Communicative action

Communicative action

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Communicative action is a concept
The word concept is used in ordinary language as well as in almost all academic disciplines. Particularly in philosophy, psychology and cognitive sciences the term is much used and much discussed. WordNet defines concept: "conception, construct ". However, the meaning of the term concept is much...

 associated with the German
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

-sociologist Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is perhaps best known for his theory on the concepts of 'communicative rationality' and the 'public sphere'...

. Habermas uses this concept to describe cooperative action undertaken by individuals based upon mutual deliberation and argumentation. He develops the concept in his work The Theory of Communicative Action
The Theory of Communicative Action
The Theory of Communicative Action was published in 1981 in two volumes, the first subtitled Reason and the Rationalization of Society , the second, Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason...


Structures of Communicative Action

Communicative action for Habermas is possible given human capacity for rationality
In philosophy, rationality is the exercise of reason. It is the manner in which people derive conclusions when considering things deliberately. It also refers to the conformity of one's beliefs with one's reasons for belief, or with one's actions with one's reasons for action...

. This rationality, however, is "no longer tied to, and limited by, the subjectivistic and individualistic premises of modern philosophy and social theory." Instead, Habermas situates rationality as a capacity inherent within language, especially in the form of argumentation. "We use the term argumentation for that type of speech in which participants thematize contested validity claims and attempt to vindicate or criticize them through argumentation." The structures of argumentative speech, which Habermas identifies as the absence of coercive force, the mutual search for understanding, and the compelling power of the better argument, form the
key features from which intersubjective rationality can make communication possible. Action undertaken by participants through a process of such argumentative communication can be assessed as to their rationality to the extent which they fulfill those criteria.

Communicative rationality
Communicative rationality
Communicative rationality, or communicative reason, is a theory or set of theories which describes human rationality as a necessary outcome of successful communication. In particular, it is tied to the philosophy of Karl-Otto Apel, Jürgen Habermas, and their program of universal pragmatics, along...

 is distinct from instrumental, normative, and dramaturgic rationality by its ability to concern all three "worlds" as he terms them, following Karl Popper
Karl Popper
Sir Karl Raimund Popper, CH FRS FBA was an Austro-British philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics...

--the subjective, objective, and intersubjective or social. Communicative rationality is self-reflexive and open to a dialogue in which participants in an argument can learn from others and from themselves by reflecting upon their premises and thematizing aspects of their cultural background knowledge to question suppositions that typically go without question.

Communicative action is action based upon this deliberative process, where two or more individuals interact and coordinate their action based upon agreed upon interpretations of the situation. Communicative action is distinguished by Habermas from other forms of action, such as instrumental action, which is pure goal-oriented behavior, dealt with primarily in economics, by taking all functions of language into consideration. That is, communicative action has the ability to reflect upon language used to express propositional truth, normative value, or subjective self-expression.

Social Implications of Communicative Action

Much of Habermas' work has been in response to his predecessors in the Frankfurt School
Frankfurt School
The Frankfurt School refers to a school of neo-Marxist interdisciplinary social theory, particularly associated with the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt am Main...

. Communicative rationality, for instance, can be seen as a response to the critique of enlightenment reason expressed in Max Horkheimer
Max Horkheimer
Max Horkheimer was a German-Jewish philosopher-sociologist, famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the 'Frankfurt School' of social research. His most important works include The Eclipse of Reason and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, The Dialectic of Enlightenment...

 and T.W. Adorno
Theodor W. Adorno
Theodor W. Adorno was a German sociologist, philosopher, and musicologist known for his critical theory of society....

's Dialectic of Enlightenment
Dialectic of Enlightenment
Dialectic of Enlightenment , is one of the core texts of Critical Theory explaining the socio-psychological status quo that had been responsible for what the Frankfurt School considered the failure of the Enlightenment...

. Horkheimer and Adorno had argued that the Enlightenment saw a particular kind of rationality enshrined as dominant in western culture, instrumental reason, which had only made possible the more effective and ruthless manipulation of nature and human beings themselves. Habermas' form of critical theory is designed to rediscover through the analysis of positive potentials for human rationality in the medium of language, the possibility of a critical form of reason that can lead to reflection and examination of not only objective questions, but also those of social norms, human values, and even aesthetic expression of subjectivity.

