Respect, Plurality and Prejudice
Hannah Arendt and Richard Sennett are both concerned with the conditions of possibility for the realization of plurality and appreciation of differences respectively. Sennett's question, in Respect in a World of Inequality, of why people in modern society generally fail to convey mutual regard across boundaries of inequality, provides a starting point for my discussion. I shall argue that, pace Sennett, respecting people who differ significantly from oneself is not necessarily without costs, as evaluations of issues and ideals and of oneself and others are interwoven in a more complex way than his theory suggests. Given the assumption that other social groups and persons serve as containers for unwanted, as well as idealized, qualities as part of the process of others' self-definitions, I shall look into the dynamics of this process. Rather than starting from the theoretical premise that a wide range of perceived qualities are irrelevant when the ascription of dignity to their bearer is concerned, my suggestion is to investigate into the symbolic and emotional meaning which is ascribed to some of these and the role they play in situations in which inclusion and exclusion is at stake. I shall use the concept of projective identification as developed by the British school of object-relations theory to develop a theory of the psychological aspects of respect and its opposites. Furthermore, I shall argue that social prejudice and a lack of respect can be fought by promoting integration of the self-conceptions of individuals as simultaneously actors and sufferers, subjects and objects, as beings who are creative interpreters and initiators of action as well as vulnerable to its consequences.