Communicating Toward Personhood

  • Susan T. Gardner


Marshalling a mind-numbing array of data, Harvard political scientist Robert D. Putnam, in his book Bowling Alone, shows that on virtually every conceivable measure, civic participation, or what he refers to as “social capital,” is plummeting to levels not seen for almost 100 years. And we should care, Putnam argues, because connectivity is directly related to both individual and social wellbeing on a wide variety of measures. On the other hand, social capital of the “bonding kind” brings with it the ugly side effect of animosity toward outsiders. Given the increasing heterogeneity of our world, the goal therefore must be to enhance connectivity of the “bridging sort,” i.e., connecting across differences. This, in turn, requires that we first clarify what bridging communicative styles looks like. Examining communication as it might transpire (a) in Kant’s kingdom of ends, (b) through the perspective of Habermas’ “communicative action,” and (c) within the scientific community, offers a compelling suggestion that there is a way of communicating such that, if adopted, one would come to view others as if they were persons, i.e., that a bridging communicative style facilitates a kind of bonding that sees through differences toward the commonality of personhood. This paper will briefly explore how communicating toward personhood might be promoted.