Category Archives: Readings

More Empirical Evidence of Habermasian Processes in Real Life

One of the common dismissals of Habermas’s theory of communicative action is that the requirement of an ‘ideal speech position’ is unrealistic. In Habermas@discourse.net: Toward a Critical Theory of Cyberspace I argued first that these critics misunderstood what Habermas required, that the so-called ‘ideal’ was not idealized and thus unattainable, but rather, ‘best achievable in real life’, optimal subject to the constraints of matter and time, and thus — in principle — attainable. Second, I argued that the internet standards process managed by the IETF achieved a Habermasian discourse, at least at times. Recognizing the special conditions, in particular the relative linguistic and professional homogeneity of the participants, I did not argue that the result was necessarily generalizable. Rather, I claimed that an existence proof of even one Habermasian discourse should at least silence critics who claimed the theory was unrealizable.

Comes now Karthikeyan Umapathy, Sandeep Purao and John W. Bagby, who have just published Investigating IT Standardization Process through the lens of Theory of Communicative Action. In it they state that,

Due to the openness, consensus orientation, and volunteer participation, many researchers have argued that standardization processes are quite similar to Habermasian view of rational discourse (i.e., open – ended discussion geared towards reaching consensus) described in the theory of communicative action1. However, none have conducted empirical investigation on an actual standardization process to provide evidence of social actions described by Habermas occurring within the process. Thus, the objective of this paper is to investigate IT standardization process from the theory of communicative action perspective and find evidence of social actions within an actual standardization process.

I told stories about the IETF, but didn’t formalize them. The authors of this paper tell the story of the SOAP standardization process and count incidents of Communicative Action (31%), Strategic Action (22%), Instrumental Action (18%), “Dramaturgical Action” (15%), and Normatively Regulated Action (14%):

Our findings reveal that participants in standardization processes engage in communicative action most frequently with aim of reaching mutual understanding and consensus, engage in strategic action when influencing others towards their intended goals, engage in instrumental action when taking responsibility for solving technical issues, engage in dramaturgical action when expressing their opinions, and engage in normatively regulated action when performing roles they assumed. Our analysis indicates that 60% of activities performed are consensus oriented whereas the rest are success oriented. This paper provides empirical evidence for Habermasian view of social actions occurring in the standardization process setting.

Again, this is not necessarily generalizable:

In this study, we perform analysis only o n one standard (i.e., SOAP) and on one SDO (i.e., W3C). Thus, findings from this study cannot be generalized for all anticipatory standards or SDOs.

Even so, useful data.


  1. Here, in addition to mine, they cite some papers I wasn’t aware of but will need to read, notably Schoechle, T.: Toward a Theory of Standards. In: IEEE Conference on Standardisation and Innovation in Information Technology (SIIT). IEEE, Los Alamitos, CA, USA (1999), and Lyytinen, K., Hirschheim, R.: Information systems as rational discourse: an application of Habermas’s theory of communicative action. 4, 19-30 (1988). They do not cite to Andrew L. Russell, The W3C and its Patent Policy Controversy:A Case Study of Authority and Legitimacy in Internet Governance (2003), which is also relevant. 

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Gonzo Lite

Even Gonzo Lite is rare nowadays, so enjoy The Barrett Brown Review of Arts and Letters and Prison, courtesy of The Intercept.

Earlier edition at D Magazine.

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What to Read While Being Surveilled

Dan's PickThe Intercept’s Summer Reading List is full of stuff to stoke your justified paranoia, plus great quirky reads.

Upgrade your beach.

Among the recommendations are Wild Seed by Octavia Butler, The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation by Drew Westen, So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government by Robert G. Kaiser, Another Great Day at Sea: Life Aboard the USS George H.W. Bush by Geoff Dyer.

The surveillance-related stuff includes The File: A Personal History by Timothy Garton Ash, Little Brother & Homeland by Cory Doctorow, Every Man Dies Alone by Hans Fallada, the obligatory Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison by Michel Foucault (Glenn Greenwald’s choice), and my brother’s selection of a thriller — Inside Out by Barry Eisler.

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Fun Fiction

Paul Ford, The Last Museum.

For some reason, I especially liked this line,

I realized when someone tried to get me involved in a private zoo-sharing plan that it had gone too far. I didn’t want to own a fractional giraffe.

This next bit wasn’t bad either,

Deep down we are all people of the screen, but the generation coming after don’t own cars. They don’t own phones. They rent access to communities. They design tastes and sounds. They network naturally. A young man walks down the street and a voice comes into his ear, and he stops and says to a young woman in front of him: “Cynda wants you to get milk.”

Some part of me keeps screaming, “why does he need to tell her? Why doesn’t someone just tell Cynda directly to get the milk?” Why, when we are surrounded with technology, would anyone build inefficiency into the system, involving more humans, making a mess of what should be a simple process involving robots and drones?

But they are who they are, and what am I going to do about it? Blog?

Indeed.

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Hunter S. Thompson at Yale

Weird just like you’d expect. Yale, Hunter S. Thompson and the Social Contract: the Good Doctor in Drag by Alan Farago.

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One of the Only Posts on Usage Here

Excuse me while I exercise my inner dinosaur, or maybe it’s just my language curmudgeon, but every time I read the phrase “one of the only” I think less of the writer.

What does “one of the only” actually mean? I imagine it to be a lazy writer’s way out when the author thinks the person — it’s a phrase usually applied to a person — is in fact unique, but the writer is not quite sure, so out comes “one of the only” as a hedge. In other words, “one of the only” means “one of the few, or maybe the only the only, I don’t know for sure.” Well, heck, why not look it up somewhere?

Mr. Google tells me that I’m not one of the only people bothered by this — though clearly not everyone who has noticed the rise of this odd phrase cares. More surprisingly, some others think “one of the only” means “one of a small group,” although why the author can’t then say that, of just “one a few,” I don’t know.

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Food for Thought

While I enjoy fine dining in Paris, check out The Evil Waiter Case in the U. Miami Law Review.

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