Some problems with Gadamer's and Habermas' dialogical model of sociological understanding

Despite differences between them, Gadamer and Habermas both argue that in order to understand the practices and beliefs of other cultures and periods of history fully and critically, researchers should enter into imaginary ‘dialogue’ with their subjects about the nature of the world. Objectivity of understanding in their view consists not in prior suppression of our contemporary preconceptions and interests but in a process of actively seeking agreement with others over appropriate world-views and normative beliefs. This paper challenges Gadamer's and Habermas' thesis on three fronts. It argues that, the notion of 'dialogue' with past personages and abstract social totalities is not clear, even when qualified as 'imaginary'; to derive normative Verständigung from descriptive Verstehen is not conceptually well-founded, nor pertinent to the thematic goals of research; and however deeply interpreters remain tied to the culture of their upbringing, they are not thereby licensed to incorporate value-judgments into the research process. Rather than providing any methodological norms for research, dialogue ought best be seen as characterising certain moral and political responsibilities of scientists in relation to civil society and the public sphere
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DOI 10.1111/1468-5914.00108
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