The idea of recognition is often taken to support the notion of ‘pluralist accommodation’ between nationalists and unionists. This relies on a distinctive ‘cultural’ model of recognition as requiring identity affirmation as essential to conflict resolution. It is argued that the cultural model relies on a weak analysis of social recognition and is, consequently, a poor guide to understanding the politics of recognition in Northern Ireland. Firstly, it does not give sufficient weight to struggles for equal recognition. Secondly, the vague notion of ‘affirming’ identities does not capture the way recognition struggles arise over social positioning in wider status hierarchies. An alternative, ‘recognition struggle’ account is developed which focuses on conflicts over authority and which explains why recognition politics in Northern Ireland often centres on defying the other. Finally, the cultural model fails to see that cultural groups are themselves the product of internal struggles for recognition and wrongly assumes the politics of recognition must resist attempts to transform group identities. Taking recognition seriously requires us to move beyond ‘cultural recognition’ and ‘pluralist accommodation’ in Northern Ireland.