, Volume 111, Issue 1, pp 37-48

Recognition, Reification, and Practices of Forgetting: Ethical Implications of Human Resource Management

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Abstract

This article examines the ethical framing of employment in contemporary human resource management (HRM). Using Axel Honneth’s theory of recognition and classical critical notions of reification, I contrast recognition and reifying stances on labor. The recognition approach embeds work in its emotive and social particularity, positively affirming the basic dignity of social actors. Reifying views, by contrast, exhibit a forgetfulness of recognition, removing action from its existential and social moorings, and imagining workers as bundles of discrete resources or capacities. After discussing why reification is a problem, I stress that recognition and reification embody different ethical standpoints with regards to organizational practices. Thus, I argue paradoxically that many current HRM best practices can be maintained while cultivating an attitude of recognition. If reification is a type of forgetting, cultivating a recognition attitude involves processes of “remembering” to foster work relations that reinforce employee dignity.