The limits of communicative rationality and deliberative democracy

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This article develops a critique of Jurgen Habermas's account of communicative rationality. Habermas argues that communication harbours an implicit promise, that it is underpinned by a a claim to be valid which is in principle subject to verification. A close reading of Habermas's badic theoretical decisions demosntrates what communicative rationality occludes in the study of language. Habermas sidelines concerns about the ineliminable power underlying any communication, and occludes any focus on the slipperiness of meaning. The critique has implications for the theoretical defence of deliberative democracy, the topic of so much secondary work in political studies nowadays. In the second section of the article I contend that Habermas’s account of reason is incapable of addressing two key political questions: economic inequality and bio-politics. This failure is a consequence of the way in which Habermas constructs reason, as communicative. The consequence is that any account of reason or deliberation premised upon formal pragmatics should be reconstructed. This reconstruction will need to give account of the violence that underpins the deliberative account of democracy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)137-155
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Power
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2009

Bibliographical note

This is an Author's Accepted Manuscript of an article published in the Journal of Power, 2, 2, 2009, copyright Taylor & Francis, available online at:


  • Communicative Rationality
  • Habermas
  • Power


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