Habermas: Connecting theory to what we do everyday

I must admit, I have struggled my way through a number of the readings this semester. I have relied heavily on the class, in particular others interpretations of the readings, to better understand several theorists and traditions (Babe, the social-psychological tradition, etc.). But with that being said, the Habermas readings, particularly our class discussion, reminded me just how applicable all of this is to our everyday roles as communicators.

Jian Ghomeshi (Facebook photo)

Sudersan hit it straight on the head when saying “amidst the ruins of many a social theory, Jürgen Habermas stands alone in his endeavor to bridge the vast void  between theory and practice …” (Sudersan, 1998, 253). It is this bridge that allowed our class discussion to link to a variety of current events, such as the Ottawa shooting, Jian Ghomeshi and Ebola, and then bring the conversation back to Habermas.

For days after that class I drifted back to our conversation, particularly as more and more details emerged around Ghomeshi. A great deal of Habermas’ arguments were grounded in the concept of ideal speech, including everyone having a chance to argue and question, without the more powerful and prestigious having an unequal say (Gingrich, n.d.). In the Ghomeshi case, a number of the women have said that it is his power that originally stopped them from coming forward, including the fear of his power leading to online victim blaming. Social media also played a massive role in how this story unraveled. Even though a number of the alleged events took place before social media was a major player, Ghomeshi essentially broke the story himself on Facebook. By doing so, at the same time he garnered so much online attention that it made other victims realize “it wasn’t just me; I’m not the only one,” thus completely shifting public support towards his victims.

Butler-Jones became the public face Canadians trusted during the fight against H1N1 (Canada.com photo)

Habermas’ distinction between communicative action and strategic action can also be directly linked to a number of current events today. As Levine explained, Habermas described communicative action as trying to persuade someone else of the truth, where instrumental or strategic action is more about trying to get someone else to do what you want (Levine, 2012). This instantly makes me think about the communications surrounding Ebola. From the Canadian perspective, I understand why the government leads in this type of situation, but there is something about an elected politician instead of a medical expert being the spokesperson that doesn’t sit right. With Ebola, Federal Health Minister Ambrose has been front and center, with now Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Gregory Taylor, at her side. Federal Health Minister Aglukkaq handled H1N1 much differently, and was praised for stepping aside and letting the medical expert, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. David Butler Jones, become the trusted face Canadians could rely on. Politicians run a fine line between acting in their best interest and the best interest of this constitutes.

All in all a very interesting theorist, please feel free to comment on how you think Habermas links to the realities of today.


Bolkenius, M. (2014). Health Ministers discuss Ebola preparedness in Canada. Public Health Agency of Canada. Retrieved from http://news.gc.ca/web/article-en.do?mthd=tp&crtr.page=1&nid=897289&crtr.tp1D=1

Ghomeshi, J. (2014). Dear everyone. Facebook post. Retrieved from: https://www.facebook.com/jianghomeshi

Gringrich, P. (n.d.). An Introduction to the Work of Jurgen Habermas. University of Regina. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/course/view.php?id=3449

Kirkey, S. (2013). David Butler-Jones, Canada’s top doctor, stepping down a year after suffering stroke. Canada.com. Retrieved from http://o.canada.com/uncategorized/david-butler-jones-canadas-top-doctor-stepping-down-a-year-after-suffering-stroke

Levine, P. (2012). Habermas and critical theory (a primer). A Blog for Civic Renewal. Retrieved from http://peterlevine.ws/?p=9224

Solomon, E. (2014). Ottawa shooting: The face-to-face encounter that ended the attack on Parliament. CBC.ca. Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ottawa-shooting-the-face-to-face-encounter-that-ended-the-attack-on-parliament-1.2812802

Sudersan, P. (1998). Habermas and Critical Social Theory. Indian Philosophical Quarterly. (XXV, II), 253-264. Retrieved from http://moodle233.msvu.ca/m23/pluginfile.php/158173/mod_resource/content/1/Habermas%20%20Critical%20Social%20Theory.pdf


4 thoughts on “Habermas: Connecting theory to what we do everyday

  1. Thank you for posting on such a relevant and engaging topic – I completely agree with you that Habermas directly links to the realities of today. Throughout your post you did a great job of connecting his thoughts to various current events, including the Jian Ghomeshi case. In my mind, Habermas’s original idea of the public sphere has been transformed in the 21st century to the online world.

    Habermas’s idea of the public sphere began in the eighteenth century when the bourgeois emerged as a new social class in Western Europe. The middle-class used the public domain to come together and engage in debate about various subjects in society. In today’s world, we no longer physically come together in a public venue or institution to talk. Instead we turn to social media to connect with people from all over the world and share ideas, opinions and feelings online. Social media is now at the heart of breaking news as the biggest stories often hit Twitter or Facebook hours before reaching major news stations. As you mentioned in your blog post, this was extremely evident when Ghomeshi turned to Facebook to not only break his story and generate conversation, but also gain immediate public support.

    Habermas directly links to the realities of today because Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms and online forums act as an online public sphere where we come together to connect, collaborate and discuss ideas. Habermas’s public sphere has been ultimately modernized by the digital age in terms of space and time; however, the general idea of enabling ‘everyday’ citizens to engage in critical and rational debates hasn’t changed. It has now evolved into a discourse that is global and accessible, enabling people from every social class and demographic region to participate. Habermas’s theory of the public sphere is not only still relevant, but crucial to understanding the essence of our communication patterns in the online world.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts,



  2. Thank you Chelsey for this fabulous insight! I particularly liked how you raised the link between Habermas’ idea of the public sphere in the eighteenth century (when the middle-class would physically come together and engage in debate), to how today in modern society we use social media to connect in a very similar way. Like you said, this has enabled ‘everyday’ citizens to continue to engage in critical and rationale debates, which is something that is very, very important.

    I fully agree with you, social media is now at the heart of breaking news everywhere, and when any major events is unfolding (e.g. the Ottawa shooting), I immediately turn to Twitter for the latest updates. One of the things I really like about social media is you are generally identifiable to your followers and you have a public face, this forcing you to act somewhat similarly to how you would in a public setting. One of the things I don’t love about modern media is the comment section in news articles, commenters often hide behind a generic name (e.g. CanadianGirl17) and freely post hateful and inappropriate things. I often wonder if these people would feel as free to say these things, if their comment names were easily identifiable.

    So thank you again Chelsey for your insight – you raised some excellent points and got me thinking about this all over again!


  3. Your post was very interesting, and I liked how you pulled out two quotes that I must have just skimmed over, and yet the are very important to understand and reflect upon. What your post reminded me of, however, was when the Provincial Liberals announced the new Minister of Health was going to be a physician, and people criticized it as a ‘conflict of interest.’ It may just be the day, or time, or something that makes me feel a bit jaded, but I’m thinking all politicians are practicing ‘communicative action’ – it’s just which version of the truth are they using?


  4. Hi Jackie – thank you for your comment, you raise an excellent point! First I just want to quickly check that we’re both talking about the Ontario example (Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins). I vaguely remember the criticism now, but have to admit, your post is what reminded me! This also made me wonder how often a physician moves over to politics, I have to admit, I couldn’t think of many examples. Thanks again!


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