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CollectiveActionvs.Functionalism?SomeRemarksConcerningHans
Joas'sCritique
CollectiveActionvs.Functionalism?SomeRemarksConcerningHansJoas's
Critique
byThomasSaretzki
Source:
PRAXISInternational(PRAXISInternational),issue:1/1988,pages:5272,onwww.ceeol.com.
Thomas Saretzki
1. Critical Social Theory and the "Project of Modernity"
The Theory of Communicative Action is not supposed to be a "metatheory"
but instead "the beginning of a social theory concerned to validate its own
critical standards."1 The explication of these critical standards is the goal of a
theory of rationality. In order to accomplish this task, the theory of rationality
must refer to social theory. Without referring to processes of societal
rationalization, the explication of the notion of "communicative rationality)' is
impossible (within the framework of formal pragmatics).2 It is hence one of
the main intentions of the Theory of Communicative Action to point out the
"internal connection between the theory of rationality and social theory".
3
As in the work of Max Weber, the problem of using a concept of rationality
(which always has normative implications) arises for every sociology which
claims to be a theory of society at three different levels:
4
a) on a metatheoretical level as the question of "a framework for action
conceived with a view to the rationalizable aspects of action";
b) on a methodological level as the question of "gaining access to the object
domain of symbolic objects through 'understanding''', whereby "under-
standing rational orientations of action became the reference point for
understanding all action orientations";
c) on the empirical-theoretical level as the question of "whether and in what
sense the modernization of a society can be described from the standpoint
of cultural and societal rationalization" and how these processes can be
adequately conceived of within the framework of an analysis of society.
5
The Theory of Communicative Action is not just meant to help clarify the
foundations of social theory, but also to make possible a conceptualization of
the social life context that is tailored to the paradoxes of modernity."6
*Corrected version; for critical comments and helpful remarks concerning the first draft of this article I
would like to thank Jean Cohen, Simone Dietz, Frank Nullmeier and Joachim Raschke. An earlier German
version appeared as discussion paper no. 14 of the series "Reports and Discussion Papers" of the Institute
of Political Science, University of Hamburg, Allende-Platz 1, D-2000 Hamburg 13. For helpful suggestions
to the first draft of the English translation I am grateful to Birgit Ermlich, Detlef Murphy, and Rolf
Schmidt.
Praxis International 8: 1April 1988 0260-8448 $2.00
Praxis International
53
Considering the general questions the Theory of Communicative Action aspires
to resolve, one can identify the problems of constructing a theory which
hopes
-to validate its own critical standards without wandering off into relativism
on the one hand, or falling "into the snares of foundationalism" on the other,
7

-to point out that there is a connection of metatheoretical, methodological


and empirical-theoretical reflexions,
-to develop an evolution-theoretic framework to explain the emergence and
development of modern societies,
-to initiate or keep in touch with empirical research,
-to show how the theory can be employed in a concrete diagnosis of the
times.
In view of the various components of this comprehensive and rather ambitious
program, one might very well ask, how, if at all, these different concerns and
questions might be consistently integrated into one theoretical framework,
how the different levels of abstraction (from metatheory to a concrete
diagnosis of our times) might be mediated, and how empirical-theoretical,
critical-normative and practical-political aspects are thereby related to one
another. It should come as no surprise that some critics have pointed to
possible tensions and conflicts between these different intentions. In parti-
cular, the ambition to formulate a systematic theory that can satisfy the
explanatory claims and fallibilistic principles of the established sciences is seen
as a problem for the development of Habermas's critical theory.
Thus Thomas McCarthy argues that since Habermas's "reconstructive
turn" he has begun developing a social theory primarily with a systematic
intent, whereas the critical and practical intent dominant in his earlier
writings are becoming less significant.
8
While the paradigmatic shift from
radical self-reflection to rational reconstruction, that is, the shift from the
paradigm of psychoanalysis to the paradigm of cognitivistic developmental
psychology, has already been accompanied by much scepticism,9 the inte-
gration of some elements of systems theory now appears to many partisans of
critical theory as a sort of watershed beyond which they obviously do not want
to follow. In order to revoke this step, Habermas has been criticized either in
the name of the "founding fathers" of Critical Theory or with reference to
post-structuralism. Indeed, sometimes the "new" Habermas finds himself
confronted with the "old" one, that is, with the arguments of his earlier
writings.
10
In the background of social theoretical controversies about the
relevance and implications of borrowing from systems theory for critical
theory, there are obviously different assessments of what Hans Joas calls the
"substantive question of the extent to which societal processes occur indepen-
dently of the intentions of individual actors".ll Clearly, one's views on this
question will partly determine how one evaluates the possibilities and
dimensions of consciously planned social and political change in modern
societies.
Habermas has taken his partisanship for the "project of modernity" so
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54 Praxis International
seriously that a great many of those sympathetic to the ideas of earlier critical
theory see him thus as having gone too far in accepting the of a
differentiated modern society. Habermas defends not only the differentiation
and development of the internal logic of science and technology, law and
morality, and art' and literature in the sphere of cultural reproduction; he is
also accepting the differentiation of media-steered sub-systems (such as
monetarily regulated markets and law bound administration) from the
communicatively structured lifeworld. Defending cultural modernity implies
renouncing all programs which seek the "redemption" (Aufhebung) of a
differentiated culture and means giving up the idea of a complete recon-
ciliation of theory and practice, morality and ethical life (Sittlichkeit), and
ultimately art and life.Accepting societal modernity implies abandoning the
idea of the abolition of the state and of the market mediated by money. 12
Neither the differentiation of cultural knowledge in different spheres nor the
professional production of this knowledge in specialized expert cultures as
such can be seen as the cultural problem of modernity. The key question
instead becomes how a fruitful and mutual exchange between the various
expert cultures and everyday practises can be brought about. Furthermore,
neither the differentiation of monetarily steered markets out of the commu-
nicatively structured lifeworld nor the institutionalization of the bllreaucratic
administration of the welfare state as such can be seen as the central societal
problem. Today what is central is how the further penetration of economic
and bureaucratic system imperatives into spheres of action tailored to tasks of
symbolic reproduction can be prevented through regulation. A differentiated
feed-back between specialized expert cultures and traditionally impoverished
everyday-cultures - this is the cultural-political concern which can render
possible an overcoming of the apparent individual and social problems of
orientation. Indirect limitation of the uncontrolled growth of media-steered
subsystems of state and economy through the extension of institutions which
can protect the communicatively structured domains of action in the private
and public sphere against the reifying dynamics of economic and administra-
tive systems-a balance of power between the imperatives of system and
lifeworld: this is the social-political concern which can prevent a further loss
of freedom and a further threat to the conditions of personal identity
formation and social solidarity. 13
Many of the critical points raised against the theory of modernity, actually
seem to be directed against Habermas's "project of modernity" in the first
place. The critique of the "transformation of Critical Theory,"14 as brought
about by Habermas in the Theory of Communicative Action, often seems to be
motivated by questions about the normative and political implications of this
new type of critical s0cial theory: if one accepts the two-level conception of
social theory, does this not imply that one is more or less tacitly taking for
granted a degree of societal differentiation which makes the old utopias of
direct democracy and economic self-management appear simply anachro-
nistic? The assumption of a possibly "painless" handing over of functions of
material reproduction to media-steered subsystems-does this not imply, for
instance, that the whole "world of work" will have to be written off as a
Praxis International 55
domain of possible communicative rationalization and hence as a terrain of
democratization and 8ocialization? Given the view that a balance of power is
necessary between the imperatives of system and lifeworld, does not critical
theory find itself in an unnecessarily defensive position if it confines itself to a
reactive principle of limiting power instead of offensively pursuing the
radical-democratic end of reducing or even abolishing power and domi-
nation?lS
2. Hans Joas's metatheoretically oriented critique of Jiirgen Habermas
Questions like these underlie Hans Joas's critique of the Theory of
Communicative Action. Yet Joas does not take issue with the "project of
modernity" directly. His contribution is meant to be understood as a
metatheoretically oriented critique of the foundations of the Theory of
Communicative Action. 16
Joas raises the question of the consistency of Habermas's comprehensive
program in the Theory of Communicative Action without, however, actually
trying to clarify the question by means of an immanent critique (admittedly, a
"thorny path"). Rather, he simply starts from the assumption that the Theory
of Communicative Action might merely be a '''personal union' of theoretical
positions" and then proceeds by arranging Habermas's arguments in such a
way as if he had dealt with the following three questions, "namely the
question of human action and that of the conditions of social order, and . . .
