"Rethinking Recognition: Freedom, Self-Definition, and Principles for Practice"

My dissertation argues that self-definition is an important guiding value for the practice of the politics of recognition. I articulate three key principles that should be used to guide those practices: self-definition, responsiveness, and internal contestation. These principles are drawn from a detailed examination of three central examples of recognition in practice. In particular, I explore apology for historical injustice and practices of representation at museums of human history as instructive examples. I focus on (1) the Canadian government’s 1988 apology for internment and dispossession of Japanese Canadians in the 1940s, (2) the development of initial permanent exhibits of aboriginal history and culture at the Canadian Museum of Civilization from the 1980s to early 2000s, and (3) the development of opening exhibits and curation strategies at the National Museum of the American Indian in the 1990s and 2000s. Observing how these practices of recognition function to support or obstruct equality and self-definition illustrates the importance and component values of self-definition.

The core normative goal of my dissertation is to argue that despite its limits, we should not abandon the politics of recognition, but aim to manage its practice so that it can support both equality and freedom. To improve the practice of recognition, we should recommend the principles of self-definition, responsiveness, and internal contestation as guides. We should expect injustice to persist even in the face of widespread, honest, efforts to practice recognition as justly as possible, but we must still strive for just practices that support the positive potentials of recognition.