Communicative Methodology



Postulates of the  communicative methodology


Communicative organisation

Communicative data collection techniques

Communicative research





In the section on communicative methodology we focused on four key perspectives (positivist, comprehensivist, socio-critical and communicative) with their respective conceptions of reality (objectivist, constructivist, socio-critical and communicative). If we analyse the three key dimensions of the critical communicative theoretical conception in social research, ontological (what is the nature of social reality), epistemological (how do we learn about social reality) and methodological (what methodologies are used in social research), it is evident that it is communicative ontologically (social reality is a human construction whose meanings are constructed communicatively through interaction among people) as well as epistemologically (scientific affirmations are a result of dialogue). This is why this conception makes use of a methodology that we call communicative, which must facilitate the participation of the researched in the research on egalitarian terms with the researcher, promote the building of meaning through interactions, and focus on processes in which egalitarian dialogue and transformation of the context prevail, by nurturing dialogic relations based on reflection, self-reflection (critical) and intersubjectivity (communicative). Thus, data collection techniques can be both quantitative and qualitative, because the key is to achieve a communicative orientation. The critical communicative methodology, in accordance with this perspective, assumes a series of postulates and procedures that, with the help of a communicative organisation, guides the research in keeping with this methodology, a research we call critical communicative. In what follows, we present the postulates, procedures, strategies for communicative data collection, organisation, and the characteristics of critical communicative research.

Postulates of the  communicative methodology
The communicative methodology understands the analysis of reality from two angles; on the one hand, corresponding with the systems and the structures, and on the one hand, the lifeworld and human agency. In the analysis and interpretation of reality, it overcomes certain theoretical dualities in the social sciences, such as structure/individual, object/subject, relativism/universalism, by assuming a series of postulates that incorporate the contributions of authors like Chomsky (1988) and Searle (2001/1998) in the analysis of linguistic competencies, Mead (1990/1934) in interactionism, and Habermas (1987/1981) and Beck (1998/1986) in social analysis and the creation of dialogic knowledge. Said postulates are the following:
  • Universality of language and action
The communicative methodology postulates that everyone has linguistic communicative competencies. Every individual has the capacity to communicate and interact with others, given that language and action are innate capacities, and therefore, universal attributes (Habermas, 1987/1981). In the same line, Austin (1971/1962) and Searle (1997/1995) discuss the need to use a type of language that leads us to processes of understanding and eliminates distortions. In addition to the importance of culture and historical processes, Vygotsky’s (1996/1930-1934, 1995/1934) contributions highlight the great importance of interactions among people with universal capacities for language and action, demonstrating that no culture or skills are superior to others they are just different. Transcultural studies, such as those carried out by Luria (1987/1976) and Cole and Scribner (1977/1974), demonstrate that even the people from the most disadvantaged areas develop cognitive capacities and communicative skills in those contexts. The problem lies in that the dominant sectors of society have not recognised or prioritised these capacities and skills. This notion is universal and thus, present in all individuals, groups and cultures, such that any social group, people and/or community has the necessary conditions to strike up a dialogue, create new cultural practices and access to the knowledge society.
  • People as transformative social agents
Despite that certain theories (like functionalism and structuralism) defend the reproduction of social life as a mechanical action functional to systems and their structures, people’s capacity to reflect and establish processes of intersubjective dialogue allow us to create our own practices that, both influence and modify the social structures. We are not cultural idiots (Garfinkel, 1967), instead we are fully capable of interpreting social reality, creating knowledge and transforming social structures. Other theories (like poststructuralism) deny the subject, leaving everything in the hands of power relations, such that in research the researcher occupies the superior position and the objects of the research remain in the inferior position. In our case, we affirm the existence of the subject, and we do not attribute the researcher with the role of leader who “enlightens” the rest. The aim is to promote other types of relationships, in which arguments prevail and not imposition. The critical communicative orientation postulates that, through dialogue, everyone becomes an agent who transforms his or her context. The progressive incorporation of women in different areas, the reduction of the work day, the protection of the environment, grassroots mobilizations during the conflict in Kosovo, and the demonstrations against the war in Irak are only a few examples of actions coordinated by people and groups, and not decisions by systems that lead us inexorably; nor are they the result of individuals’ actions based on power relations. The critical communicative methodology, which considers people to be actors capable of making reflexive interpretations and creating knowledge, rejects its conceivable instrumentalisation and theories based on incapacities and deficits, to recognise individuals as social agents of their lives and contexts.
  • Communicative rationality

In the same way that the communicative methodology acknowledges that everyone has the capacity for language and action, it also posits that communicative rationality is the universal basis of these competencies and of egalitarian dialogue without coercion. Furthermore, it explains the reasons that motivate actions, on the one hand, and interpretations, on the other hand. While instrumental rationality leads us to use language as a medium to attain certain ends, communicative rationality uses language as a medium for dialogue and understanding. Argumentation is the medium that we use to reach agreements in processes of understanding; communicative rationality, through argumentation, attempts to avoid coercion, but if there is any, it should be coercion of the best argument (Habermas, 1987/1981). This premise about communicative rationality can be controversial in the scientific community, because it defends that there is no relevant qualitative gap between those who research and those who are the object of research. However, despite the resistance to admit to this postulate, we have noticed that it is being accepted in the same way as democracy and dialogue is in private and social life.