the question of the central problematics of society in contemporary capitalist-
democratic societies. "17
Despite the fact that the theory of rationality and the theory of society
obviously are interrelated in Habermas's work, Joas wants to pass over
entirely what he himself regards as "the more philosophical questions having
to do with his use of the notion of rationality and thus also the question of the
normative implications of a critical theory of society."18 Whether this is an
appropriate approach for what is supposed to be a "metatheoretically oriented
critique" which is itself to a great extent lllotivated by the assumed normative
implications of system-theoretical elements in Habermas's concept of society,
seems to be highly questionable.
19
In looking more carefully, one realizes
rather quickly that the questions Joas wants to pass over and banish to the
domain of philosophy inevitably reenter through the back door when he
elaborates his own argument for an alternative program of critical social
theory.
To a certain extent, my remarks concerning Joas's paper tend to become an
"anti-critique" because I think his criticism is based on a problematic
interpretation of Habermas. In order to clarify what I regard as the
hermeneutic weakness of Joas's critique, I shall follow his rearrangement of
Habermas's argument and deal successively with the questions of the theory
of action, of social order, and of society as a whole. Joa8's critique points to
considerable "blanks" in Habermas's theory. Yet the alternative program he
suggests raises more problems than it is likely to answer, both in terms of an
appropriate empirical-theoretical conceptualization of contemporary societies
and with regard to its own normative foundation.
56
Praxis International
2.1 . Alternative action-theoretic concepts as afoundation for the critical theory of
society?
Joas starts his case by stating that Habermas's action theory is conceptually
"meager,"20 and he thus tries to demonstrate that Habermas "incorrectly"
identifies a typology of action with a typology of the different kinds of
coordination of action" and has not really attempted "to do justice to the
diversity of kinds of action."21 Obviously, Habermas did not make such an
attempt; considering the intention of his theory, however, one is inclined to
ask in what respect this might be a valid objection against Habermas's
conception. What would he have gained if he had-as Joas claims-attempted
to develop a "typology adequate to the rich variety of the different kinds of
action" in the first place?22 To be sure, the Theory of Communicative Action is
not intended to give an encompassing answer to the question of human action
as such, i.e., in all its various forms, nor is it intended to be a "metatheory".
Rather, it is supposed to be the beginning of a social theory which tries to
make explicit its own normative criteria. 23
Joas is right if he wishes to argue that Habermas sometimes seems to
suggest a problematic linear relationship of correspondence between abstract
types and concrete social domains of action. 24 If, however, his critique beyond
that is meant to he of systematic relevance (in the sense of providing a
complelnentary or alternative action-theoretic foundation for a critical theory
of society), then he would have to show which alternative concepts of action
(that are either non-communicative or communicative in a different sense) are
to be taken into consideration.
Since the concept of action one takes as a reference point has a decisive
impact on how a social order is conceived, the fundamental relevance of
action-theoretical foundations for the construction of a theory of society has
been repeatedly emphasized by Habermas.
25
Thus, the relevant question is
whether there is a concept of action to be found in the "rich variety of
different kinds of action" that can serve as an alternative action-theoretical
foundation for a critical theory (and it is a theory of society which is at stake
here!) I am rather sceptical about this, since prima vista there are problems
attached to all the candidates named by Joas.
First of all, 10as points to an "expressionistic counter-model" of the 18th
century Enlightenment which would be directed against instrumentalistic
reductions just as the concept of communicative action is. 26 Yet such an
aesthetically inspired model of action generates serious problems if one is
interested in explicating normatively valid foundations for a theory of society
within such a framework. Instrumentalistic reductions in the action-
theoretical foundations of a theory of society cannot be persuasively overcome
if one attempts to enrich the paradigm of the isolated subject (which
monologically reflects about and purposively intervenes into a world of
objective entities)27 with elements of aesthetic expression.
Another candidate mentioned by 10as is "a conception of ritual as norm-
constituting action and as a counter-concept to the instrumentalist restriction
of the concept of action.,,28 Unless the characteristics of such a ritual
Praxis International 57
constitution of norms are explicated more detail, the question arises, to put
it terms, whether it is to be understood as anything but a retrogression
to a pre-modern level of reflection. Certainly, norms can be expressed in a
ritual, and even a modern democratic society there may be rituals with such
an expressive function. Nonetheless, can a critical theory of society which
hopes to validate its own normative standards in earnest assign a "norm-
constituting" function to a conception of "ritual?" (One is immediately inclined
to ask-which one)?
The reference to the model of action inherent in pragmatism seems to be less
problematic.
29
This model is based on the notion of an experimental, creative
action which finds its ends only in situations. In considering the case of John
Dewey, whose conception Joas explicitly points to, one can see the crux of this
approach. Dewey's theory of action is a theory of rational responses to given
situations which turns simultaneously to be a theory of being tied to given
situations-with all its positivistic and relativistic implications.
30
After all, the
inability of this type of pragmatism-which contains a radical-democratic
self-understanding, to be sure-to provide a rational justification of its own
normative positions within the framework of its theory of action
31
was one of
the main reasons why the first generation of the Frankfurt School heavily
criticized Dewey's "fair-weather" philosophy.32 In short: as long as Joas does
not further explicate how his alternative program of "a more broadly based
theory of action"33 can actually provide a better foundation for a critical
theory of society and how he wants to get around the problematic normative
implications indicated above, it is difficult to see in what respect his focus on
the neglected phenomenal diversity of actions actually represents a systemati-
cally relevant objection to Habermas's conceptualization of the problem. 34
It is possible to limit the scope of one's critique of a social theorist to giving
an account of the "costs" resulting from his specific views and intentions with
regard to the questions he tried to answer. Joas, however, obviously does not
limit himself to such a balancing of "costs" and "benefits," of strengths and
weaknesses. W'hen we consider his systematic claims about action-theory, the
question arises of whether his critique does not ultimately amount to saying
that Habermas should have dealt with another problem altogether. To be
more specific: Is not Joas ultimately saying that Habermas-instead of
developing an action-theoretical foundation for a critical theory of society
which seeks to validate its own normative criteria-should have tried to work
out a typological reconstruction of the phenomenal diversity of human
actions?
Different interpretations of what is at stake and different strategies to deal
with these problem are to be found at other junctures. This can be seen in
Joas's distinction between the theory of action and the theory of social order. In
principle, Joas is certainly right in pointing out that questions of human action
and of the conditions of social order can be analytically separated.
35
However,
what Habermas's formulation,of the issue amounts to is thematizing these two
questions in regard to their interrelatedness.
