[this is an extract from a forthcoming edited collection ‘Habermas and social research’ (Routledge) – see here for more details]
While ongoing dialogues with Habermas’ intellectual positions and the existence of numerous applications of his core concepts, testify to his relevance to the field of social research, it is also the case that Habermas’ own take on theory, method and research has played second fiddle to debates over speech acts, discourse ethics, democracy and deliberation. His own musings on methodology, for example, are somewhat neglected thanks to some extent to the passage of time; one has to go back to works first published in the 1960s to get a sense of his take on theory and method. Later translated into English, Theory and practice (Habermas, 1974) and On the logic of the social sciences (Habermas, 1988), set out his position when it comes to research, an empirical and normative approach to theory-driven research that has stayed with him ever since. There are two aspects to this position. The first aspect concerns his critique of positivism, in the face of which he makes a case for what he calls a ‘critical sociology’ (Habermas, 1974, p, 10). This critical sociology, when confronted with the objectivism of the behavioural sciences, ‘guards itself against a reduction of intentional action to behaviour’ (Habermas, 1974, p, 10).
This position is clarified further in On the logic of the social sciences (1988) where Habermas argues that there
are no uninterpreted experiences, neither in everyday life not, especially, within the framework of scientifically organized experience. Standards of measurement are rules in accordance with which everyday experiences that have been interpreted in ordinary language are reorganized and transformed into scientific data. No such interpretation is fully determined by the experienced material itself (Habermas, 1988, p. 97).
Habermas argues that the research process cannot be removed from the various factors – psychological, economic, political and cultural – that to him inevitably impinge on the research process itself. This desire on the part of Habermas to go beyond positivism as a research paradigm for the social sciences is joined by a political aspect to his work, a commitment to ‘an interest in emancipation going beyond the technical and the practical interest of knowledge’ (Habermas, 1974, p. 9). In keeping with the Frankfurt School tradition, Habermas very much viewed research as a tool of emancipation, as a way of furthering democratic practices by revealing the existence of damaging pathologies in late capitalist society. […] [extract taken from the introduction chapter, ‘Putting Habermas to work in social research’]
Habermas, J (1974) Theory and practice (trans J. Viertel). London: Heinemann.
Habermas, J (1988) On the logic of the social sciences (trans S Weber Nicholson and J. Stark). Cambridge: Polity press.