  • Common sense

We cannot affirm why an action takes place if we do not keep in mind people’s common sense (Schütz, 1993/1932). A person’s subjective sense depends on life experience and his or her conscience, and it is normally formed within one’s cultural context. This is why we stress the critical role of the context in which interactions occur and knowledge is generated.

  • The disappearance of the premise of an interpretative hierarchy

The ontological premises of the “researched” can be just as, or even more sound than those of the members of the research team. Therefore, the latter need not take on the role of the “scientific interpreters”. Individuals and societies have the capacity to interpret the social world, given that social reality is constructed through our interpretations and social interactions. There is no other method that offers a detailed understanding in the way that is provided by direct contact, by listening to and collecting participants’ opinions and stories and interpreting their contexts with them, given that through cultural intelligence and practical conscience they are able to know their social reality and base their life project in this knowledge.

  • Equal epistemological level

As a natural continuation of the postulate on the disappearance of the premise of an interpretative hierarchy, the critical communicative methodology also breaks with the methodologically relevant gap between researchers and the “researched” (Habermas, 1987/1981). In other words, the critical communicative perspective does away with the epistemological gap in social research, with the attitude of the researcher, who situates him or herself on egalitarian terms with the researched (“objects of study”) in the research process as well as in the interpretation of actions. In order to understand or explain a phenomenon, researchers have to participate in the communicative process on an egalitarian basis with the people with whom they want to debate an aspect about related to the research. Everyone provides their interpretations, experience, and arrive at consensus on arguments through dialogue.

  • Dialogic knowledge

The positivist perspective has focused on the search for objectivity, but defend that knowledge and reality are in the object. This type of knowledge, based on the object, is called objective knowledge. The interpretive orientation seeks knowledge from subjects, how they interpret and give meaning to reality. This type of knowledge, based on the subject, is called subjective knowledge. The critical communicative perspective moves beyond the duality of object/subject with intersubjectivity and the capacity for reflection and self-reflection (Beck, Giddens & Lash, 1997/1994). We must take into account that knowledge is built through interaction with our surroundings (Vygotsky, 1995/1934) and it is not neutral (Freire, 1970). This leads to a greater degree of involvement and to the establishment of more egalitarian relationships. These situations of equality in research projects favour a more flexible and egalitarian analysis of reality. Knowledge based on communication and dialogue is called dialogic knowledge.



In order to implement these postulates, the communicative methodology uses communicative action: it orients and builds dialogue on the basis of understanding between subjects capable of language and action (Habermas, 1987/1981). In this process individual points of view are not imposed, instead what prevail are the best arguments and interpretations based on negotiations susceptible to consensus. Thus, understanding and agreements reached through dialogue should never be carried out or be substituted by power relations. In other words, contributions are not valued on the basis of the status of the speaker, but in terms of his or her arguments. When we research, we must understand each other through arguments presented by researchers and those who are researched. These arguments can be refuted, given that we aim to find what is considered to be good and/or true through dialogue in which, among other things, others’ arguments can lead us to rectify our own. This means that communicative action cannot be carried out in a research project with a methodology that allows what is considered to be good or true to be imposed by the research team’s position of power. In communicative action, the communicative methodology prioritises the capacities and communicative skills acquired by those who encounter barriers for not having academic skills or belonging to socially excluded groups. The premise is that facing such barriers generates learning, which is just as or more valuable than learning acquired based on academic criteria. Universal structures of rationality must result from interaction between all cultures, and pretensions of truth have to seek universal acceptance, taking into consideration that they can be rectified when they enter into contact with other cultures.

The communicative methodology acts according to its postulates, which are implemented through communicative action. In order to avoid any misunderstandings, it must be clarified that concepts like “ideal speech situation”, “egalitarian dialogue”, “consensus”, “creation of meaning”, “solidarity”… do not mean that in reality everyone and/or all groups start from the same position of power, or that we participate in totally egalitarian dialogue, or that we always agree (as if disagreement did not exist), or that we only have solidarity. There is undoubtedly considerable distance between progressive egalitarian objectives and practical reality, however, these concepts and the efforts to develop them and put them into practice help us move closer to them.

