Biography of Jurgen Habermas

Jürgen Habermas was born into a Protestant German family in 1929. His father was a Nazi sympathizer, and Habermas would go on to develop a philosophy critical of state authority and its manipulation of the public through the mass media. Over the course of his career, Habermas has made profound contributions to a variety of fields, including sociology, political philosophy, and media studies. His most important work is perhaps the two-volume Theory of Communicative Action, which presented a theory to systematize sociological study and was published in 1981. His most influential work, however, is The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, which began as his doctoral dissertation and was published in 1962.

The 1950s were perhaps the most important decade of Habermas’s intellectual development. During this period, he was at the Frankfurt Institute for Social Resesarch, where he studied with critical theorists Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno. The “Frankfurt School” associated with these theorists had developed new theories to critique the current state of society, in particular its infatuation with mass media and its poverty of critical thought. Habermas’s dissertation, which would become The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere, began in this environment, and he is often considered a sort of second generation heir to the Frankfurt School. Nonetheless, he would have a major break from both Horkheimer and Adorno before he finished and published his dissertation. He would go on to pursue more specifically sociological studies and became Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of the Scientific-Technical World in Starnberg in 1971. After the deaths of Horkheimer and Adorno, Habermas would return to the Frankfurt Institute for Social Research to be Director himself.

Habermas’s vast influence is measured both in the number of important texts that have cited him as inspiration and the number of real students he has mentored throughout the years. He is the 7th most cited scholar in the humanities. He has also held honorary and visiting professorships throughout the world, including at Northwestern University just north of Chicago and at the New School in New York City.

Study Guides on Works by Jurgen Habermas