Communicative action: the <i>Habermasian</i> and <i>Freirean</i> dialogical approach to participatory communication for social change in a post-1994 South Africa


Communicative Action
Developing Democracy
Postapartheid South Africa
Public Sphere


Despite its almost four decade mainstay, the field of parti-cipatory communication for social change still experiences a definitional and pragmatic problem regarding what exactly participation is (cf. Jacobson & Storey, 2004; Chambers, 1994; Melkote & Steeves, 2001; Rogers, 1976; Lerner, 1964; Schramm, 1964; Servaes, 1995). What remains is a vastly under-theorised field of participatory communication for social change. This article examines the possibility of participatory communication approaching the Habermasian “ideal speech situation” in which people, as communicators, are seen as having a value in their own right and not simply regarded as a means to an end (cf. Habermas, 1984; 1987; 1989). Consistent with the Freirean “liberal pedagogy”, the praxis of dialogical communication or intersubjective communication is seen as putting right the “participative” quality of participatory com-munication (cf. Freire, 1970). For both theorists, transformative action can only occur if reflective and collective learning occurs in linguistically constructed settings where the normative dimensions of truth (logos), rightfulness (ethos) and truthfulness (pathos) are raised and met in the developmental conversation. This is especially significant in a globalised world and fragmented, post-bourgeois public sphere where debate among developmental stakeholders is becoming more marginal, in-strumentalist, and less public. Based on available analyses of development communication literature, this article proposes that the chosen dialogical approaches share a type of communi-cative behaviour (i.e. action theoretic), rather than representing a particular paradigm or school of thought. This could offer further definitional clarification of proper participatory communi-cation for social change in a post-1994 South Africa.