The question: 'How is social action possible?' is only the reverse of the other
S8 Praxis International
question: 'How is social order possible?' A theory of action that wants to answer
this question must be able to specify those conditions, which allow alter to connect
(anschlieBen) his actions to ego's actions. This expression reveals an interest in the
conditions of social order as far as these are located on the analytical level of simple
interaction. The sociological theory of action is concerned not only with formal
characteristics of social action as such, but with mechanisms of action-coordination
which render possible a regular and stable connection (Vernetzung) of interac-
tions.
36
Habermas made it very clear that the search for connection-mechanisms
constitutes a specific perspective on the phenomenal domain of human action.
As he points out, the perspective of the sociologist predetermines the theory of
action insofar as concepts of social action are analyzed only in relation to
concepts of social order.
Considering the "task of explaining an intersubjectively shared social
order,"37 Joas misses the level of abstraction of the Habermasian argument as
far as his reference to the neglected phenomenal diversity of actions and his
critique of the concentration on problems of action-coordination are con-
cerned. If one wants to clarify the social-theoretical question of the conditions
of social integration or the complementary question of avoiding social anomie,
then it is difficult to see how on the analytical level of simple interaction this
problem can be posed in any other way than as the problem of connecting or
coordinating actions. If we take as a starting point the model of communica-
tive action, an "expressionistic counter-model," a conception of ritual, or the
pragmatist model of action, it is always the problem of action-coordination
which is at stake if one wants to know the conditions of social order on this
level of direct interaction. If there are questions which arise in this context
regarding the adequate conceptualization of the problems of social order, then
these questions do not arise on the action-theoretic level but on the level of
social theory. Acritique of the Habermasian two-level concept of society that I
would go along with, amounts to the following argument: being interested in
the conditions of social order, one cannot confine oneself to analyzing these
conditions only "on the analytical level of direct interactions."38 One must
rather expand the analysis to include the level of social organisation and
institutions, the structure and functions of which are not adequately grasped
on the level of simple interaction.
39
2.2 Systems' theory as a theory of social order?
Speaking of the "essential limits of what the theory of action can accom-
plish, and of competition between approaches based on the theory of action
and on systems theory as a competition between two different paradigms,"
Habermas would, according to Joas, confound "the distinction between the
theory of action and the theory of social order with, on the one hand, the
question of changing over to the solution of the problem of social order
provided by functionalist systems' theory and, on the other hand, with the
substantive question of the extent to which societal processes occur indepen-
dently of the intentions of individual actors."40 Considering the Habermasian
Praxis International 59
argument more closely, however, it is not at all clear who is confusing what in
this context. No one is likely to object when Joas tries to support his criticism
by claiming:
The theory of action does not per se compete with the theory of social order . . . In
fact, the theory of action directly compels the posing of the problem of social order.
Concomitant of every theory of action are theoretical assumptions about the nature
of social order that implicitly or explicitly correspond to it.
41
Now Habermas did not-as Joas seems to presuppose-speak of a compe-
tition the theory of action and the theory of social order, but of a
contrast of action- and systems-theoretical perspectives based primarily on
methodological and metatheoretical considerations. Apparently, Joas pre-
sumes that Habermas-simply by taking over elements of systems' theory in
his own theoretical framework-has thereby pleaded for a transition towards a
"solution to the problem of social order provided by functionalist systems
theory".42 At this point, Joas seems to see the systenls-theoretical elements in
Habermas's theory of society as a comprehensive theory of social order-and
to me this seems to be an indequate interpretation of their status in the context
of Habermas's two-level concept of society. Within the framework of this
conceptualization, "system" and "lifeworld" do not-as Joas assumes-
represent two equivalent and contradictory models of social order.
43
Rather
Habermas maintains the primacy of the lifeworld both genetically and
systematically.44 In the context of the Habermasian account, Joas-to use his
own words-"incorrectly" identifies "system" as an independent concept of
social order. According to Habermas's conception, the continuity and identity
of a society as a whole cannot be defined with reference to some media-steered
subsystems, but only with reference to the structures of the lifeworld. If the
mechanisms of systems' integration, require institutional anchoring in the
lifeworld, as Habermas keeps telling us again and again, then "the problem of
social order" does not exist on the level of the system but in the lifeworld. Or,
to put it differently: even the problem of order in the system arises (if it arises
at all) on the level of the lifeworld.
45
By understanding the two-level
conception of society, which integrates "system" and "lifeworld", as an
"unhappy marriage", as an "infelicitous . . . joining together" of "a her-
meneutic and a functionalist conception of social order,"46 Joas succumbs to a
confusion. If there is a theoretical conception of order in Habermas's theory,
then one has to look for it in the sphere of the lifeworld. Since Habermas's
notion of a socio-culturallifeworld is rather broad, it seems appropriate, with
regard to an empirically oriented analysis of problems of social order, to
differentiate the concept of the lifeworld further and to distinguish the
institutional components analytically more clearly from the aspects of direct
action-coordination. Mechanisms establishing or maintaining social order are
not only to be found on the level of simple interaction in the form of already
presupposed background knowledge, relations and competences. As far as the
problems of establishing and maintaining social order are concerned, socially
objectivated mechanisms also play an important role and they are to be
analyzed on the level of social and political institutions.
60 Praxis International
2.3 Theory of society as a theory of collective action?
According to Joas, "Habermas's understanding of the status of the theory of
action" is too narrow, and he strongly criticizes what he regards as a
misleading limitation of action theory to processes of the lifeworld.
47
It is only
because of this "truncated version of the theory of action", Joas argues, that
Habermas is forced to "take recourse to functionalist lines of reasoning." In
contrast Joas wants to expand the scope of action theory to "the task of
describing collective actions, of describing the constitution of collective actors
and identities."48 First of all, it is clear that the "theory of collective action"
postulated by Joas cannot be the same kind of action theory as a theory of
individual action (since this would mean treating collectivities as
individuals-clearly an inappropriate idealization).49 This is granted by Joas
when he points to the necessity of differentiating between the level of
individual action and its rationalization and the rationalization of collective
and organized action. 50 In order to avoid possible misunderstandings and to
be able to distinguish between aspects of constitution and aspects of the
actions of social groups. I would prefer to speak about this point as the
question of a (missing) theory of social actors. SI This might be just a question
of terminology. What appears to be a much more serious problem, however, is
the overextended scope Joas wants to assign to such a theory of collective
action within the general framework of a theory of society. One could get the
impression that Joas thinks that a theory of society is to be transformed more
or less completely into a theory of collective action. This seems to be
problematic in at least two respects.
The alternative program suggested by }oas, that is, a "theory of social order
centered on the constitution of collective actors,"52 raises questions about the
normative implications of a theory of social order grounded in this way (as far
as this alternative is supposed to be more than just a descriptive theory of
social order). If at least in modern societies a "theory of social order" denotes a
theoretical structure that is to be built upon universalistic principles-and this
I take for granted-would not any "theory of social order centered on the
constitution of collective actors" willy-nilly have to presuppose that these
universalistic principles can be "read" out of "the constitution" of collective
actors without greater difficulties? If inadequate idealizations are to be
avoided, one has to concede that all the historical collective actors having
appeared so far (be they nations, social classes, political parties or social
movements) actually represented not only universalistic but also particula-
ristic interests (which after all resulted from the specific social position and the
specific problems these actors were primarily engaged in). The question then
becomes how to distinguish universalistically oriented actors from those with
more particularistic interest. How do we distinguish generalizable and
particularistic positions when one is looking at the "program" and "practice"
of an actor? Do not the criteria one thereby has to take into account have to
provide the normative foundation of a theory of order, rather than the
historically specific "constitution" of a collective actor? In short: a theory of
social actors is hopelessly overcharged if it is supposed to solve the problems
Praxis International 61
of a theory of social order with explicable and valid normative standards. 53
Such an undertaking runs the risk of doing injustice to either the normative
claims of a theory of social order or to historical reality and the specific
conditions and restraints of social actors.
