© 2011, William Cheatham


In his theory of communicative action, Habermas posits that language is a fundamentally intersubjective tool used for the activity of reaching mutual understanding. Interlocutors assume the freedom to question claims made in discourse and use reason to achieve communicative power together. Thus language in itself forms the drive mechanism of successful discourse—that is, only by presupposing the ability of other subjects to take language as an alterable, reason-based, and empowering tool is mutually recognitive dialogue possible. However, beyond these basic presuppositions, speakers maintain, I argue, an acute appreciation for the particular ways of speaking—what Bakhtin termed “speech genres”—at work in conversation. It is my position that sensitivity to the influence that speech genre choices have on the subjectivities in dialogue poses the subject as ethically responsible for the co-creation of ways of speaking that are more or less enabling for interlocutors in context. While speakers use the norms of communication in different social and institutional spheres to inform their choice of utterance, these norms depend as well on changing, contextualized patterns of speech. Thus the subject takes an active stance in dialogue: communicative freedom allows the subject a bearing in the utterance act as a re-articulator of speech genre, as one who can therefore influence generic norms.

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