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Harbermas' Theory On Social Labor And Communicative Action

3267 words - 13 pages

Harbermas' Theory on Social Labor and Communicative Action

ABSTRACT: In contemporary philosophy and social theory, Harbermas's theory of communicative action stands indisputably for a modernity enlightened about itself and its potential. Yet, however much he professes his commitment to universalist ideals of inclusiveness and equality, his influential theory is also marked by disquieting statements on matters of gender. I argue that the problem of gender in Habermas's theory can be traced to his attempt to rework the Marxian tradition of historical materialism. I do so by (a) discussing Habermas's proposal for reconstructing this tradition, and (b) examining the system/lifeworld distinction on which the theory of communicative action is based. Regarding (a), I direct attention to his argument that the Marxian concept of social labor cannot account for the specifically human form of reproducing life; a theory of social evolution and historical progress requires equal recognition of socialization processes and the moral-practical insight transmitted through those processes. I show that Habermas attributes a special value to the "female" labor of socialization and that he conceptualizes such labor as outside "social" labor. Regarding (b), I argue that while Habermas's system/lifeworld distinction in the context of historical materialism makes possible a more complex interpretation of Marx and Engels understanding of the basic components of social labor, his theory of communicative action-like his proposal for reconstructing historical materialism-reproduces the Marxian exclusion of "female" labor from social labor.

In contemporary philosophy and social theory, Jürgen Habermas's theory of communicative action (1) stands indisputably for a modernity enlightened about itself and its potential. Yet, however much Habermas professes his commitment to universalist ideals of inclusiveness and equality, his influential theory is also marked by disquieting statements on matters on gender. Why, for example, does he include feminism in the list of heterogeneous and "particularistic" social movements, environmental groups, anti-nuclear protests, tax revolts, and so on, that have sporadically made themselves felt in Western societies in the latter part of the twentieth century? How can he suggest that feminism belongs to the grand "universalistic" tradition of bourgeois-socialist liberation movements and still maintain that feminism is a "new" social movement reflecting late twentieth-century particularistic aspirations? Why does he continue to develop a moral theory that denies moral status to issues of gender, despite concerns raised by feminist theorists? Why does he view his class-based model of the public sphere of modernity, which he worked out some three decades ago, as basically correct, despite the evidence for the differential basis of women's exclusion from the public sphere? Several feminists working in critical theory have expressed...

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