Trying to purge functionalism from social theory and to ground the theory
of society primarily on the foundation of a theory of collective actors,54 Joas
expects too much of the suggested theory of collective action in a second
respect, too. In light of modern societies, which are differentiated not only
vertically but to an increasing extent also functionally, the question of the
scope and the adequacy-one might as well say: the question of empirical
content--of such an approach arises. According to Joa8, Habermas's emphasis
on the independence of processes of rationalization in the lifeworld springs
first of all "from the pressure exerted against this direction by functionalist
models." If one accepted this "alternative theoretical framework", Joas
argues,
. . . then it is not the deductive definition of microsocial phenomena on the basis of
macrosocial functions that guides us, but a reconstruction of the manner in which
societal conditions that have become autonomous can as such issue from the
complex of normative traditions and everyday actions, of concrete historical
situations and actions, and do so in the face of possibilities of resistance to them
that are produced anew over alld over again. The upside-down world of apparently
autonomous social structures is then thereby left behind, at least theoretically. ss
Nonetheless, one is inclined to ask: what about the "upside-down world" if it
is left behind by social theory, and conversely, what about a social theory, if it
leaves behind the perverted realities of the world as it is? If I understand the
critical intention correctly at this point, Joas would like to have a theory that
conceives of societal conditions as directly produced-and hence changeable-by
collective actors. Considering the increasing complexity of different spheres of
action in modern societies which are rationalized according to their own inner
logic and functionally differentiated, the question arises, however, whether
and eventually to what extent this idea of the formability of societal conditions
by a collective actor remains an adequate notion. 56
One is almost inclined to think that in his critique Joas to a certain extent
blames the messenger -for his bad message. Is there not a sort of hidden
idealism underlying Joas's critique? The "upside-down world" of autonomous
structures is but virtualized; apparently, it does not arise simply because
Habermas applies systems-theoretical concepts in his theory of society. Rather
the other way around: since in the actual development of modern societies
there are tendencies of economic and administrative autonomization, a theory
of s'uch a society must try to grasp these tendencies conceptually if it does not
want to ignore the social reality it is supposed to analyse. If one is concerned to
work out a theory of society not only in the manner of a critique of ideology
but also with systematic intent, then one will have to look for a theoretical
framework which allows an adequate description and explanation of overall
societal development and its structures of conflict. And as far as this level of
62 Praxis International
theoretical conceptualization is concerned, this question for Joas is as follows:
Can functionally differeptiated modern societies still be adequately grasped in
a "theoretical framework that refers all phenomena of social order to an actual
or virtual collective will of society's members"?57 The question is whether in
the alternative framework of a theory of collective action (taken as a program
for general social theory) the theoretical conception of society is not influenced
too directly by critical and practical intentions, whereas this theoretical
conception should provide adequate categorical and analytical means for a
sober systematic analysis of societal developments in the first place. Does not
the theory of society surrender its critical function if it dissolves into a theory
of action oriented directly at practical action, thereby losing sight of structu-
rally and functionally conditioned constraints upon action. Even the practical
intentions of a critical theory of society will be left unfulfilled if the functional
imperatives of a differentiated and complex mass-society are simply disre-
garded. This would mean disregarding the potential for disillusionment and
frustration embodied in these structures vis-a.-vis attempts of the direct and
conscious steering of them. 58
As far as the adequacy of the two-level concept of society is concerned, one
might very well ask whether Habermas has not been influenced too much by
the debate on technocracy and, as a consequence, has not overemphasized the
tendencies toward the autonomization of economic and bureaucratic sys-
terns. 59 Applying the abstract concepts of "system" and "lifeworld" to a
concrete diagnosis at an empirical level of analysis without further analytic
differentiation and without reflecting about the necessary steps of "opera-
tionalization", might indeed lead to an inadequate "block-like notion of the
monetary-bureaucratic complex."60 Hence Habermas's "structural" concep-
tion tailored to the functional imperatives of the "system" and to the processes
of communicative rationalization of the "lifeworld" must be supplemented (a)
by an analysis of mediating institutions that regulate the exchange of "system"
and "lifeworld", Cb) by a dynamic analysis of the conflictual interaction of
social actors, if an adequate diagnosis of contemporary societies is to be
accomplished in the end.
61
To do justice to the dynamic aspects however, one does not have to abandon
the framework of the Habermasian approach entirely. To supplement or to
enlarge a "structuralist" conception by introducing neglected aspects is a
different strategy than to replace it with a theory of collective action. In
criticizing Habermas for not having paid attention to the aspects of develop-
mental dynamics, one should not fall into the opposite extreme and start out
from the assumption that a theory of society-which aspires to grasp society in
all its interconnections-can indeed abandon a structural framework and
elements of functional analysis entirely.
We can sum up these considerations as follows: The two-level concept of
society that Habermas introduced in an evolution-theoretical context and
that-as a "structuralist" concept (in the sense of genetic structuralism)--
concentrates on aspects of developmental logic, requires supplementing:
- with regard to questions of the mediation of "system" and "life-world" by a
theory of institutions,62
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63
- with regard to questions of developmental dynamics by a theory of social
actors.
63
The Habermasian two-level concept of society could be supplemented and
developed further in the direction of a multi-dimensional conception of society,
that is, as a framework which would render possible a sufficiently differen-
tiated and theoretically guided diagnosis of contemporary societies and their
various conflicts. Contrary to this strategy, the alternative program suggested
by Joas abandons the evolutionary perspective of Habermas's conception,
which is oriented towards processes of rationalization. This raises questions of
a different but still normatively explicable reference point for the theory of
society. Beyond that there are problems that arise with respect to the
formulation of a systematic theory concerned with describing and explaining
the development of society as a contradictory whole. According to Joas's
program, aspects of functional and structural analysis-and institution-
theoretical questions in particular-would have to be analyzed and explained
within the limited framework of a theory of collective action. As tar as its
social-theoretical scope and analytical potential are concerned, Joas's theory of
collective action concentrates primarily on the level of conflictual interactions
between social actors, while the general external conditions of these conflicts,
the structurally and functionally conditioned opportunities and constraints of
specific forms of action, are more or less neglected. The theoretical strategy
suggested by Joas runs the risk of conceptualizing the structure and dynamics
of societal development primarily in the vertical dimension of social stratifi-
cation, ultimately, in line with the "old" model of "class struggle" (albeit a
more or less fragmented one).64
3. Hans Joas's alternative program of a critical social theory
3.1 Social-theoretical problems of a broadly based theory of action
As far as a critical theory of society is concerned, Joas's critique can be
summarized in the following fashion: if Habermas had developed a broader
theory of action (instead of his "meager," "truncated" version), he would not
have been forced to take over functionalist conceptions of systems' theory in
his own theory of society (which are to be avoided because of their normative
and political implications). Hence what is needed is an alternative approach to
the critical analysis of society, namely a "more broadly based theory of action"
and a "theory of social order centered on the constitution of collective actors" .
I do not share the premises of this critique. They are based on a questionable
interpretation of Habermas's theory and its intentions. Nor do I find the
conclusion compelling since it suggests an alternative approach for a critical theory
of society that has problematic social-theoretical and political implications.
