Universal Pragmatics as a Methodology for Analyzing Institutional Cultures

Gerry Schlenker


Habermas maintains that the democratic nature of the public sphere can only be maintained within the context of the ideal speech situation. Truth, in this framework, means democratically arrived at consensus, free from domination. If consensus breaks down, that is if validity claims cannot be vindicated because they have been critically challenged, then truth claims may only be recovered through conditions of discourse in argumentative reasoning.


This involves the cooperative search for truth. If not allowed to progress because all participants have not been allowed to raise or challenge truth claims involving the four speech acts, then what results is a situation involving conflict and ideology. Conflict arises when "consensus concerning distribution of opportunities for satisfying needs breaks down" (Held 346).


What is necessary then is a critique of ideology through the "considerations of universal pragmatics" in order to determine the degree to which communicative action has given way to strategic action and particular interests of a dominant group as opposed to the generalizable interests of the entire community (Habermas 1979, 112-113).


It is therefore important to analyze the normative structure of particular socio-cultural systems and institutions in order to determine whether all participants have equal opportunities to employ all speech acts including communicatives, representatives, regulatives, and constatives. In the event that all actors are not able to employ and therefore fulfill their obligations which are necessary for establishing the ideal speech situation, then it is possible that what exists is a culture whose norms are entirely disconnected from justification.


This paper suggests that Universal Pragmatics as constructed by Habermas can be used as a practical methodology for analyzing various institutional cultures.


Habermas, Universal Pragmatics, Ideal Speech Situation, Public Sphere, Culture, Democracy

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