Between the Prose of Justice and the Poetics of Love? Reading Ricœur on Mutual Recognition in the Light of Harmful Strategies of “Othering”


  • Robert Vosloo Stellenbosch University



Recognition, Ricœur, Xenophobia, Agape, Linguistic Hospitality


Against the backdrop of the challenges posed by xenophobia and other social phenomena that operated with harmful strategies of “othering,” this article considers the promise that the notion of “mutual recognition” as exemplified in the later work of Paul Ricœur holds for discourse on these matters. Can the hermeneutical and mediating approach of Ricœur provide an adequate framework in order to respond to these radical challenges? In light of this question, this article discusses and ultimately affirms Ricœur’s view that places mutual recognition between what he calls the prose of justice and the poetics of agápē. In addition this article draws attention to the value of symbolic gestures and an ethic of linguistic hospitality to give further texture to the plea for mutual recognition amidst experience of exclusion, conflict and violence.

Author Biography

Robert Vosloo, Stellenbosch University

Robert Vosloo is professor in Systematic Theology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. He is the head of the Department of Systematic Theology and Church History. In addition he is the editor of the Stellenbosch Theological Journal, and executive head of the Beyers Naudé Center for Public Theology.  He has authored and edited several books, including, with Mary-Anne Plaatjies van Huffel, Reformed Churches in South Africa and the Struggle for Justice: Remembering 1960-1990 (Stellenbosch: Sun Media, 2013).  His research interests include philosophical questions dealing with memory and historiography; 20th century South African church and theological history; and philosophical and theological discourses on the notion of hospitality.  About 50 of his articles have been published in peer-reviewed academic journals, including: “The writing of history as remedy or poison?  Some remarks on Paul Ricoeur’s reflections on memory, identity and ‘the historiographical operation’” in  Jonker, L (ed.), Texts, Contexts and Methods: Reflections on Historiography and Identity in the Persian Period Jehud. München: Mohr Siebeck (2011); “Memory, History, and Justice:  In Search of Conceptual Clarity”, NGTT 53/3 (2013); “The art of forgetting and historical justice,” The South African Oral History Journal 2/2 (2014); and, most recently, “Difficult Forgiveness? Engaging Paul Ricoeur on Public Forgiveness within the Context of Social Change in South Africa,” International Journal of Public Theolgy 9/3 (2015).