"Broadly based theory of action" apparently means two strategies of broaden-
ing: (1) introducing other types or modes of action and (2) introducing other
actors (i.e. collectives). As far as the first point is concerned it might be useful
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to develop alternative typologies or refer to alternative models of action if one
is interested in analyzing other phenomena than those of action-coordination
(particularly phenomena of the aesthetic sphere). It might also be helpful to
differentiate further the concepts of communicative and strategic action (e.g.
with regard to different means of influencing or communicating). To rees-
tablish a broad and undifferentiated concept of "praxis" as an action-
theoretical foundation for a critical theory of society which seeks to validate its
own normative standards, however, is to fall behind the level of analytical
differentiation accomplished by Habermas. This strategy suggests a paradigm
of action that is basically grounded on a subjectivistic rather than intersub-
jectivistic notion and that blurs the relevant distinctions between instru-
mental, communicative and expressive aspects of action. As far as the second
point is concerned, several critics have pointed out the level of social actors
that is lacking in Habermas's conception and therefore must be introduced if a
comprehensive analysis of contemporary societies is to be accomplished.
However, I would lay special emphasis on the fundamental difference
between individual and collective action (and the differences between various
collectivities) to avoid from the outset any notion of collectivities as
macrosubjects-a myth that haunted critical social theory for so long.
Secondly, I would restrict the scope of a "theory of collective action" to the
level of conflictual interaction of social actors which is not the only level of
analysis required for a critical theory of society. 6S
3.2 Action-centered vs. multidimensional analysis of society
Joas seems to play the action-oriented approach off against the functional
one, turning the structural analysis of institutional order into something like
an appendix of the analysis of collective actors. In contrast to this more or less
"one-dimensional" approach, I would argue for an explicitly "multi-
dimensional" concept of society which tries to combine at least the following
distinct levels of analysis:
66
functional analysis of steering-problems and reproduction mechanisms of
differentiated subsystems of society
structural analysis of normative principles and institutional order of a
society
dynamic analysis of the confiictual interaction of social actors competing
over the distribution of resources and the interpretation of norms.
Compared to this three-dimensional framework, }oa8's alternative program is
both a reduction and an extension in scope. If functional analysis has no right
of its own and structural analysis is to be centered on the constitution of
collective actors, Joas has to refer (if not reduce) the analysis of functional
systems-imperatives and institutional order to the level of conflictual
interaction of social actors. As a consequence, he is forced to broaden the
objective of a theory of action to explain the functions of systems and the
structures of institutions-if his alternative program is supposed to represent
an approach to a systematic theory of society.
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Clearly the imperialism of a systems-theoretical approach which redefines
all social phenomena in functionalist terms and absolutizes a certain concept-
ual perspective is no adequate framework for critical theory and hence must
be criticized for its extreme one-sidedness. Trying to avoid the "functionalist
fallacy," however, should not lead one to fall into the other extreme and
commit an "intentionalist fallacy," that is, one should not conceive of
reproduction mechanisms of functionally regulated systems as if they are
nothing but the outcome of deliberately planned collective action. Such an
action-oriented conception of society refers to certain problematic assump-
tions about the extent to which complex systems of functional regulation are at
the disposal of any collective actor and hence can be consciously steered by
purposive intervention. If a concept of society does not systematically pay
attention to the internal and external limitations of the capacity for action of a
collective actor, then it runs the risk of fostering a voluntaristic concept of action
which neglects functionally conditioned restrictions and the limited
effectiveness of direct interventions.
Within a framework that concentrates on the level of confiictual interaction
between social actors, the functional imperatives embedded in systems of
material reproduction appear primarily as an expression of the specific
socio-economic interests of the dominant collective actor. What gets obfu-
scated is the evolutionary aspect, namely the question of the degree to which
societies differ with regard to their capacities to solve problems of material
reproduction. If we were to clarify to what extent different systems of
reproduction vary in terms of their efficiency, complexity, and "steering
capacity" independently of their distributional effects, a functional analysis is
required. 67
As far as the institutional dimension of }oas's approach is concerned, one is
left in doubt about the reference point of his alternative theory of order. On the
one hand, he suggests a "theory of social order centered on the constitution of
collective actors," yet on the other hand he characterizes his approach as a
"theoretical framework that refers all phenomena of social order to an actual
or virtual collective will of society's members."68 Either his use of the term
"social order" is equivocal or he draws an analogy between the level of
collective actors and society as a whole. I would argue that any attempt to
understand the problem of the institutional order of society by referring to the
constitution of a collective actor is misleading because it tends to ignore the
fundamental difference between the specific constitution of a collective actor and
the constitution of a modern society as a whole. The institutional structures and
procedural rules of a modern society are more formalized, generalized and at
the same time more differentiated than they would be in any collective, thus
being in conflict with the concretely substantiated identity and solidarity of
any specific collective actor. Yet these institutions and procedures must be
built on abstract universalistic and formalistic principles abstracting from any
substantially defined identity, otherwise they characterize the social order Qf a
community rather than the institutional order of a complex modern society..
Any approach to social theory that conceives of society primarily or even
exclusively on the level of conflictual interaction collective actors is in danger
66 Praxis International
of reestablishing another "old" notion of conflict resolution, namely the clash
of two opposing actors, traditionally thought of as classes. This applies not
only to the marxist tradition, but also to contemporary approaches that try to
formulate a theory of society as a theory of collective action-Touraine
probably being the most prominent example.
69
Within a framework that
concentrates on the level of conflictual interaction between collective actors,
the normative rules and political institutions of a society appear primarily as
an expression of the specific ideology and as a repressive instrument of a
dominant collective actor. What gets tossed to the wayside, however, is the
evolutionary aspect of different stages of normative principles and institu-
tional regulations. In order to clarify to what extent the existing norms and
institutions embody universalistical principles, a structural analysis is
required.
3.3. Social-theoretical approaches and political options
While 10as is right in pointing out that metatheoretical considerations can
analytically be distinguished from the level of concrete social diagnosis, it
might nonetheless be helpful to look at their interrelatedness in order to
clarify what the underlying social-theoretical and political stakes of the debate
are. Joas's alternative program for a critical theory of society that could be
characterized as an (over-)extended action-theory based on a broad concept of
"praxis" and associated with some form of class analysis is likely to reestablish
in new shape some of the notions prominent in the New Left (and some of
their theoretical weaknesses and political illusions, too). The political impli-
cations of Habermas's dualistic conception seem to be different. Of course
abstract theoretical concepts are only indirectly politically relevant. Yet any
interpretation of society and its problems has an important impact on any view
of what counts as a possible solution to these problems. In order to clarify the
specific "selectivity" of the Habermasian approach for possible problem-
solving strategies, consider the following theoretical "experiment": if contem-
porary "collective actors", such as the "new social movements", started out
from Habermas's diagnosis of modernity and its pathologies, what would the
political implications for their approach be? While a diagnosis does not
directly suggest or even determine a certain therapy, it at least limits the range
of possible options by excluding others that appear less appropriate.
With reference to the dualistic conception of system and lifeworld, the
increasing trends of over-differentiation that threaten the communicative
infrastructure and the cultural variety of the life-world, would not be opposed
with a program of complete dedifferentiation. Instead of neglecting the
functional imperatives embedded in the differentiated subsystems of society
or returning to a "monistic" communitarian organizing principle for society as
a whole, the actors would take a more complex societal development into
account. The problem of social differentiation would not be posed as an
either/or-question but in all its various aspects: how much social differen-
tiation in which sphere of action with regard to solving which problems?
