Monday, December 20, 2004

Lifeworld/System distinction (1)

"On the basis of this theory of argumentation, Habermas develops the two-level approach of lifeworld and system.


The lifeworld, then, has a twofold meaning: on the one hand, the horizon-forming contexts of culture, society and personality within which communicative action takes place, and, on the other hand, the resources of possibilities from which participants in communicative action can transmit and renew cultural knowledge, establish solidarity and build social identity.


Habermas’s theory of social evolution takes an important turn when he argues that the action-oriented approach of the lifeworld cannot account for all the complexities of modern societies. The process of rationalization should be understood not only as a differentiation of the lifeworld as a symbolically reproduced communicative order, but also in terms of the ‘material substratum’ of society (Habermas, 1987a: 23S-82). This twofold perspective indicates that societies have to secure the transmission of cultural values, legitimate norms and socialization processes, and, in addition, they also have to efficiently manipulate and control their environment in terms of successful interventions. Habermas therefore supplements the perspective of the lifeworld with a systems theory, specifically paying attention to the economic and the political system (Habermas, 1987a: 338-43).

These systems have in the course of history split off, or ‘uncoupled’, from the lifeworld to function independently, no longer on the basis of communicative action aimed at understanding, but in terms of the functionality of the steering of media, money and power. Actions coordinated through these steering media relieve communicative action from difficulties in reaching consensus in complex societies characterized by a range of action alternatives and, therefore, a constant threat of dissent. Actions coordinated by the steering media of money and power differ from communicative action in that they aim at the successful (cognitive-instrumental) organization of the production and exchange of goods on the basis of monetary profit (economy) and the formation of government to reach binding decisions in terms of bureaucratic efficiency (politics).

Habermas does not conceive the ‘uncoupling’ of system and lifeworld as problematic in itself. The coordination of action in systems can best be secured by steering media because they manage to relieve communicative actions from the possibility of dissent, and they can do so with a high level of productivity and efficiency. However, systems also have the capacity to penetrate back into the lifeworld. Coordination mechanisms oriented to success thereby enter into the domains of the lifeworld (culture, society and personality) that should be secured through communicative action oriented to mutual understanding if they are to remain free from disturbances and crisis manifestations (Habermas, 1987a: 318-31). This process Habermas refers to as the colonization of the lifeworld: the communicative potentials aimed at understanding in the lifeworld are eroded in terms of the systemic imperatives of monetary and bureaucratic systems interventions."

Introduction: Law in Habermas’s Theory of Communicative Action

continued from here


Matt Scofield said...

Enjoying the posts. Just found the site via a comment at on a post re: Athens/Jerusalem. I am doing a summary of Kierkegaard's Sickness unto death at present and understand from this review:

That Habermas has some good critiques of Kierkegaard's view of despair -- I was hoping you might be able to let me know if this is true or not before I purchase the book.

Ali Rizvi said...

Dear Matt,

Happy that you are enjoying the siste. I can recommend in general the collection of Habermas' short pieces entitled "Religion and Rationality." Here is another review to supplement the review you have just mentioned.

However I only have very general understanding of Kierkegaard’s and Habermas' parallels and have not really pursued specifically Habermas' critique of Kierkegaard's conception of despair. I do not have the book handy at the present to even reread the essay. So very sorry that cannot give any reasonable advice on this. Professor Martin Beck Matustík is the one I know who have pursued Habermas/Kierkegaard connection consistently and you may like to look at some of his books, specially, Postnational identity : critical theory and existential philosophy in Habermas, Kierkegaard, and Havel / Martin J. Matustik.

Sorry again for not being able to help you specifically.

Ali Rizvi said...


You can also ask the question on Habermas yahoo group

I am sure there are some people on the group who would be able to help you.

Matt Scofield said...

Thanks alot! Best of luck on your research, I've blogrolled you so I'll be checking in. You've already written a few pieces that I've found quite interesting given my present line of study. merry xmas and all that!

Ali Rizvi said...


It is my pleasure. You might also be interested in the following, "Commanded Love and Moral Autonomy: The Kierkegaard-Habermas Debate" by Westphal, Merold in Kierkegaard Studies.

Thank you for adding me to your blog, I have added you as well.

Happy xams to you and good luck.

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