Habermas Theory of Communicative Action Explained

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Habermas Theory of Communicative Action Explained

Jurgen Habermas built the theory of communicative action because he was looking for a way to ground social science within a theory of language. Published in a two-volume book, it would eventually become the foundation of future theories involving law, democracy, and morality. Communicative action serves to transmit cultural knowledge, renew it, and that processes creates a possibility of achieving mutual understanding.

As the communication action progresses, it can coordinate toward solidarity and social integration. It is through this process that individuals begin to form their own identities.

What Are Lifeworlds in the Theory of Communicative Action?

Habermas used “lifeworlds” to help define his theory of communicative action. A lifeworld includes all of the immediate contacts, activities, and experiences that are within the world of a specific individual. In some instances, a lifeworld could also be applied to corporate life or vocational responsibilities. It is a universe of what is self-evident.

Hamermas argues in his theory that these lifeworlds become colonized by what he calls “steering media.” People see this media within their lifeworld and become influenced by it. That influence allows the individual (or the corporate entity) to rationalize whatever actions they decide to take.

In the theory of communicative action, that means only spontaneous actions that are beyond the influence of steering media would have any value. For Habermas, that meant concepts of love, creativity, and charisma.

Steering media can only be influential within a lifeworld if four specific things happen.

  1. The traditional forms of life must be dismantled.
  2. The social roles included must be sufficiently differentiated.
  3. There must be adequate rewards, such as downtime or monetary compensation, for alienated labor that is provided.
  4. Hopes or dreams become individualized by a state-sponsored push of culture and welfare.

Habermas notes that while institutions will look to differentiate domains of action, there are counter-institutions that will also de-differentiates some of those organized domains. That removes them from the influence of the steering media and returns the action to coordination and cooperation so an understanding can be reached.

Why Do We Communicate Through Argument?

To communicate rationally, many people take the approach of having a rational argument. Habermas notes that there are three integrated conditions which this type of discussion can produce valid results within the theory of communicative action.

  1. The structure is immune to repression and inequality in a specific or special way.
  2. The structure is in the format of a ritualized competition so better arguments are formed in future engagements.
  3. The structure determines the construction of each individualized argument and the relationships those arguments maintain.

Habermas suggests that if these principles are accepted within the lifeworlds that interact with one another, then an outcome of communicative reality can be achieved. This reality allows for different validity claims to be brought to a satisfactory resolution and then applied to the relationships people form to the various life worlds.

How these arguments are structured depends on the type of discourse that is being used. The theory of communicative action suggests that there are three types of discourse used when attempting to communicate through a rational argument.

1. Aesthetic Discourse

This type of discourse focuses the argument on the visual aspects of the discussion. One would consider a performance or the work being performed as the foundation of a rational argument. The work is the proposition and the response, the criticism to it, continues the communication process.

2. Therapeutic Discourse

This discourse option is used to clarify or remove self-deception that may be in place during a rational argument. It allows the lifeworlds to remove “stories” that may have turned into facts so that an authentic discussion can take place. For communication to be effective, it must be free from illusion.

3. Explicative Discourse

This option of discourse involves how lifeworlds speak with specificity to one another. It includes properly structured grammar and content so that claims can be seen as being valid. This discourse option involves spoken communication as Habermas never addresses this concept for visual language that could be part of the discourse as well.

How each person forms an identity and molds their personality depends on the interactions their lifeworlds have with other lifeworlds. It is a constant give-and-take that involves communication on multiple levels. By evaluating each response and taking action to move toward solidarity, it becomes possible to form personal, group, and societal ethics that benefit everyone.