As far as the dynamics of social and political change are concerned, the
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actors would abandon the notion of a complete break with the existing
institutions of civil society and define their political project as a continuation
of the emancipatory democratic movement. The idea of a "totally different"
society would be given up in favor of a gradualistic concept of development.
However, this self-understanding would not be "reformist" in the old sense.
One of its characteristics would be the clear awareness of the ambivalence of
many processes of modernization. The legal measures of the welfare-state
intended to extend freedom and equality do have negative side-effects (such as
increasing juridification, professionalization, therapeutization etc.) which
threaten the conditions of identity formation and solidarity. Recognizing these
ambiguities, the actors would still not reject all accomplishments of the social
welfare-state comprise nor advocate a strategy to bypass its institutions
completely. Their vision of a "post-welfare state" would rather combine two
elements: a more autonomous societal self-organization and self-help on the
one hand and a partial devolution of bureaucratic administration and mone-
tary systems with a further opening and decentralization of democratic
institutions on the other. 70
The conceptualization of the normative and institutional dimension would
in principle be determined by the central features of modernity-autonomy,
universality and reflexivity. This implies precisely what is under attack by
post-modernists, namely the reference to some sort of meta-Ievel. This
characteristic principle of modernity can be expressed by asking a questiol1
which Kant first raised in an epistemological context: what are the necessary
conditions of the possibility of ... ? As far as its scope is concerned, this
problem can be posed in all sorts of areas. Hence the question of institutiona-
lization is: what are the necessary institutional conditions for the possibility of
. . . ? The implications of this reflexive form of institutionalization can be
illustrated for example with regard to the differentiation of state and society or
with regard to the meaning of utopian thought. While Marx still criticized
Hegel for his separation of state and society, any call for a total socialization of
the state would have to count as a premodern concept, since it neglects the
necessary institutional preconditions for a principle-guided form of conflict
resolution in a differentiated society. 71 Secondly, any form of utopia compa-
tible with this reflexive principle would have to be "meta-utopia" in the first
place, that is, an institutional setting which would render possible and
regulate a plurality of substantially defined "concrete utopias." A political
project that holds on to utopian perspective and is bound to an emphatic
notion of modernity at the same time, does not aim at the realization of certain
material values nor at the carrying out of substantially defined forms of life in
the first place. It is rather concerned with providing the necessary infrastruc-
ture, with producing conditions that allow and enable different lifestyles to
develop, and with establishing necessary procedures for conflict regulation
between these different lifestyles.
Clearly it is a substantially defined utopia that provides motivating power in
practical contexts, since it is directly related to one's needs, interests, and
aspirations. Once the reflexive mode of institutionalization is established,
however, it is hard to escape its consequences, and one of those is the
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differentiation of the notion of "utopia", which allows the theorization of
possible tensions and conflicts between concrete and meta-utopia. To the
extent that the relationship to utopias is broken by reflexivity, these utopias
get a different status as a guiding principle for practical action. As far as its
societal scope is concerned, the actors define their own specific project as
self-limiting-rather than totalizing-in character. 72
NOTES
1. J. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, 2 vols., (Frankfurt, 1981), p. 7; TCA (1), p.
xxxix. In footnotes 1 shall cite the German original and the English translation of volume one as TeA
(1) (Theory of Communicative Action, Vol. One, Reason and Rationalization of Society, transl. by
Thomas McCarthy, Boston, 1984)
2. Ibid., p. 9; TeA (1), p. xli
3. Ibid., p. 23; TCA (1), p. 7, for the relation of the theory of rationality and the theory of society cf. H.
Schnade1bach, "Transformation der Kritischen Theorie" in Philosophische Rundschau 29, No.
3-4/1982, pp. 162f.
4. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Vol. 1, op. cit., pp. 8, 22; TCA (1), pp. xl, 7
5. Ibid., p. 22; TCA (1), p. 6.
6. Ibid., p. 8; TCA (I), p. xl.
7. Ibid., p. 9; TCA (I), p. xli.
8. Cf. Th. McCarthy, "Complexity and Democracy, or the Seducements of Systems Theory" in New
German Critique 35 (Spring/Summer 1985), p. 53; see also McCarthy, Kritik der Verstiindigungs-
verhiiltnisse, (Frankfurt, 1980), pp. 148ff., 297ff. and "Rationality and Relativism: Habermas's
'Overcoming' of Hermeneutics" in J.B. Thompson/ D. Held, eds, Habennas - Critical Debates,
(Cambridge, Mass., 1982), pp. 57ff.; for a similar argument see D. Misgeld, "Critical Hermeneutics
versus Neoparsonianism?" in New Gennan Critique 35 (Spring/Summer 1985), pp. 57ff., 82.
9. For the implications of these paradigms see an earlier paper by A. Wellmer on "Reason,
Emancipation, Utopia" now published in A. Wellmer, Ethik und Dialog, (Frankfurt, 1986), pp.
175ff.
10. Cf. McCarthy, "Complexity and Democracy ... ", op. cit., pp. 30ff. and H. }oas, "Die
ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus" in A. Honneth/H. joas, eds. Kommu-
nikatives Handeln (Frankfurt 1986), p. 165. In footnotes I shall refer to the published German version
of Joas's paper, although I shall cite the authorized English translation "The Unhappy Marriage of
Hermeneutics and Functionalism" kindly provided by Hans Joas.
11. ]oas, "Die ungluckliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., p. 155. It is not at all
clear in what sense ]oas is talking about this question as a "substantive" one - descriptive,
prognostic, or normative?
12. Cf. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Vol. 2, op. cit., pp. 481ff.; Habermas, "Die
Moderne - ein unvollendetes Projekt" in Kleine politische Schriften (I-IV), (Frankfurt, 1981), pp.
452ff.; Habermas,Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne, (Frankfurt, 1985), pp. 394ff.
13. Cf. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Vol. 2, op. cit., p. 484; Habermas, Die neue
Unubersichtlichkeit, (Frankfurt, 1985), pp. 157ff.; Habermas, Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne,
op. cit., pp. 361ff.
14. Schnadelbach, "Transformation der Kritischen Theorie", op. cit., p. 161
15. ef. J. Berger, "Die Versprachlichung des Sakralen und die Entsprachlichung der Okonomie", in:
Zeitschriftfur Soziologie 11, No. 4/1982, pp. 361f.; McCarthy, "Complexity and Democracy ... ",
op. cit., p. 28 and Joas, "Die ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit.,
pp. 170ff.
16. Joas, "Die ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., p. 171
17. Ibid., p. 145. By choosing this approach Joas at least implicitly rejects the assumption of consistency
in the "Theory of Communicative Action" without further justification of this reading.
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18. Ibid., p. 146
19. Ibid., pp. 170ff.
20. Ibid., p. 147.
21. Ibid., p. 149.
22. Ibid., p. 154.
23. Cf. Habermas, cheorie des kommunikiitiven Handelns, Vol. 1, op. cit., p. 7; TCA (1), p. xxxix.
24. Joas, Die ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., p. 154. Several critics
(see e.g. Berger, "Die Versprachlichung des Sakralen und die Entsprachlichung der Okonomie", op.
cit., p. 360 and A. Honneth, Kritik der Macht, (Frankfurt, 1985), pp. 282, 296) have already pointed
out that Habermas (cf. e.g. "Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns", Vol. 2, op. cit., p. 458) uses
categories, which he introduced as abstract analytical distinctions, on a concrete empirical level of
analysis in a somewhat problematic way, i.e. without reflecting on the corresponding problems of
"operationalization" (to put it in the language of empirical social research). To establish a linear
relationship of types of action-coordination (strategic vs. communicative) and functions of reproduc-
tion (material vs. symbolic) seems to make sense at all only as long as one remains within a purely
functionalist perspective (see I-Iabermas, "ErHiuterungen zum Begriff des kommunikativen Han-
delns" in Vorstudien und Ergiinzungen zur Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, (Frankfurt, 1984),
pp. 602ff. for such an attempt. To localize these abstract types of action-coordination and functions of
reproduction "topologically", i.e. on the empirical level of concrete domains of action without further
clarification of the problems of "operationalization" involved, however, is to commit the fallacy of
misplaced concreteness.
