Polity Press, Cambridge
The second edition of Outhwaite's introductory text is an exceptionally clear and well written guide to the vast range of work by Jürgen Habermas. The text moves chronologically through Habermas's career from The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere through to The Theory of Communicative Action. This new edition also features a discussion of Habermas's most recent publications on the European Union and the role of religion in Europe. Outhwaite manages to sustain a level of accessibility that is impressive considering the complexity of the subject matter, whilst simultaneously engaging the more experienced Habermas reader with his depth and attention to detail. Habermas reads with the kind of precision that can only come from a career of working with the subject matter, and Outhwaite manages to relay this perspective in such a way that the reader can adopt a great deal from that experience.
Perhaps the most impressive chapters in this text are those that deal with Habermas's early work on scientism and the public sphere, as well as an impressively detailed and comprehensive discussion of communicative action. This is not only due to the density of texts such as Theory and Practice and Theory of Communicative Action, but also because these texts are engaging with a series of debates that, if the reader was not already familiar with, are capable of making Habermas somewhat inaccessible. Yet Outhwaite thoughtfully provides the necessary backdrop for each of Habermas's major works in order to successfully consider their relevance and fully appreciate their contribution to social and critical theory.
A key element to the success of this book is the way in which Outhwaite does not simply recite and explain Habermas, but rather engage and even commentate on the texts being discussed. Outhwaite successfully contrasts the texts with his understanding of Habermas's intentions regarding certain publications, and this is essential in making this kind of text engaging and insightful. Perhaps the best example of this is in the chapter 'Two Kinds of Post' where Outhwaite discusses the more recent contributions of Habermas since the publication of the first edition of this book in 1994. This includes Habermas's political perspectives regarding social inclusion, the role of religion and the nature and construction of a European Union, which is discussed in some detail. If there were a single criticism to be made of this text it would be the lack of critique of Habermas. Whilst I believe that this text is not the ideal place for a dense critical analysis of his work, the critical aspect of this text lacked depth at times. In the instances where Outhwaite has engaged with critiques of Habermas, the analysis can be somewhat brief and occasionally dismissive. Yet, I should emphasise here that I do not see this as a problem of any great concern. There are numerous other critiques of Habermas (some of which are recommended by Outhwaite) and these sources are a more appropriate location for such a discussion.
This book is a highly useful source for both the more experienced Habermas reader as well as for any newcomer to his work. The combination of clarity and depth is impressive without overwhelming the reader, and this is an achievement worth commending.