Habermas, Critical Theory and Health

Habermas, Critical Theory and Health

Habermas, Critical Theory and Health

Habermas, Critical Theory and Health


This introduction to the work of Habermas shows how his theories provide opportunites for new thinking on many health topics. This text also provides a resource for medical sociologists and professionals in health care.


Unfolding themes of an incomplete project

Graham Scambler

It is ironic that while Jürgen Habermas is arguably the premier social theorist of his generation, his work is probably less known and discussed, at least among his Anglo-Saxon peers, and certainly less often used or put to the test in substantive areas of inquiry, than that of numerous more transient or superficial thinkers. Undoubtedly this is in part because of the scope of his interests and his dense, heavy and discouraging writing style. It is probably due in no small measure too to his determined opposition to the - frequently faddish - excesses of postmodern texts (see Habermas, 1987a). This volume as a whole sets out to begin to make good the neglect of Habermas' work within the specialist domain of medical sociology.

It is the more specific function of this opening chapter to give an indication of the direction, unfolding, revision and current thrust of Habermas' large and wide-ranging corpus. This is no small task. Not only has Habermas contributed in depth over the years to an extraordinary variety of discussions and debates, many of his interjections straddling disciplinary boundaries, but he has constantly learned from others and modified his own positions publicly in consequence (Holub, 1991).

The strategy will be to open with a brief reminder of the origins of Habermas' work in the early critical theory of the Frankfurt School. the links between these antecedents and his own initial ventures are important. Punctuating a general and somewhat cursory review of his early work (for a far more comprehensive consideration, see McCarthy, 1978) will be a (marginally) more detailed inspection of two especially telling early analyses - namely, those concerning the 'bourgeois public sphere' (Habermas, 1989) and 'crises of legitimation' (Habermas, 1976) - which have

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