Communication as Normative Dialogue

Communication as Normative Dialogue

Samuel Peleg (Fordham University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7585-6.ch014
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Dialogue is not simply a way to talk and to verbally convey ideas, messages, and meanings. It is more than a framework to express feelings, needs, and wishes, and more than an opportunity to interconnect or converse beyond and despite the expected challenge of bridging differences and accommodating divergence. In essence, dialogue is more about the transformation of attitudes, opinions, and practices rather than their transmission. In other words, the focus is on conversion, not on conduction. In the specific context of dialogue, the transformation pertains to an orientation or mindset—from self-centeredness to relationship, and to attitude toward the Other—from instrumentalizing to dignifying. This chapter explores communication as normative dialogue.
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About Dialogue

Buber’s ‘I-It’ and ‘I-Thou’ dichotomies have inspired this transformation from self-centeredness to relationship for decades now. It meticulously and brilliantly captured the distinction between various patterns of communication, in which each interlocutor attempts to advance their own interest, and dialogue, whereby all participants unite and merge their interests into a new and burgeoning interest reflecting their relationship. Dialogue transforms the participant from a single and distinct entity into a member of a union, who considers the wellbeing and prosperity of the relationship as her main task. Buber’s core idea is simple: human life finds its meaningfulness in relationships. Furthermore, sustainable community thrives on networks of such relationships, whereby people relate to each other as subjects, equal and respectful subjects, rather than objects perceived only through the experience of the beholder.

Buber’s philosophical premise to the value of relationship inspired the work of educators, sociologists, psychologists, peace activists and many others. Two of these scholars deserve a specific mentioning, as they inspired and stimulated my own work. Kenneth Boulding’s (1989) notion of integrative power, in his famous classification of human power categories, is akin to I-Thou relationships. In Boulding’s analysis, the most essential form of integrative power is love, in the broadest sense. Another example of integrative power is respect, which relies on acknowledgement and legitimacy. In a society where integrative power exists, individuals are more confident and comfortable to develop their own genuine identities. Divergence is celebrated and diversity is encouraged when supported and anchored in a system of respect and acknowledgment of others.

In his groundbreaking work The Art of Loving (1956), social philosopher Erich Fromm identifies and characterizes true love as the capacity of loving the Other with “true humility, courage, faith and discipline” (p.23). This observation markedly resembles Buber’s understanding of underlying relationships and the highlighting of the between, the field that the I and the thou share as caring partners. The four elements that compose true love in Fromm’s view--care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge—are embodied in Buber’s idea of dialogical relationship, which emerge from a unique and dynamic process of embracing the “other”. Consequently, Buber argues, the I-Thou setting, with its trust and interdependency foundations, is the most indispensable precondition for peace (1957). From a phenomenological point of view, dialogical relationships and the creation of the between begins with communication. Without communicating there is no I and thou, and evidently, no potential spectrum of affinity to interact in. Hence, the thesis to be presented in this chapter highlights communication as the most significant feature of a sustainable society1.

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