“The Hunt” movie: about rationality of Habermasian lifeworld.

By | December 16, 2012 at 11:08 am | No comments | PhD and research | Tags: ,

Watching “The Hunt” by a brilliant Danish director Thomas Vinterberg was probably one of the strongest cinematographic experiences of this year. Amazing work of the director and Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Lucas, a teacher in nursery who is falsely accused by a small girl in a sexual abuse keeps you deeply involved in the world of the main hero through the entire movie. However, beyond the fact that it’s an amazing drama, the film suggests very interesting sociological case study.

Jurgen Habermas divides social world into two major segments: the system (the institutionalized forms of bureaucracy, law enforcement, economy etc. that relies on legal codes and regulations) and the lifeword which is the order that emerges in a space of personal communication between people and relies on consensus that emerge as part of this personal communication. Habermas argues that the lifeworlds has rational nature due to rationality that is embedded in the communicative action (and relies on ideal speech principles). The major concern of Habermas is when the role of lifeworld in our life is supressed  by the domination of the system. He calls it colonization of the lifeworld by the system.

The plot of the movie presents a very interesting insight abut relationship between the lifeworld and the system. The movie takes place within the small community of a village which doesn’t have any strong representation of the system and relies primarily on permanent interaction between all members of community. Unlike in many other stories that deal with crimes, you almost don’t see police or any representatives of the “system” in the movie. Just once, three policemen (even without uniform) appear to arrest the suspect, in order to bring him to the judge, but next morning the judge (who is not seen in the movie)  reject the accusations and release him.  In Habermasian sense, the village is a public sphere, a lifeworld that is not colonized and regulated bu the system. The order in the world of the movie relies primarily on interpersonal communication within small community of people who knows each other for many years.

When a director of nursery starts to have some suspicions she don’t call for police, but for a local “community expert” someone who is within the network of her trust.  Indeed, the lifeworld of community is where the order is emerge relying on interpersonal communication, but what kind of order is it? It doesn’t recognize the principle of innocence presumption. Presumption of innocence belongs to the system, but not shared by this lifeworld.

Lucas is excluded from community. He is prosecuted, beaten and disgraced. His life is destroyed… The community legitimize violence against him. In the weberian meaning the community, the lifeworld and not the system has the monopoly over violence in this case. While his name is cleared from the system’s point of view, he is guilty by definition of the lifeworld.The only way to clear the name in this case is within the  lifeworld, through interpersonal communication , while the position of system has no value for community. The teacher has two choices – to escape from community, to ask police to protect him or to face it, and use the same mechanism that was used to tag him as a criminal.But if you want to win the lifeworld, you can’t ask for a help of the system.

The main scene of the movie take place at the Christmas service in the church. The church is not a representative of system in this case. It is the only a place where a member of community can perform commumnicative action in front of all community. Church is the lifeworld’s public space, where all the memebers of lifeworld can be adressed. Was this effort successful or not, and to what extent – that’s the main issue of “The Hunt”. A hint: the answer is found in the last scene of the movie.

However, even without spoiling the movie, some arguments can be made. Indeed the world of system and lifeworld present two different types of social order. Indeed,as Habermas suggests, in a modern society there is a tension between lifeworld and the system. At the same time the world is not the same everywhere and in various places the proportion between the lifeworld and the system is different (e.g. if we will compare big city and village).

However, the normative expectations from the lifeworld that rely on rationality of communicative action can be missleading. In the movie, the public sphere is a sphere for emergence of mass hysteria. The lifeworld’s order that emerges in the public sphere through communicative acts can be very cruel.

The Internet expands the horizons of comunicative acts and allows emergence of new public spheres, that are not connected to physical space (e.g. a village of Lucas). However, Internet communities as new form of public sphere can allow new types of order and new lifeworlds in a space with relatively low presence of the system. Therefore we shoud not be surprised that while Habermasian arguemnt about two type of order is brilliant, the normative assumption that one order is better that other can be problematic. One of the examples is the phenomenon of cyberbullying which relies on interpersonal virtual communication.

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Gregory Asmolov. All rights reserved.