Contempt. Dealing with Disrespect and Misrecognition Among Berlin Hauptschüler
The issue of disrespect and misrecognition will be discussed both on a conceptual and an empirical level and shown to be part of a neoliberal logic.
1) According to Honneth, people experience misrecognition as a deprivation of vital requirements for a positive development of the self. In German, Honneth refers to these deprivations as Missachtung (misrecognition), while I prefer the slightly different term Verachtung, which better captures the emotional dynamics of this process and also has a more active connotation: in the sense that the students are not only deprived something but that their human dignity is actively harmed. The most appropriate English translation of ‘Verachtung’ is ‘contempt’. The social production of contempt defines forms of exclusion via processes of social ascription in which low socio-economic status is linked with disregard, in turn ‘producing’ a disrespectful or contemptuous treatment of others.
2) In an ethnographic study of “Hauptschüler” in Berlin, Germany, I have shown that the problem of misrecognition is a pervasive experience among this status group. The main problem for the students proved to be misrecognition on emotional, legal, and social levels – the frequent coupling of social stigmatization with the deprivation of citizenship rights and precarious family situations. In this context, the social practices of “Hauptschüler” can be considered mechanisms of coping with contempt and as struggles for recognition. This can take the form of searching for respect within peer groups based on ideas of mutual support, it can take the form of emotional reactions (shame, anger, envy) and it can take forms of playing with stigmatizations through jokes and irony. What unifies these various reactions is the active approach of dealing with and reacting to the social contempt with which the students are confronted.