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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: September 11, 2004
Latest Update: September 13, 2004

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The Dear Habermas Website is designed to provide a relatively enclosed safe an supportive space in which you can practice the skills of illocutionary, instrumental, and governance discourse.

  • Illocutionary discourse is that focussed on understanding in good faith the different perspectives and validity claims of others, who see things differently from the way you do. The discourse is not aimed at getting those others to do what you want them to, or at your doing what they want, or at consensus. It is aimed at helping all of you to see each others as humans with different social contexts, different values, and different needs.

  • Instrumental discourse is discourse aimed at getting the other to do what you want them to. Your discourse has an agenda, a purpose.

  • Governance discourse is discourse that includes both illocutionary and instrumental aspects, with the over-riding focus of making communal decisions about how best to act in the interest of all. Consensus is not necessary to such discourse. But respect for each others as human, and some kind of basic agreements on morality and ethics are essential. Habermas identifies our ability to survive without killing one another as residing in a system of law that legitimizes our relationships. I think that I disagree, to the extent that I feel that we must go deeper than institutional legal understanding to individual human relationship understanding in order to humanize our relationships. To this end I turn to Bakhtin and answerability, the right of the Other to be heard in good faith.

    This is not about being right or wrong. The world may well be as rational as Habermas seems to think; but what matters is our ability to communicate without killing, to transform ourselves and world without killing, to preserve life as it can exist on earth as precious and worthy of conservation.

    Dear Habermas is devoted to developing the skills of discourse in ways that will enable us to be more aware, perhaps more rational, and to find ways to legitimize and humanize our relationships to each other and to everything on earth.

    So where do we start?

    We produce a weekly journal with a new issue out on Friday if I can manage, or as soon after as I can manage. This weekly journal includes a topic of the week, most of which are raised in the course of our discussions, either in face-to-face classes at CSUDH and UWP or in out threaded discussions on the site.

    Start with the Current Issue. That tells you what we're up to, what we're discussing, and offers you news of events and projects, and exhibits, coming up. We count on you to stay current with the issues if you are in our classes.

    You'll usually find there:

    • a painting or photo of the week, relating to the topic of the week.
    • You'll find News and Announcements.
    • You'll find links to newspapers from many parts of the world and from many perspectives. Explore.
    • You'll find mentoring files, to help you with writing, reasoning, preparation of arguments. Explore.
    • You'll find links or a sitemap to previous Naked Space Exhibits.
    • You'll find a dictionary online, right there for your convenience.
    • You'll find career information, sometimes department information, as it comes to me.
    • You'll find instructions on how to get a letter of recommendation, and we seriously mean that you should follow those instructions.
    • You'll find PLAY, that you can share with friends, little ones, neighbors, family, or to show off at a cocktail party.
    • And you'll find a way to let us know when good things happen, especially in teaching, so we can post them for others to learn from.

      Now, my bet is that none of that helps. What you really mean when you ask me to help you figure out what to read, is that you want to know where the assignments are. Well, there are none. This is a project, over many classes and two campuses, about developing governance skills. You don't do that by doing homework. You do that by engaging in the very skills you want to practice.

      Obeisty was clearly not on my agenda for next Tuesday. But Celia wrote to me about her concern, and now it is on the agenda. Maybe tomorrow someone will have another concern, and that will go up on the agenda. The only role the agenda plays is to get us all to read shared readings or threads on a topic that I can pretty well guess will come up in the next couple of classes. That's because we're serious about governance skills and want you to be both serious and professional about them, which means you don't just throw things into the discussion off the top of your head. You read and think and share with us seriously. I will look with disfavor upon anyone who tells me in a discussion on forgiveness in an attempt to move from war towards peace that "Gee, it's a good thing to forgive people." That's not the level at which governance discourse takes place. You'll read a shared reading on cheap forgiveness and then share your ideas on the cost of forgiveness and of not-forgiveness. Maybe you'll want to consider forgiveness and truth commissions. But it will be clear that we're all sharing some serious reading and thinking.

      So, now how can I tell you what to read? If we are following a text, which most of my classes this semester are not, we could agree on which chapter we're reading. If we're planning to discuss specific topics, you should read the links identified under Readings for the Week of Date. We will use the same shared readings in each class, but drastically change the perspective from which we discuss them from Agencies, to Law, to Women in Poverty. I guess this means that you come to class with an idea, having checked the current weekly issue, of what we'll be discussing, and then you share in the group's decisions of how the discussion will go.

      How do you get your grade? You read your syllabus with the same seriousness we expect of your classroom participation.

      What Else? Use the Topics Index to find indexes of topics that interest you. Celia could have found obesity there. Use the site index to find what you're looking for. Click on the blue angel logo on any page you're on to get the site index. Link to Daily Site Additions to see what I'm working on. May give you some ideas. If something won't print on one of the sites, link to one of the other mirror sites. It might print there. Explore the site. It isn't meant to be read like a book. It's meant to be explored, to let you grow in ways that suit the context you find yourself in here and now.

      All activities and work may be done alone or shared. We recommend sharing because we think you will gain far greater respect for the broad range of experience in your classroom that way. But we respect the need to be alone for some of us. Shape your work to suit your needs. Use the site accordingly.

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