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Re: [xmca] Development of development

On May 14, 2010, at 10:15 AM, ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org wrote:

> Martin:
> the reason for this post is to inquire about the dialectic in Habermas' 
> writing.  I have just briefly read a few critiques and am seeing 
> dichotomies between social and individual and am lacking enough knowledge 
> about Habermas to find the dialectic.  Could you perhaps enlighten me on 
> this for I have read enough of your writing to know you value the 
> dialectic.
> Just want to mention this has been a bountiful year of morels and wild 
> asparagas;  yum!
> eric


One of the big advantages of having a book manuscript to hand is that it's a great cut-&-paste resource! Certainly Habermas has tried to articulate the processes of mutual formation of individual and society. Does he do so in a dialectical way? David K has pointed out how LSV takes concepts from different theoretical frameworks and fills them with new content, and Andy has, correctly in my view, described this as immanent critique. Habermas does something similar, though without the subtlety of LSV, in my humble opinion. He seems to prefer structuralist rationality over dialectical reason. Here's my attempt at a brief summary and comparison: 

Box 12.2: Critical Research and Ontogenesis

It has become clear that one of the elements of a critical approach to research is a conception of ontogenesis: the history of the individual person. People act in the present, but they are products of the past. The work of each of the three people considered in detail in Part 3 includes an ontogenetic component. Each of them felt a need for an account of why a person acts as they do not only because of present circumstances but also because of their past; their personal history; their development. Habermas drew first on Freud’s account of the origins of communicative distortions in early childhood trauma, and then on the structuralist models of Piaget (the ontogenesis of instrumental rationality), Lawrence Kohlberg (moral reasoning), and Robert Selman (social reasoning) (see Kohlberg, 1981; Piaget, 1970/1972; Selman, 1980). This has been part of Habermas’ general movement away from a theory of distortions in communication that result from childhood trauma, what might be called a negative theory of communication, towards a theory of ideal communication that is can be grounded in an account of ‘normal’ ontogenesis. The development of an individual, Habermas argues, “can be analyzed in terms of the capacity for cognition, speech, and action” (1979, p. 100). For Habermas, a rational reconstruction of individual ontogenesis is needed to guide the researcher’s interpretation of current situations by providing a theory of the genesis of distorted communication. 

In chapter 13 we will see that Bourdieu too tried to understand the way history is ‘incorporated’ by the individual – how time literally shapes a person’s body. Bourdieu described ontogenesis in terms of the “dispositions” a person acquires; the formation of habitus. The properties of habitus - that it is inculcated, enduring, and generative - explain why a person’s dispositions to act depend not only on their current position but also on their earlier positions in other fields. Habitus accounts, in other words, for an identifiable ‘hysteresis’ in human conduct - hysteresis is the phenomenon in which a physical object’s response depends on its history. For example, the way of piece of iron reacts in a magnetic field depends on how it has been magnetized in the past. Humans, too, react to circumstances in the present in ways that depend on our past experiences. Bourdieu tried to avoid an overly-intellectual account of this phenomenon, the view that we accumulate a stock of knowledge from past experiences and simply draw on this stock when facing new situations, for example.  

Are these accounts of ontogenesis adequate? Habermas claims that socialization involves two particular kinds of intuitive knowledge. The first is learning the everyday views and standards of rationality of a specific life-world. The second is the acquisition of what Habermas considers universal structures of competence in cognition, language, and interaction. For Habermas these structures get filled with content by each particular culture, but in their general form they are universal. He draws a line between the contingent and the universal, and focuses his attention on the latter. The structuralist reconstructions of ontogenesis, by Piaget, Kohlberg, and Selman, have indeed claimed to identify universal stages of individual development. Their research has been criticized for its lack of attention to the role of culture in development, and for lack of attention to differences due to class, ethnicity, and gender.

As we will see (chapter 14), Foucault also explored the ways a human being becomes a knowing, acting and judging subject. He began to explore this in terms of techniques and technology for the formation of the self, but his work was cut short. Foucault sketched a way to conceptualize the constitution of multiple kinds of subject and subjectivity, upon a background of practical activity that provides each newborn child with the fruits of generations of human history: 
 “It is always against a background of the already begun that man is able to reflect on what may serve for him as origin. For man, then, origin is by no means the beginning - a sort of dawn of history from which his ulterior acquisitions would have accumulated. Origin, for man, is much more the way in which man in general, any man, articulates himself upon the already-begun of labour, life, and language; it must be sought for in that fold where man in all simplicity applies his labour to a world that has been worked for thousands of years, lives in the freshness of his unique, recent, and precarious existence a life that has its roots in the first organic formations, and composes into sentences which have never before been spoken (even though generation after generation has repeated them) words that are older than all memory” (Foucault, 1966, p. 330)

This articulation of “the already-begun of labour, life, and language” was Foucault’s  response to the Kantian divisions among knowledge, practice, and beauty. 

Critical analysis and critical inquiry evidently require an account of human development, but they do not yet seem to have an adequate one. It seems very likely that the work of the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky could offer much here. Vygotsky, working from a Marxist-Hegelian perspective, also rejected Kant’s divisions, his dualism of appearance/reality, and his representational model of human functioning. Vygotsky’s program for a general psychology of human psychological functions, a psychology which would necessarily focus on the ontogenesis of the individual, has similar aims to those I am exploring in this book (Vygotsky, 1987).

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