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The Inclusive University: A Critical Theory Perspective Using a Recognition‐Based Approach

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Abstract:  This article offers a conceptual exploration of the inclusive university from a Frankfurt School critical theory perspective. It does not seek to define the inclusive university, but to explore aspects of its nature, possibilities and challenges. Critical theory eschews fixed definitions in favour of broader understandings that reflect the complexities of human life. I propose that we consider questions of inclusion in terms of mutual recognition and use the debate between critical theorists Nancy Fraser and Axel Honneth to explain the implications of this approach. Central to Frankfurt School critical theory is the idea that we achieve our individuality through our interactions with others. Anything which prevents an individual leading a fully realised social life, within or outwith the university, undermines inclusion. Thus, I offer a broader, more complex and holistic understanding of inclusion than traditional approaches within the university such as widening participation. While such approaches can be helpful, they are insufficient to address the full challenge of an inclusive university, understood in these terms of critical theory and mutual recognition.

Keywords:  Alex Honneth; critical theory; higher education; mutual recognition; Nancy Fraser; social justice; university



© Jan McArthur. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.