retaining the psychological dimension, I'd like to quote from two people with experience of poverty. The first, Moraene Roberts, was speaking at a National Poverty Hearing organised by Church Action on Poverty. 'The worst blow of all' she said 'is the contempt of your fellow citizens. I and many families live in that contempt'. The second, an anonymous participant in a UK Coalition against Poverty workshop, described what the loss of self-esteem associated with misrecognition feels like: 'You're like an onion and gradually every skin is peeled off you and there's nothing left. All your self esteem and how you feel about yourself is gone ' you're left feeling like nothing and then your family feels like that'.
  • To acknowledge the psychological pain that these two people are expressing as a result of misrecognition is not in my view 'to add insult to injury'. Similarly, if we look at poverty from the perspective of children, as Tess Ridge does in a new study, we see how lack of participatory parity and the psychological impact of poverty are intertwined. Ridge analyses the impact of poverty on children in terms of the ability to 'fit in' and 'join in'. She observes that 'inner worries, fears of social difference and stigma, and the impact of poverty on self-esteem, confidence and personal security may all exact a high price for children who are in the formative process of developing their self and social identities' (p. 85).
  • Of course, if our starting point were simply to say that people in poverty have low self-esteem, as if this is somehow innate, then yes it would be to add insult to injury. But, as I argue in the book I'm currently writing on the concept of poverty, if we analyse such psychological effects as the result of the Othering of 'the poor' by the 'non-poor' then we can understand these effects in terms of misrecognition. They also represent a strong motivating force behind a politics of recognition among people in poverty, even though such psychological factors also act as a barrier to their participatory parity.
  • An example of how recognition involves an inter-connection between self-esteem and participatory parity was provided in a recent Guardian article about a young carers' project. It quoted a development worker with the project: 'the project gives young carers a voice they've never had. If you haven't got recognition, then you can't influence the delivery of services. The confidence and self-esteem of our young people have grown as their skills have been recognised' (11.12.02). Psychological factors such as self-esteem have to be linked to the status model of recognition not written out of its script.
  • Reframing the politics of poverty as a politics of recognition as well as redistribution has implications for how people in poverty are represented and treated at all levels of society. This includes the language and images that make up popular discourses of poverty. As a parent living on benefit has put it 'we hear how the media, and some politicians, speak about us and it hurts'. That is one reason why using the term the 'underclass' is so unhelpful.
  • I'd like to turn now to a couple of more concrete policy issues that illustrate N's conclusion that in practice 'overcoming injustice in virtually every case requires both redistribution and recognition', involving what she calls a 'perspectival dualism' (1999: 33, 45).

