In this paper I explore the potential for viewing education as an “unrestricted communication community” (Habermas 1990: 88), using categorisations from Habermas of different kinds of action as analytical tools for examining educational practices. For the paper, I pursue two main themes: 1) how the concept of communicative action in relation to the three forms of knowledge-constitutive interest (Habermas 1987) can be operationalised in educational discourse 2) how the distinguishing of communicative action and discourse ethics from other forms of action may be used to understand the interaction taking place in educational contexts to develop evaluative tools for examining teaching practices. The potential of this framework for encouraging critical reflection on teaching, on critical incidents in teaching, peer observation, or tutor observation of novice practitioners is also discussed in relation to the forms of reflexivity that Habermas identifies as necessary conditions of human freedom (1996). Taken together, these different constructs form a powerful framework for critically examining the truth and validity claims both explicitly made and implied in educational practices from the perspectives of the individual as well as the professional community to which the individual belongs. It is accepted that a rational, communicative action aimed at reaching consensus does not necessarily dominate either the school or the higher education institution’s normal mode of discourse. Thus, the paper also differentiates other forms of action, incorporating these into the overall critical framework.
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