25. Habermas, "ErHiuterungen zum Begriff des kommunikativen Handelns", op. cit., p. 572.
26. Joas, "Die ungluckliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., pp. 147ff. with
reference to Ch. Taylor, Hegel, (Frankfurt, 1983), pp. 13ff.
27. Habermas has - I think convincingly - elaborated this point under the title of a "critique of
praxis-philosophy", cf. "A Reply to my Critics" in J.B. Thompson/ D. Held (eds.), Habermas -
Critical Debates, (Canlbridge, Mass., 1982), pp. 223ff.; Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne, op.
cit., pp. 78ff., 95ff.. See his critique of C. Castoriadis, Gesellschaft als imaginare Institution,
(Frankfurt, 1984), probably the latest attempt to develop a theory of institutions based on the
praxis-model, in Der philosophische Diskurs der Modenle, op. cit., pp. 368ff., 380ff.
28. Joas, "Die ungllickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., p. 148.
29. Ibid., pp. 148, I50f.
30. Cr. J. Dewey, Hu.man lValure and Conduct, (New York, 1930), pp. 210ff. Joas himself mentions that,
according to this conception, "we find our ends in the world, and that prior to any setting of ends we
are already, through our praxis, embedded in our various situations" (p. 150). But what if the ends to
be found in any specific world are anything but desirable?
31. CL R. Bernstein, J)raxis und Handeln, (Frankfurt, 1975), pp. 91ff., esp. p. 97.
32. I cannot explicate this point in detail here, for a more elaborate discussion see T. Koch/T. Saretzki,
"Pragmatisnlus und Padagogik John Deweys aus der Sicht der Kritischen Theorie" in MuWi-akluell.
Afatenaliel'l zur Urzte1Tichtswissenschafi 2 (edited by M. TrederlW. Schulz), No. 1/1982, pp. 24-36 and
No. 211982, pp. 11-22. To mention just one aspect: the Eclipse ofReason with its central theme - the
"critique of instruruental reason" - can also be read as an answer to Dewey's "instrumentalism" and
"experinlenralism", which Horkheimer regarded as "the most radical and consistent form of
pragmatisnl"; see j\J\. fIorkheimer, Zur Kritik der instrumentellen Vemunft, (Frankfurt, 1974), p. 55,
for a discussion of the problem mentioned above cf. pp. 58ff.
33. Joas, "Die ungliickliche Ehe van Hermeneutik und Functionalismus", op. cit., p. 170.
34. 'These very short remarks concerning the action-theoretic concepts which Joas mentions as possible
candidates for an alternative action-theoretic foundation of a critical theory of society are introduced
primarily f()r illustrative purposes. Of course they cannot replace a comprehensive critical analysis of
these models. At this point my remarks are only meant to point out what kind of
problenls arise with regard to the task of explicating and justifying the normative standards of critical
social theory if one followed the theoretical strategy suggested by Joas.
35. Joas, "Die Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., p. 145.
36. I-Iabermas, "ErHiuterungen zum Begriff des kommunikativen Handelns", op. cit., p. 571; my
translation.
37. Ibid.
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38. Ibid.
39. See for example J. Cohen "Warum noch politische Theorie? in W. Bonfi/A. Honneth (eds.),
Sozialforschung als Kritik, (Frankfurt, 1982), pp. 356ff.
40. loas, "Die ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., p. 155
41. Ibid. It is precisely this interconnection that Habermas put in the center of his considerations, cf. the
reference cited above (note 36).
42. Joas, Die ungHickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., pp. 150, 160.
43. In this context one would, of course, have to clarify in more detail, what Joas means when he speaks of
"the problem of order."
44. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Vol. 2, op. cit., pp. 461f., 507.
45. For an early discussion of this point see Habermas, Legitimationsprobleme im Spatkapitalismus,
(Frankfurt, 1973), pp. 9ff.
46. Joas, Die ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. ch., p. 155.
47. Ibid.
48. Ibid., p. 166.
49. Assuming a pre-stabilized harmony of the individual and collective level with respect to the dynamics
of organisation of interests is naive, since-as, for example, Olson demonstrated in his famous
study-the "logic of collective action" and the logic of individual action are different, cf. M. 0lson,
The Logic ofCollective Action, Public Goods and the Theory of Groups (Cambridge, Mass., 1971). Even
for those who reject the "rational choice" assumptions underlying his approach, it should be clear that
any "theory of collective action" has to take into account possible tensions and conflicts between
individual and collective interests and actions. Hence what is called "theory of action" actually
denotes rather different theories that will have to have a rather different structure depending first of
all on who the actor is, or more precisely: how "the actor" is conceived of. Beyond the fundamental
distinction of "individual vs. collective" a further differentiation according to the constitution of the
collective in question seems to be appropriate with respect to criteria such as size (from small
communities to whole nation-states), degree of organization (low in social movements and citizen
initiatives, high in parties and unions), mode of integration (by common norms and values, economic
interests, common ethnic or cultural characteristics ...), etc.
50. In a passage of the original German version of his paper(p. 157), which is left out in the abridged
English translation. Yet the interesting conceptual problem, i.e. the question of how the interconnec-
tion of these levels can be conceived of, is not discussed by Joas.
51. Cf. O. Kallscheuer, "Auf der Suche nach einer politischen Theorie bei Jiirgen Habermas" in
Asthetik und Kommunikation 12, No. 45/46, pp. 179ff.; Cohen, "Warum noch politische Theorie?",
op. cit., pp. 342, 358; Honneth, Kritik der Macht, op. cit., p. 314.
52. Joas, "Die ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus, op. cit., p. 170
53. Joas mentions the sceptical arguments Habermas presented in this context (p. 166), but he merely
refers to them without taking up issue with these points in an argumentative discussion, cf.
Habermas, Zur Rekonstruktion des Historischen Materialismus, (Frankfurt, 1976), pp. 110ff.; Habe-
rmas, Zur Logik der Sozialwissenschaften, 5th edition, (Frankfurt, 1982), pp. 529ff.; Habermas, Der
philosophisehe Diskurs der Moderne, op. cit., p. 418f., 424ff.
54. One gets this impression in spite of loas's remark that he would not be condemning social scientific
functionalism entirely, cf. p. 176, note 26 of the English translation.
SS. loas, Die ungliickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., p. 171.
56. Cf. Habermas, Der philosophische Diskurs der Moderne, op. cit., pp. 415ff.
57. Here Joas contrasts the Habermasian two-level concept of society with a primarily normative model
(p. 172). Of course one would have to clarify further, what Joas means by referring to a "virtual"
collective will and what mediating steps (which are always connected with effects of alienation, to be
sure) he would assume.
