Reiss Kruger

Reiss Kruger (he/him)
Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Sociology
York University

Current Research Project:

‘Recognizing’ Human Rights: An Argument for the Applicability of Recognition Theory within the Sociology of Human Rights

Beginning with Margaret Somers and Christopher Roberts’ review of the sociology of human rights and Bryan Turner and Malcolm Waters’ debate therein, I present some of the questions which have so far been the focus of this sociological sub-discipline. The review raises the question of ‘rights’ as a subject of study, and the normative consequences therein. From here, the author introduces recognition theory as a potential participant in these discussions around human rights. The author traces recognition theory from its Hegelian origins to the work of Axel Honneth, and the critiques of Nancy Fraser, Frantz Fanon, and Glen Sean Coulthard. Despite Fanon and Coulthard’s critical accounts, they reinforce the value of recognition within any sociology of human rights. Lastly, a brief engagement with Alasdair MacIntyre—as both a dialogical participant, and a means towards dialogue in the first place between recognition theory and human rights—is undertaken. Concluding, I argue that the normative and descriptive nature of recognition theory offers a useful tool to aid in sociological theorizations of human nature and rights, while addressing some of the problems raised by early theorists of the sub-discipline.

This work touches on many of my interests inside and around the discipline, including but not limited to conceptions of traditions of inquiry and the translatability between such traditions which makes dialogue and dialectic between and within disciplines and across history possible, as well as recognition theory and normative sociological theory.

What motivated you to pursue this project?

This work was born out of a class I took on the sociology of human rights. Upon review a couple years later, I realized that it had potential to be combined (to a degree) with some of the prime influences on my dissertation work (an in-depth dialogue between the works of Alasdair MacIntyre and a variety of sociological theory, specifically aimed at questions of expertise and its denial, and the normative and epistemological entanglement that surrounds such questions). Further engagement with what is an especially interdisciplinary subdiscipline of sociology (the sociology of human rights) confirmed this potential, and the inherently normative element of recognition theory was smoothly brought into conversation with sociological engagements with the concept of human rights. This conversation was aided by the work of MacIntyre, whose long-ranging theorizing of how different social, historical, and theoretical positions are capable of engaging with one another was especially helpful in this instance of application.

What has been the most challenging part of your work?

One of the most challenging parts of my work lies in the disconnect many see between sociological theory and practice. ‘Research’ doesn’t even mean the same thing to all people when they think about one or the other. Indeed, social theory work is often looked at as not being ‘research’ at all. This attitude simply provides one more gap between folks that scratch their head at social theory, and the social theorists who are actually trying to get through to them. This is not simply evidenced through engagement with colleagues, but also through funding processes, where theory work tends to get little support until someone ‘makes it big’ (if they manage this sans support).

Where do you see your project having the most impact?

Contrary to the belief of some, this largely theoretical work has inherently practical applications. One of the issues within the sociology of human rights is an issue sociology more broadly has grappled with throughout its entire history: where does it – as a discipline – sit on the line between description and normative engagement? Often it is a critique of theoretical work that it locks one in an ivory tower of uselessness (see: Marx yelling at Hegel), however my argument is that normative theory is an essential component of sociology as a whole, and that any attempt at a normative sociology without associate theory is aimless and inarticulate. This is theory built up around human experiences (descriptive), which aims at the critique and improvement of human activity (normative); without both it is a hollow discipline. All of this can be done without what some see as ‘necessary’ for normative sociology (i.e., community engagement, etc.), despite the fact that it is a necessary precursor to the articulation of such normative sociology.


Kruger, Reiss. 2021. “‘Recognizing’ Human Rights: An Argument for the Applicability of Recognition Theory within the Sociology of Human Rights.” Human Rights Review (Piscataway, N.J.).

This entry was posted in Student Spotlight. Bookmark the permalink.