Perhaps the first question this introduction should answer is why feminists should read Habermas at all. Habermasian theory stands squarely in a tradition of Enlightenment-inspired political theory and deontological ethics which many feminists have thoroughly rejected, and the authors anthologized here are to some extent rowing against the feminist mainstream. What these essays have in common is a shared conviction that while Habermas’s discussion of gender is limited, his discourse theory is one of the most persuasive current reflections on politics and moral and social norms, and thus of great interest to feminists theorists despite its failure to specifically theorize gender. Because feminist scholarship problematizes gender relationships that are politically constructed and reinforced, regardless of often significant differences, it is essentially politically driven. Thus much feminist theory is devoted to clarifying the structure of the social and political world and the way in which gender functions to produce and reproduce male domination and female subordination. Habermas’s work can be of varied use to feminists engaged in this clarification as it offers a framework for analyzing the structure of modern life, its potential for both emancipatory forms of life and forms of life issuing in political repression, market manipulation, and domination. Habermas’s discourse theory is not merely useful for political diagnoses, in radically reconceptualizing the subject and underscoring the intersubjective formation of self-identity, he offers a normative ideal of self/other relationships and the discursive
contexts in which they are negotiated, usefully traversing the road between public and private, personal, and political. He provides a model of subjectivity and an account of the pragmatic presuppositions of discursive validity, against which actual political and personal relations and discourses can be measured.
Although the scope of Habermas’s philosophical project defies easy summary, I will offer a sketch of the central elements of his theory, followed by a brief description of the articles collected in this volume.