Dear Habermas Logo and Link to Index A Jeanne Site

Public Discourse as Sociological Method

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: January 10, 1999
Faculty on the Site.

Teaching Tolerance
Opportunity for Publication for Those Working on KIDS' Page Projects on justice issues.
Public Discourse as Sociological Method: Introduction
Update on Dear Habermas as public discourse forum.
Willaim Mackiewicz' Vagabond Pages
William Markiewicz' Newsletter, "Vagabond Pages." External Site

Public Discourse as Sociological Method

by jeanne

January 8, 1999 update: As we struggle to complete paper submissions and finish research projects, we are forced in the midst of this chaos to recognize that order is beginning to assert itself. I wrote this introduction to public discourse as we were beginning to see it happen on Dear Habermas. But that was in November, and then the semester end was upon us with deadlines and loose threads all about. Now, in January, we see the flurry of projects that emerged. We watched students, some in their seventies, some in their early twenties, collaborate to make those projects available as process texts to others.

From never having used a computer to issuing orders to a programmer, and calmly watching with equanimity the program, if only html, flash across the screen. In one semester! Yes! From surfing lightly while the faculty wrote all the text, to the determination that their texts would go up on the site. In one semester! Yes! From faculty who were desperately trying to manipulate the hardware and software they could scrounge from scrapheaps to the assured knowledge that what they wanted to do could be done with the proper technology. Yes!

I knew in November that in the community I saw growing each member would need individual control of the process text as it grew, and yet there would need to be community-based control also. I did not then know to what extent that tension between the individual and the community would develop in the short term. By mid-November it became clear that "individual projects" and "something creative for an A" had translated into individual web pages. I certainly had not planned it; I could not have foreseen it. That alone makes clear that students and faculty are writing this narrative of learning as we go, collaboratively. And not just local faculty. These leaps in kinds and methods of learning projects were happening both in Los Angeles at CSUDH and at UWP. By early January faculty on the site had acknowledged the extent to which we were team teaching, across the country, and across the community, for not all site faculty are on the academic campus. We began to be able to map the process.

One of the most exciting things we have ever done is watch this process happen. It has only just begun. We do not and cannot know where it is going, for it is a reflexive process. The students and the local community will have as much input as will faculty. We have begun to establish some ground rules, some expectations, some norms. That is the beginning of an auto-poietic system. Reflexive, and self-aware as we try to shape a narrative identity, we fervently hope that ours will be a LEARNING, not a non-learning auto-poietic system.

That said, we leave you to the introduction I wrote months ago:

Introduction the Concept of Public Discourse on iDear Habermas

The Net has brought us nearer to the letter writing of earlier centuries than I, for one, ever dreamt we would come. Access is limited. That bothers me. But Dear Habermas happened in spite of our limited resources. We have learned of more back doors, back stairs, and patches than I ever imagined existed. When someone can't get to us on the Net, we share hardcopy. No ppp line? We e-mail. We beg, borrow, and liberate. And still we write to one another.

What a wonderful history we are living! What data for a sociologist to fall right into the middle of! And the barriers are gone. We are psychologists and lawyers and students and sociologists and rabble rousers and anthropologists and teachers and staff and writers and artists and scientists and even an occasional executive. We are diverse. And we are creating the social reality of what will be tomorrow. Welcome to exciting times.

For methodology here, you have a rich and exuberant slice of life that will not sit still for logical positivism or accept a grandiose metanarrative of the apocalypse. This is the beginning of public discourse, the grubby, messy, struggling to understand itself, public discourse. Maybe there will someday be some metanarrative of enlightenment, one that will bring ethics and community back into our social space, but it will evolve as a community creation, a world in which we can all live.

Habermas envisions the system of law as the means to legitimacy and whatever hope we have of finding "enlightenment," which is the name they gave to the fairytale of who we are, how we came to be, and where we are going. (Yes, corrupted Gauguin, for incorrigible academics.) Habermas also despaired of our skills at public discourse.

We plan to bring together here links to attempts at public discourse, to share, to practice "acritical acceptance," to hear the stories, the narratives, that will bring our skills back to par. Share these sites. There are others already distributed throughout Dear Habermas. Listen in good faith. Help us build a tomorrow of discourse.

William Markiewicz' Vagabond Pages

William Markiewicz' Newsletter, "Vagabond Pages."

William e-mailed us an invitation to visit: "politics, philosophy, art & letters, aphorisms, Communication page." I'm following William's policy of not waiting for an answer to publish his e-mail message. I don't think it will cut it as far as intellectual property law goes, but I think it's a neat idea. Perhaps we need a lot more "acritical acceptance." (And because I'm an academic, I'll tell you that that quote comes from Blythe Clinchy in Women, Difference, and Power. But since this is in the interest of community, I won't be pedantic enough to give specific pages.

I accepted William's invitations and visited Vagabond. Gee, I'd like to get him into some real non-ethno-centric discourse like we have in class ocassionally. I think he'd add a lot. Maybe some of you will visit his site, and maybe it will help you in designing your own. I like his aphorisms -- and wish occasionally we could play with one in discourse, and I like his art.

Visit his site. Let's broaden this public discourse. Let's follow through on this great "global social space" we're creating. (The academic again: Wendy Grossman, quoting John Perry Barlow, on p. 192 of net.wars.

And thanks to William and Olivier and others from all over that wonderful global social space who send their invitations through Dear Habermas. jeanne