File spoon-archives/habermas.archive/habermas_2001/habermas.0102, message 18

Subject: HAB: Re: The German context
Date: Tue, 06 Feb 2001 16:23:42 -0800

Thank you, Mari Wylie! This is a very pertinent and valuable reply to my 
earlier concerns (so spontaneously expressed, I'm quite aware, and so likely 
misread, which is not the case here).

>From: Mari Wylie <>
>Date: Tue, 6 Feb 2001 15:46:03 -0600
>I think the list should benefit both "philosophers" and "practitioners" and
>believe that both would communicate in the spirit of provoking/stimulating
>and creating an enlarged view of the Habermas work.

Indeed--and I'm confident that all subscribers agree.

The general background of my problem is the longstanding misreading of 
Habermas as an idealist (even Hegelian) philosopher--which I don't buy, but 
which I recognize to be a major obstacle to his work's influence outside 
Germany (not to mention his highly honed conceptuality, which is 
intimidating to many readers, it seems to me). But apart from misreading, 
there's the longstanding problems of application, which seems to me usually 
articulated in terms of distinctions like discourse vs. context, 
generalities vs. particulars, about which Habermas' work is mostly yielding 
to prospects for application ("appropriation") that it's not the business of 
metatheory to prejudge. However, questions of cultural relativity have to be 
part of that yielding, relative to metatheory's translation across cultures 
(as well as across levels)--high/verticalized culture of discursive 
motivation vs. horizontal/"low" culture of practical need (to put it badly, 
for bevity sake). When one looks seriously at the historicality of Habermas' 
work, it's not specious at all to wonder about the boundaries of relevance, 
e.g., to what extent is one *importing* Habermas' problematics in order to 
make his work relevant? To what extend is this counterproductive? Thereby, 
to what degree is an historical (German/EU) problem of overcoming a culture 
of idealist countermodernity mistaken for a discourse on "modern" philosophy 
altogether? This kind of questioning can get very involved with thematic 
intricacies--and *would* if ugly misunderstandings were to be assuredly 
avoided. Anyway, there are real problems here for any globalist or planetary 
view of social evolution.

>As a belated response to "E":
>I believe that Habermas has critically engaged organizational theory in his
>work, at least (in my partial exposure to his work) both the bureaucratic
>and systems theories that are "in play" in business institutions. (and
>subsequently get "valued" in our governmental processes)

I agree with you, but he seems to remain at the level of general systems 
features (perhaps necessarily, for his broad-sweep of interest). *MY* 
problem is that this prevents the practitioner from *constructively* 
engaging Habermas' work! Not: Does Habermas *want* to see his work applied 
(and gesturing that way, here and there); rather: Does practice-based 
problem-solving or motivation for critique or search for reframed thinking, 
etc., *get* to metatheory or *need* to get to metatheory in order to evolve 
or progress? The modest appeal of Habermas' work (outside the neo-Marxist 
tradition that is only dwindling in interest)seems to say that metatheory is 
not much needed. Organizational theory is a big industry, but the 
philosopher of system and lifeworld is barely a voice in this industry, 
after decades of the availability of his work.

>His work would
>enable a critical analysis of the personal, cultural, and social
>contributions to the Daimler-Chrysler evolution and believe he could/would
>understand the respective national histories as contributors to the
>situation, though the understanding would not be reduced to that particular

What made me cite the Daimler-Chrysler situation was--apart from its being a 
news story of the moment--its analogical overtones with the reception of 
Habermas' philosophy in the US: Habermas has often been read to be advancing 
an overbearing standard of discursive analysis on topics whose 
interest-bearers (readers of social issues) aren't comfortable with what 
appears to be a heavy-handed mode of standards bearing. And it's not 
specious to associate this perception problem with American perceptions of a 
German work ethic which is not comfortable with non-hierarchical 
organization. In the 1980s, Chrysler came back from the dead through 
collaborative labor-management partnerships and was highly profitable before 
Daimler-Benz bought Chrysler under deliberately false pretenses of promising 
collaborative partnership between two successful companies--a promise which 
was dramatically abandoned after the deal was finalized (while Daimler-Benz 
executives admitted publically to lying to Chrsyler in order to get a deal).

>But, in the end, how would we engage the analysis?

I wonder this, too.

>What do
>democratic societies expect from corporate entities regarding how they run
>their organizations?  Fair employment practices, participation in funding
>our collective life through taxes, fair participation on the corporate
>playing field, to name the things that come to mind.  The corporate 
>would be one of what processes and methods are most likely to give us the
>results we are seeking.

Yeah, but this is a most ordinary concern in journalistic, academic, and 
political circles. I wonder what an Habermasian perspective can 
constructively add to understanding this, when one gets to specific 
relations of corporate activity in a specific society at a particular period 
of time.

>I think this would be a "sidebar" use of Habermas work, as it seems to me
>that his work, particularly that in Between Facts and Norms, is most
>concerned (in the end) with the way "the law" could be transformed through
>discursive practices.  He feels a "right" to insist on more democratic
>practices (as in how could they be more legitimate) in those realms that
>claim a role in "justice".
>It seems that some American business school thinking (organizational
>learning theories, etc.) has benefitted from the work of Habermas but in 
>end, the interest of those studies has been organizational effectiveness
>which carries some good democratic "freight".

I'd like to hear more about this benefit.

>His theory of communicative
>action has more direct relevance to public action.  I found John Forester's
>books to be illustrative of how Habermas' work has entered public policy
>decision making (albeit his bias is to show how a professional planner can
>"use it") and/or in a substantive critique of public policy, and the
>regulatory, legislative and judicial processes that "codify" our decisions
>and guide our actions.

John Forester seems to be the except that proves the rule, since 
organizational learning, organizational change, etc., is a big industry 
(large literature)--in the US, at least--and it's not in great need of 
metatheory, rather: searching for effective practices (It's a very 
"hands-on" kind of literature). It doesn't seem that the difficulties of 
instituting progressive (say: collaborative, creative) practices is a matter 
of insufficient or inadequate theory. Rather it's a matter of other 
practical issues (politics of financiing change processes, careerist 
motivation to change, organizational difficulties of sustaining shared 
commitment, etc.)

Anyway, thanks for your thoughtful response!


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