In this article, the introduction to this Special Issue, we underline the importance of the dynamics of misrecognition for the study of world politics. We make the case for shifting the focus from ‘recognition’, where it has long been cast in social, political and, more recently, International Relations theory, to misrecognition. We do so by returning to the original theorisation of misrecognition, Hegel’s dialectic of the master and servant. Our point of departure is not only that the desire for recognition is key social dynamic, but that the failure to obtain this recognition is built into this very desire. It is a crucial factor for understanding how international actors behave, including, but not only, states.
Thus understood, the desire for recognition is not simply a desire for social goods, for status or for statehood, but for more agency – more capacity to act. We explore the logic of misrecognition and show how the international system is a symbolic structure that is ordained by an unrealisable ideal of what we call ‘sovereign agency’.