Identity and Agency in Frantz Fanon

in Sartre Studies International
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According to those that would label Fanon a theorist of recognition, anti-colonial struggles for liberation are struggles for recognition. I will argue, however, that Fanon's discussion of recognition in Black Skin, White Masks offers a critique of the struggle for recognition, understood as the struggle to impose oneself on the other in order to be recognized as who one truly is. Fanon is critical of the idea that the freedom of colonial subjects will be realized when they are recognized by the colonizer. Indeed, the struggle to be recognized by the colonizer actually perpetuates the oppression of the colonized, insofar as this struggle is a struggle to be recognized within the terms of a discourse that is dictated largely by the colonizer. As Fanon demonstrates, the social categories within which subjects become socially visible beings nevertheless work in the service of subjection. Insofar as this is the case, the struggle to be recognized in socially intelligible terms will yield, at best, ambiguous results. Therefore, I argue that Fanon, unlike contemporary theorists of recognition, is skeptical of the liberatory potential of a struggle for recognition that is directed at securing recognition from the colonial "master." Furthermore, Fanon uses the instance of colonial racial misrecognition as the occasion to criticize the concept of recognition more broadly.

Sartre Studies International

An Interdisciplinary Journal of Existentialism and Contemporary Culture