Low wages

  • The first, the gendered issue of low wages, is touched on by N herself in a chapter in Ray and Sayer's Culture and Economy after the Cultural Turn. She observes that 'what presents itself as 'the economy' is always already permeated with cultural interpretations and norms' such as those which govern the differential value placed on 'men's and 'women's' jobs and which distinguish between 'working' and 'caregiving'. 'Virtually any claim for redistribution' will, she argues, 'have some recognition effects' (1999: 44, 46). Indeed, Majid Yar goes further and contends that 'redistributive claims, as moral claims upon others invoking the terms of justice and injustice, irredeemably have the character of recognition claims' for they invoke 'normative concepts which are based upon specific self-understandings about what kinds of beings we are, what our worth is, and what kind of treatment we properly deserve' (pp295, 294).
  • His claim is the basis of a theoretical dispute with N - but I don't want go there! The point here is to underline how demands for raising low wages, even though quintessentially material, represent recognition as well as redistribution claims. Interestingly, the other week when Bill Morris the general secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, announced his retirement he said 'respect' had been the byword of his leadership: 'I have always campaigned for our members to be treated with dignity and respect in their work' (Independent, 13.2.03).
  • In a pamphlet based on her recent book about living on low pay for Lent, Polly Toynbee observes that 'what a person is paid signifies their worth and it is of primary emotional and social importance' (p. 35). 'Low pay is low status...Just as pay is a cause for boasting among the fat cats, it is equally a source of daily humiliation for the low paid, seeing how little one hour of their hard work is valued at. [Tax] credits do nothing to improve that brutal fact' (p. 14).
  • In an article about the fire-fighters dispute Toynbee wrote that 'this strike has opened the social justice box the government most fears: what is a worker worth and who decides?' (27.11.02). This is a box that Barbara Wootton opened half a century earlier in her classic book The Social Foundation of Wage Policy. Like Toynbee, she observed the issues of status and prestige involved in pay and she drew attention to the unjustifiable spread of wages.
  • It was, in part, the equivalence between her own earnings in the 1930s and those of the elephant that gave children rides at Whipsnade Zoo that led Wootton 'to fundamental reflections about the social and economic forces which determine the valuations which our society sets upon different kinds of work,. Yet, such fundamental reflections are rare today when we need them more than ever.
  • One small example: the Government's child care strategy could be undermined by the lack of an adequate supply of childcare workers. Nursery nurses earn little more than half the average wage and less than road sweepers (Guardian, 4.02.03). In a series of studies childcare workers 'said repeatedly that low pay encouraged society to afford low value to the work, which in turn affected recruitment and retention' (csp 73). As many feminist commentators have observed, lack of recognition of the value of paid care work in the public sphere of the market and public sectors is linked closely to its association with the unpaid care work done, mainly by women in the private domestic sphere. This, of course, also has wider ramifications for social security policy.


  • My second example concerns the growing demands among people with experience of poverty for a say in decision-making that affects their lives. How to remove the barriers to such participation was the key question addressed by an independent Commission on Poverty, Participation and Power, half of whose members had direct experience of poverty and that I was also a member of. Our report took as its starting point the observation that 'too often people experiencing poverty are not treated with respect, either in general or by the people they come into contact with most...The lack of respect for people living in poverty was one of the clearest and most heartfelt messages which came across to us...'. This lack of respect was identified as the main barrier to participation in decision-making and the ultimate disrespect was seen as 'being involved in phoney participation, by people who don't listen, when things don't change'.
  • Richard Sennett's new book, Respect, starts with the observation that lack of respect, though less aggressive than 'outright insult, can take an equally wounding form'. Recognition is not extended to another person: 'he or she is not seen - as a full human being whose presence matters'. Far from being 'patronising', as Diana Coole put it, respect is a vital indicator of recognition for many people in poverty. At the National Poverty Hearing I mentioned earlier, one of the most common refrains was the desire to be treated with greater respect. As Millicent Simms, a young black woman put it, 'I just feel very angry sometimes that people are ignorant to the fact that we are humans as well and we do need to be respected'.
  • For many respect is tied in with being listened to. It is about recognition of and respect for the expertise borne of experience. To quote Moraene Roberts again at the Poverty Hearing: 'Noone asks our views...We are the real experts of our own hopes and aspirations...We can contribute if you are prepared to give up a little power to allow us to participate as partners in our own future'.
  • So we have here a plea for the participatory parity that N writes about at a more theoretical level. N identifies 'at least two conditions': an 'objective' economic condition concerning the distribution of material resources 'such as to ensure participants' independence and voice' and an 'intersubjective' cultural condition, which 'requires that institutionalized patterns of cultural value express equal respect for all participants and ensure equal opportunity for achieving social esteem'. These are reflected in the more practical list of barriers identified by the CoPPP. But there is also a third possible condition, which N always relegates to a footnote with the tantalising reference to see Fraser forthcoming. This refers to more explicitly political obstacles the remedy for which is 'democratization'. Opening up decision-making and politics generally to marginalised groups such as those in poverty will require change also at the political level and more open and democratic decision-making procedures.

