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Recognition and Difference: The Power of Perspectives in Interpretive Dialogue

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Confronted with vast cultural differences mediated by social power relations, the human and social sciences face a major challenge: How can one adequately recognize a differently situated human agent, given that all interpretation is grounded in culturally local, partially implicit, and socially shaped background assumptions? Based on the hermeneutic premise that understanding is grounded in the interpreter's background and identity, the article develops an argument how the recognition of difference is possible in interpretive dialogue. According to our view, epistemic and ethical recognition of the other can be achieved if the linguistic potential for reflexive perspective-taking is taken into account and unleashed in interpretation. Proceeding through constructive criticism, we first show with Said's analysis of Orientalism how power-defined symbolic perspectives can distort the hermeneutic recognition of the other. Yet we also show how Said himself fails to develop the possible position of a new hermeneutic attitude toward cultural difference. We then turn to Levinas' radical recognition of otherness since it forcefully undercuts an essentializing or objectifying attitude toward human agency. However, Levinas fails to integrate the recognition of the other with the concrete linguistically mediated self-understanding of socially situated agents. This forces us to suggest, in the third and final section, a new approach. We show that an epistemically and ethically adequate understanding of the other—which includes the normative constraint of an interpretive orientation at the self-understanding of the other—can be grounded in the linguistically mediated competence for interpretive perspective-taking.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 2005

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