Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 08, 2006: Habermas 101

As I promised yesterday, I shall try to provide a relatively concise outline of the framework Jurgen Habermas developed in his Theory of Communicative Action. There are basically two parts to the framework. The first is his model of the process of reaching understanding. Then, because reaching understanding is an action, the framework also deals with the "four sociological concepts of action.

The model of the process of reaching understanding is based on four interrelated perspectives:

  1. Personal interactions that take place with regard to three "worlds;" the objective, the social, and the subjective.
  2. Validity claims that may be applied to the "transactions" of those interactions; these validity claims may be based on propositional truth (objective), acceptability determined by social norms (social), and the sincerity or authenticity of the individual (subjective).
  3. The agreement to negotiate by recognizing and criticizing validity claims.
  4. The grounding of negotiation on "common definitions of the situation," i.e. the recognition that negotiation can only be based on a foundation of shared concepts.

This model grew out of work Habermas initially published in his essay "What is universal pragmatics?," which is the first chapter in the collection Communication and the Evolution of Society. As many social theorists have observed, this model presumes an “ideal speech situation,” meaning that the parties involved want to reach understanding. We are all familiar with (too many?) cases where this is not the case; but Habermas’ model is still a useful way to identify four concepts that provide a grounding for the nature of understanding.

The three-worlds concept surfaces again in the classification of actions into “four sociological groups:”

  1. The teleological concept is based on the formalist principle than an action effects a state transition. We thus understand actions in terms of the states they are intended to achieve, either directly or as part of a more extensive plan; and actions are described through rules that map a state and an action to a resulting state. For Habermas this concept has its origins in the pioneering work of John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern on a theory of strategic games, although von Neumann had already been exploring theories of states and transitions in his early work on computer design. Note, however, that, because the focus of this concept is on state, it resides more in the domain of the static objects of lexis, rather than praxis. Put another way, it is more concerned with the results of action than with the dynamic nature of action, itself.
  2. The normative concept assumes that actions are regulated by socially determined norms. In other words the “goal state” of an action is less important than whether or not that action is acceptable in the social setting in which it is taken. Because that setting is rarely (if ever) static, this concept is more firmly grounded in the dynamics of praxis than is the teleological concept.
  3. The dramaturgical concept views the acting subject as “playing a role” in a social setting that provides an “audience.” It is perhaps best captured by the title of Erving Goffman’s pioneering analysis, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. This concept, again, is grounded in the dynamics of praxis.
  4. The communicative concept refers to the interpersonal relations (based on both lexis and praxis) of at least two subject who seek a shared understanding of a given situation “in order to coordinate their actions by way of agreement.” These are precisely the personal interactions that take place over the coordinated work practices of office work. It should therefore be no surprise that Habermas identifies origins of this concept in the ethnomethodological techniques of Harold Garfinkel, as well as George Herbert Mead’s earlier pioneering research in communicative action.

The connection to the three worlds has to do with the fact that teleological action takes place in the objective world, normative action in the social world, dramaturgical action in the subjective world, and communicative action in the integration of all three worlds.

No comments:

Post a Comment