58. As far as "opportunity structure" and effectiveness of action are concerned, even very dynamic
collective actors such as social movemens are exposed to constraints which result not only from their
limited resource potential, from among solidified patterns of socialization partisans or from the
counterstrategies of their (mostly statist) opponents. Rather, restrictions of action effective in
differentiated societies follow from function imperatives, too, which can beldescribedlas the "inner
logic" of different spheres of society, cf. j. Raschke, Soziale Bewegungen, (Frankfurt, 1985), pp.
110ff., 396ff., 42Off. , 457ff. These general macro-sociological connections cannot be adequately
grasped by an approach to a theory of society which is concerned only with "concrete historical
Praxis International 71
situations and actions" (cf. note 55) and which disregards functional constraints of systems regulating
social interactions dismissed from individual subjects and their primary intentions (such as
money-steered markets and law-bound administration).
59. ef. Honneth, Kritik der Macht, op. cit., pp. 274ff., 291ff., 306ff., 332ff.
60. Berger, "Die Versprachlichung des Sakralen und die Entsprachlichung der Okonomie", op. cit., p.
363. Societal power for instance is not only a result of functional imperatives that are embedded in
structures of economic, bureaucratic or technological systems. Without doubt there is a dynamic side
of power accumulation as well. There are processes of establishing power and counter-power, where
actors mobilize resources, form alliances etc. It is with respect to these processes that a theory of
collective action as a framework for the analysis of (usually) conflictual interaction between social
actors is appropriate. Yet the structural and functional conditions that frame this interaction also have
to be explained. Therefore any approach concentrating exclusively either on the structural, functional
or on the dynamic aspects of power would surely be insufficient for a comprehensive analysis.
61. Cf. Habermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Vol. 2, op. cit., pp. 465ff.; Habermas, Die neue
Unubersichtlichkeit, op. cit., pp. 188ff.
62. This is not to say that institutions are not thematized at all by Habermas (cf. Theorie des
kornmunikativen liandelns, Vol. 2, op. cit., pp. 249ff., 524ff. for a discussion of social and political
institutions). What is lacking, however, is a clarification of the concept of institution itself and an
analysis of the problem, which institutions will be able to protect the lifeworld against the reifying
dynamics of economic and bureaucratic systems and which institutions will be able to bring about a
"new permeability" of the relatively autononlOUS cultural spheres and its specialized experts on the
one hand and everyday life on the other hand, cf. A. Wellmer, "Reason, Utopia, and the Dialectic of
Enlightenment" in Praxis International 3, No. 2/1983, p. 105; see also R. Zimmermann, Utopie-
Rationalitiit-Politik, (Freiburg, Munchen, 1985), pp. 427ff.
63. In this context Habermas himself repeatedly pointed to the necessity of integrating a theory of social
movements, cf. Zur Rekonstruktion des Histonschen Materialismus, op. cit., pp. 40f.; Theorie des
komtnunikativen Handelns, Vol. 2, op. cit., p. 468.
64. In search of the revolutionary subject, theorists of the New Left interpreted the protests and
movements of the 1960s and early 1970s in terms of nlarxist class analysis. Yet today, in view of the
increasing heterogenity of the "new social movements", the concept of class seems to be less
appropriate than ever for an adequate explanation of the development of contemporary forms of
collective action. Besides its economistic bias, there are at least two proble.matic notions associated
with the concept of class that are relevant in this context, namely the hidden functionalism of class
analysis and the lack of the institutional dimension. The functional analysis of the capitalist system
and its contradictions and the dynamic analysis of political change supposed to be brought about by
the emancipatory collective action of the progressive class somehow merged in marxist class analysis
without a sufficient clarification of their interconnection. The proclaimed unity of the class struggle
was simply hypothetical in the first place, that is, it was "logically" deduced from the mode in which
the capitalist systenl functions. Subsuming the dynamics and historical variety of social contestation
under hypothetical "general interests" of class conflict deduced from the "logic" of the capitalist
system is, however, loosing its persuasive power in view of the increasing heterogenity of social strata,
diversity of needs and plurality of values. Moreover, if politics is identified with class relations of
domination and contestation, this subsumption suggests the well known notion of conflict resolution,
namely the clash of two opposing classes. This power-oriented approach implies a primarily
instumentalist understanding of the existing institutions, while the question of an institutional setting
for the emancipated post-capitalist society remains unanswered. For a general critique of the marxist
concept of class see J. Cohen, Class and Civil The Limits ofMarxian Critical Theory, (Amherst,
1982), esp. pp. 183ff.; its strengths and weaknesses with regard to the explanation of social
movements are discussed in Raschke, Soziale Bewegungen, op. cit., pp. 128ff., 448ff., for the
institution-theoretic deficits cf. U. Bermbach, UDefizite marxistischer Politik-Theorie" in Politische
Vierteljahresschri.ft 24, No. 1/1983, pp. lSff., see also Zimmermann, UlOpie-Ralionaliliil-Polilik,
op. cit., pp. 182ff.
65. To explain collective action, one cannot limit the analysis to a hermeneutic reconstruction of the
self-understanding of the actors in question (i.e. their world view, perception of interests, motivs,
strategies etc.). One rather has to take into account the societal context of these actions, that is, one
also has to analyze the functional problems and the "inner logic" of the societal subsystems these
72 Praxis
actors are dealing with primarily and the normative principles and institutional structures which
shape their actions. Hence the dichotomy of "collective action vs. functionalism" is an unfruitful
one-for the analysis of collective action itself and even more so for the analysis of society as a
whole-if it is presented as a principle either/or-question.
66. Conceptually aB these dimensions are to be found in Habermas's theory, although he elaborated his
framework on these levels with a different degree of intensity, cf. Habermas, Theorie des kommunika-
tiven Handelns, Vol. 2, op. cit., pp. 465ff.
67. Habermas did not-as Joas claims-criticize Marx for his "lack of understanding capitalism's
civilizing role" (cf. Joas, "Die ungH.ickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit.,
p. 178, note 31of the English translation), but for not being able to distinguish between a new
evolutionary stage of systems-differentiation leading to improved steering-capacity and its class-
specific forms of institutionalization. Since Marx did not clearly distinguish between the level of
conflictual social relations and the level, of functional steering-capacities, the capitalist system of
production appeared primarily as an expression of class-relations. Hence Marx did not acknowledge
that the media-steered subsystems represent an evolutionary value of their own when evaluated by
functional standards of efficiency, cf. I-Iabermas, Theorie des kommunikativen Handelns, Vol. 2, op.
cit., pp. 499fI.
68. Joas, "Die ungli.ickliche Ehe von Hermeneutik und Funktionalismus", op. cit., pp. 170,172.
69. ef. e.g. A. Touraine, The Self-Production of Society, (Chicago, 1977), for a critique see Cohen, Class
and Civil Society, op. cit., pp. 211ft. and J. Cohen, "Strategy or Identity: New theoretical Paradigms
and Contemporary Social Movements" in: Social Research 52, No. 4/1985, pp. 685ff.
70. According to some observers, such a dualistic strategy is actually characteristic for the mainstream of
the "new social movements", cf. A. Arato/J. Cohen, "Social Movenlents, Civil Society, and the
Problem of Sovereignty" in Praxis International 4, No. 3/1984, pp. 267ff.
71. Cf. Bermbach, "Defizite marxistischer Politik-Theorie", op. cit., pp. 18ff.; Cohen, Class and Civil
Society, op. cit., pp. 23ff.
72. Such an orientation can be seen as a characteristic feature of the self-understanding of actors in some
parts of the "new social movements", cf. Cohen, "Strategy or Identity ... ", op. cit., pp. 668ff.