Bringing Ideology Back In:
A Critique of the Habermasian Life-world

Kevin W. Gray
American University of Sharjah Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

Habermas develops his concept of the life-world from the work of Husserl and Schütz (Habermas 1984). While the Husserlian and Schutzian model of the life-world begins from the philosophy of consciousness, Habermas’ model of the life-world begins from the philosophy of communication. Husserl conceives of the respective lifeworld as a “world-horizon” of potential experiences, corresponding to different “possible worlds and environments” (Husserliana, vol. III/1, 100).  Habermas conceives of the life-world not as those assumptions which permit the apprehension of the world as a rational object or which condition the apprehension of future states, but those structures which are communicatively available to speakers in a rational speech context (Habermas 1984). The advantage to the Habermasian approach is it allows Habermas to explain both way in which the legitimation of political structures can be arrived at through democratic means and how systemic effects, mainly through the colonization of the life-world, distort communicative action (Habermas 1984b).

However, the construction of the life-world in The Theory of Communicative Action plays short-shrift to the world limiting role of the life-world. By confining the pathologies of communicative action to system effects in the life-world, Habermas eliminates the role played by ideology in traditional social theory. No longer do various ideologies circulate in society. I argue in my paper that critical theory needs to develop a more nuanced model of the life-world, one which accepts that pathological consensus may emerge from available structures of justification. Drawing on the work of the French pragmatists such as Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thévenot, I argue that the life-world is not merely the realm of presuppositions upon which speakers can draw in domination free communicative action, but a realm of embedded ideologies which distort day to day interaction.