Habermas' earlier work, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere
The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society , by Jürgen Habermas, was published in 1962 and translated into English in 1989 by Thomas Burger and Frederick Lawrence...

, anticipates his concern for argumentation and can be read retrospectively as an historical case study of Western European societies institutionalizing aspects of communicative action in the political and social spheres. Habermas notes the rise of institutions of public debate in late seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain and France especially. In these nations, information exchange and communication methods pioneered by capitalist merchants became adapted to novel purposes and were employed as an outlet for the public use of reason. The notion of communicative rationality in the public sphere is therefore heavily indebted to Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher from Königsberg , researching, lecturing and writing on philosophy and anthropology at the end of the 18th Century Enlightenment....

's formulation of the public use of reason in What is Enlightenment?
What is Enlightenment?
"Answering the Question: What Is Enlightenment?" is the title of an 1784 essay by the philosopher Immanuel Kant...

Habermas argues that the bourgeoisie
In sociology and political science, bourgeoisie describes a range of groups across history. In the Western world, between the late 18th century and the present day, the bourgeoisie is a social class "characterized by their ownership of capital and their related culture." A member of the...

 who participated in this incipient public sphere
Public sphere
The public sphere is an area in social life where individuals can come together to freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion influence political action...

 universalized those aspects of their class that enabled them to present the public sphere as inclusive—he even goes so far as to say that a public sphere that operates upon principles of exclusivity is not a public sphere at all. The focus on foundations of democracy established in this work carried over to his later examination in The Theory of Communicative Action
The Theory of Communicative Action
The Theory of Communicative Action was published in 1981 in two volumes, the first subtitled Reason and the Rationalization of Society , the second, Lifeworld and System: A Critique of Functionalist Reason...

that greater democratization and the reduction to barriers to participation in public discourse (some of which he identified in the first public sphere of the Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

) could open the door to a more open
form of social action. The shift from a more Marxist focus on the economic bases of discourse in Structural Transformation to a more "super-structural" emphasis on language and communication in Theory of Communicative Action signals Habermas' transition to a post-Marxist framework.


Habermas views communication and debate in the public sphere as argumentatively meritocratic
Meritocracy, in the first, most administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their "merits", namely intelligence, credentials, and education, determined through evaluations or...

. Critics have argued that Habermas' notion of communicative rationality, upon which communicative action must be based, is illusory. The formal prerequisites of equality among argument participants, for instance, may mask the reality of unequal social capital. "There is no guarantee that a formally symmetrical distribution of opportunities to select and employ speech acts will result in anything more than an expression of the status quo." Historian Ian McNeeley, for instance, contrasts Habermas' view with Michel Foucault’s notion of communication as embodying pre-existing power relationships: "Jürgen Habermas subscribes to an unrealistic ideal of power-free communication…Michel Foucault remedies this idealism by treating knowledge as power; his work is in fact suffused with applications of knowledge for the control of human bodies." In a like manner, the discursive fiction of consensus achieved through rational argumentation might be used as a legitimating prop for social action to the detriment of marginalized members-this is the basis of much feminist critique of Habermas' notions.

Another radical critique is that of Nikolas Kompridis
Nikolas Kompridis
Nikolas Kompridis is a professor at the Centre for Citizenship and Public Policy at the University of Western Sydney. His scholarly work addresses a wide range of subjects in contemporary social and political philosophy, as well as in aesthetics and philosophy of culture...

, a former student of Habermas, who views Habermas' theory as another attempt to arrive at a "view from nowhere", this time by locating rationality in procedures of reaching agreement independent of any particular participants' perspective or background. In response, he proposes a "possibility-disclosing
Reflective disclosure
Reflective disclosure is a term coined by philosopher Nikolas Kompridis. In his book Critique and Disclosure: Critical Theory between Past and Future, Kompridis describes a set of heterogeneous social practices he believes can be a source of significant ethical, political, and cultural transformation...

" role of reason to correct the problems with Habermas' work.