The global context

  • I want to turn finally to the global context for the 'postsocialist condition'. This is only hinted at in N's published work that I know of but she did begin to address it at a seminar at Goldsmiths in 2000. N identifies as 'the central political question of the day: how can we develop a coherent orientation that integrates redistribution and recognition?' I think even more central at present, in Europe at least, is the wider question of to whom are we prepared to redistribute and who are we prepared to recognise in a global context.
  • One aspect of the question is being articulated at a more theoretical level in terms of the debate around cosmopolitan or global vs bounded citizenship. My own view is that principles of distributional justice together with ecological imperatives demand an internationalist interpretation of citizenship responsibilities in the context of global economic and physical interdependence. Social policy analysts concerned to understand and combat poverty at a global level would support the contention of J.K. Galbraith that 'the responsibility for economic and social well-being is general, transnational'. Concern for human suffering, he argues, cannot stop at national frontiers.
  • At a practical level this raises issues of aid and trade policies and wider questions of global governance. More fraught in terms of contemporary welfare politics is what has been described as 'the progressive dilemma' between solidarity and diversity. It was articulated by Alan Wolfe and Jytte Klausen in the following terms: 'A sense of solidarity creates a readiness to share with strangers, which in turn underpins a thriving welfare state. But it's easier to feel solidarity with those who broadly share your values and way of life. Modern progressives committed to diversity often fail to acknowledge this. They employ an over-abstract and unrealistic notion of affinity, implying that we ought to have the same feelings of generosity or solidarity towards a refugee from the other side of the world as we do towards our next door neighbour'.
  • Well I happily plead guilty to that charge though I don't believe it's necessarily abstract or unrealistic to have feelings of solidarity towards a refugee. But in the increasingly vitriolic politics of asylum and immigration in Europe today, exploited by far-right political parties, we cannot ignore the issue. There are two, inter-related, dimensions of particular relevance to the question of recognition and redistribution. One, the more cultural, was raised by Anette Borchorst and Birte Siim in a recent article in NORA: 'One of the crucial questions today seems to be how to connect the vision of gender equality with social and political inclusion of ethnic minority groups in the European welfare states'. They suggest that the 'clash between Nordic cultural traditions and family structures of some ethnic minority groups is very visible' (p. 95). This was also an issue skilfully exploited by Pim Fortuyn in the Netherlands
  • With regard to the socio-economic dimension, BS has observed that the 'homogeneity of the Danish/Scandinavian welfare states is increasingly under challenge'. The thesis is gaining ground that it is this very homogeneity which has underpinned the generosity of these welfare states and which is now under threat. But members of less generous welfare states like our own are also hostile to those who are seen as taking advantage of its limited provisions.
  • This hostility is being fed in Britain by the hysterical demonisation of asylum-seekers by the right-wing press and some politicians. Asylum-seekers are either invisible and vulnerable to exploitation in the hidden economy, as illustrated so powerfully in the film Dirty Pretty Things. Or they are, to quote N's definition of disrespect, 'being routinely maligned or disparaged in stereotypic public cultural representations and/or in everyday life interactions'.
  • The roots of this disrespect are both cultural and socio-economic. It is not just that asylum-seekers are the 'other'. But increasingly also they are being blamed for the deficiencies of our welfare state. Jackie Ashley noted in the Guardian last month that a recent poll 'confirmed something many ministers talk about privately - it found 57% of those questioned thought that asylum seeking was now a major reason why health and education were overburdened (13 Feb). The previous week, the same paper reported from a run down area of Sunderland where the number of asylum seekers is 'minuscule'. It found seething resentment against a group perceived to be benefiting from the welfare state in a way that they did not.
  • Here we have a politics of anti-recognition and anti-redistribution, which are all too integrated. The counter politics must likewise integrate the two. The challenge is how we can articulate a convincing politics of solidarity in difference that will extend solidarity to those from beyond our national borders. I don't have a ready answer but, in the interests of justice and equality, we must not allow the Right to make the running in framing the terms of the debate.