Monday, February 28

Do blogs offer a plattform for the "ideal speech situation"? V

3.) Habermas theory

Conversation can be more or less deep. [...] Chat style of conversation can be seen in diary style blogs. It’s sort of a replacement for the chat with the neighbour. More deep conversation can be seen in blogs with a professional slant, for instance blogs about knowledge management. The latter form of blogs is where this paper will focus on.

[...] Ito (2004) sees weblogs as an instrument to reach consensus between people. Habermas states that a consensus can only be achieved when there is communicative symmetry between people, within the ideal speech situation.

In Habermas’ theory the relation between people, the intersubjectivity, has a central role. Through communication it is possible to reach agreement between people and reaching
agreement is in the interest of the continued existence of social society. Through
communication people continuously reach agreement on what true knowledge is in the world which leads to a stable social order. The point where people reach agreement, in other words, what true knowledge is, will change over time as it is the result of inter-subjective discussions. Conditions can change over time, for example because of new possibilities created by technological innovation. Whenever conditions change a new discussion between people is required to redefine true knowledge.

In a discussion, consensus or agreement is aimed for by using arguments and counter arguments. Decisions based on arguments can be called rational. For Habermas rationality means reaching consensus by communication that is free of any form of coercion. Language is the means by which inter-subjective agreement is reached. To explain what language is Habermas uses the theory of speech acts. With this theory it can be determined when we can speak of communication. Not all speech acts can be seen as communication.

Habermas distinguishes three different types of action:

  • instrumental action,
  • strategic action
  • and communicative action.
Instrumental and strategic action both are goal oriented whereas communicative action aims for
consensus. In terms of Habermas only communicative action can be called communication. In communicative action participants are not oriented to their own individual successes. They pursue their individual goals under the condition that they can harmonize their plans on the basis of common situation definitions. In this respect the negotiation of definitions of the situation is an essential element of communicative actions. (Habermas, 1984: 286)

With every speech act (e.g. command, ask, declare) we make certain claims:

- the aspect of the rightness that the speaker claims for his action in relation to a normative
context (or, indirectly, for these norms themselves);
- the truthfulness that the speaker claims for the expression of subjective experiences to
which he has priviliged access;
- the truth that the speaker, with his utterance, claims for a statement. (Habermas, 1984: 307)

By introducing these three claims Habermas shows that common situation definitions thatresult from co mmunicative actions relate to three realms of reality or world perspectives:

  • the objective reality of things and occurrences,
  • the social reality of norms (also called the intersubjective reality)
  • and the inner reality of intentions emotions and needs (also called the subjective reality). (Kunneman, 1986)

With speech acts the speaker makes claims regarding objectivity (truth), intersubjectivity (rightness) and subjectivity (truthfulness). These threeclaims that Habermas defines have a verifiable character. One can retrace the reasons the speaker has for claiming something.

We already saw that Habermas defines good communication as communication for reaching understanding. Communicative action, as a form of communication doesn’t mean however that a perpetual discussion is going on. In general all kinds of claims are accepted without discussion, against the background of shared frameworks of interpretation such as cultural background. Therefore we should distinguish between communicative action on the one hand, where validity claims are accepted at face value, and discourse where validity claims that have become problematic are challenged by argument and counterargument. (Kunneman,1986: 219) If during communicative action questions arise with regard to accepting one or more validity claims, three routes are possible:

(1) those involved decide to break off communication;
(2) those involved can switch from communicative to strategic action and try to manipulate each other;
(3) those involved switch to another level of communication, discourse, where they try to re-establish consensus about the problematic validity claim. (Kunneman, 1986: 219-220)

Discourse is meant to reach consensus or agreement. The question is how to create a
communication process in such a way that agreement is indeed reached. It is of crucial importance that all relevant arguments are included in discourse. Habermas postulates that the quality of communication can only be guaranteed if there is communicative symmetry between all parties involved. Communicative symmetry means that certain conditions have to be met. Habermas calls these conditions for an ‘ideal speech situation’.

The conditions are:
  • all parties involved have equal opportunity to start a discussion,
  • and to bring forward arguments and criticize those of others;
  • there can be no power differences between parties involved, as that might prevent relevant arguments being put forward;
  • all participants should act truthfully towards each other, to ensure that manipulation does not take place. (Kunneman & Munnichs, 1998)
Only when these conditions are met, communicative symmetry is possible. It may be clear that in many ways this symmetry can be distorted. [...] In order to achieve communicative symmetry it is important that all participants in a discourse can be trusted and behaves in terms of the ideal speech situation.

Habermas [...] doesn’t offer any opinion with how this ideal speech situation can be achieved in real life. The coming of the internet has inspired researchers to think about settings in which an ideal speech situation can be achieved (see e.g. Drake et al, 2000; Froomkin, 2003; Heng & De Moor, 2003) To answer the question whether the blogosphere can meet the conditions for an ideal speech situation it is first necessary to look at the communicative characteristics from the weblog, how the technology shapes communication through blogs. It might be that certain aspects of blogs strengthen Habermas’ theory and others weaken it.

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