Communicative organisation

We have described and analysed the postulates and procedures of the critical communicative methodology. In order to be able to carry it out with more consistency we need a favourable context that fosters its development. This is where the critical communicative organisation comes into play. When defining a project (focus, objectives and/or hypothesis and design), in addition to forming different work groups in response to the arising needs, it is important to reach consensus – throughout the research process- with people, groups and/or organisations that are part of, and/or related with the group the study is directed towards. In order to facilitate this process, the critical communicative organisation proposes carrying out the following actions, among others:

  •  Creation of the Advisory Council
This entails the creation of a council made up of representatives of the collectives, groups and/or communities from the population participating in the investigation, and including the richness of their diverse contributions and ways of understanding and transforming reality into the research. Some of the functions of this advisory organ are: contribution of knowledge, critical revision of documents, guidance on the development and process of the project, control that it is being carried out with the inclusion of all voices, evaluation of the entire research project including its conclusions and, in particular, securing that the results that are obtained contribute to transforming the reality of the collectives the study is aimed at.
  • Constitution of a multicultural research group

The Advisory Council’s monitoring and participation is facilitated if the daily work of literature review, state of the art, information searches, use of the different data collection and analysis techniques, writing documents… always includes everyone’s voice. Research groups must respond to and reflect the heterogeneity and multiculturality of today’s society. This is best guaranteed by the participation (and membership in the research team) of people from the diverse collectives the study is aimed at.

  • Constitution of operative work groups

For the organisation to be more efficient, it is helpful to create specific and flexible work groups with concrete tasks, such as, for instance, elaborating theoretical bases, defining methodology, preparing the information analysis grid… These groups, constituted in terms of the given needs of the project, aim to provide knowledge about specific aspects. They organise the work and elaborate proposals to be subsequently debated upon in the plenary sessions and Advisory Council.

  • Plenary meetings

It is important for the research team to meet various times throughout the research process to analyse, debate upon and agree on all of the documents and proposals elaborated by the different study groups. In this way, once its function is carried out, the team takes the results to the Advisory Council.

Undoubtedly, in addition to the actions we describe, there will also be others that arise throughout the development of the communicative organisation. The ones presented here are examples of what is being carried out in different projects that are implemented with the communicative methodology.

Communicative data collection techniques

The critical communicative methodology allows for the use of any type of technique - quantitative and qualitative – as long as it is always carried out with a communicative orientation. That is to say, the postulates and procedures mentioned earlier must be considered. It is not the same to design, validate, apply, analyse and draw conclusions from a questionnaire carried out with an objectivist conception, from a positivist perspective, as doing it with a critical communicative perspective in which researched and researchers participate on egalitarian terms throughout the process – from the design of the questionnaire to the conclusions and dissemination. Having said that, we will analyse three strategies proper to communicative data collection: communicative life story, communicative discussion group, and communicative observation. We explain all of their main characteristics.

  • Communicative life story

The life story is a researched subject’s biographical narration. In contrast, the communicative life story is a dialogue between two people, a researcher and someone who is recounting, with the aim of reflecting upon and jointly interpreting the daily life of the person who is relating their story. The objective of the story is not exactly biographical, rather, it is to carry out a reflected narration of his or her daily life and interpret the story, which serves to detect aspects from the present, past as well as expectations for the future. It is important to study the thoughts, reflections, and ways of acting, living and resolving concrete situations in the daily lives of the person we dialogue with. This is a cooperative process of understanding, where both persons participate with their own assumptions in the comprehension of the lifeworld. For this reason, it is important for the context in which the life story is carried out to be familiar to the participant, and to create a trusting environment in which to engage in a conversation and delve into the issues to be analysed.

Before setting out the questions of the outline (regarding the theme on which the life story will focus) it is important to discuss the motives of the story with the participant, stressing that the person is an active part of the research. The outline must incorporate the key issues of the study, in accordance with the theoretical framework and the objectives that are proposed. It is crucial that people pertaining to the collectives -object of the research - participate in elaborating these questions. The questions in the outlines aim to promote reflection about aspects of interest to the research, although it does not mean that all of them must be asked or that they must be asked in the established order, given that they serve more of an orientational purpose. During the conversation distinct elements arise, and flexibility is a crucial element. Once the story is analysed, it is important to have a second meeting to agree on the results and broaden and delve into the relevant aspects, in order to assure the validity of the interpretations.

  • Communicative discussion group

The discussion group is a strategy that is more and more important every day in social research. It arises as a way to face individual subjectivity with that of the group, and aims to place different perspectives, experiences points of view… into contact. This traditional form of carrying out group-discussion consists in holding a conversation that is carefully planned and designed to obtain information about a given theme, in a permissive and non-directed environment. The focal group or discussion group is a conversation in a group with a defined purpose. It is composed of a relatively small number of people, from six to eight, guided by an expert moderator, in a relaxed and comfortable environment, which is oftentimes satisfactory for participants. The aim is to discover participants’ opinions or their knowledge about the subject being studied. Group participants are selected based on the criteria of intra-group homogeneity in relation to the theme of study, for example, the fact that they are students in one given area of study.

In a research investigation carried out with a qualitative methodology, the group discussion is particularly appropriate when the study aims to describe peoples’ perceptions of their situation, a programme or an event. Its main aim is to obtain exhaustive information about the needs, interests, and concerns of a given social group. Nevertheless, from the communicative orientation, the discussion group supposes an egalitarian dialogue among various people pertaining to the group or community that are object of the study and a person from the research team. A collective interpretation is build about the theme of study in the dialogue. The group discussion is carried out in a context that the participants are familiar with, and a natural group is selected, that is, it is made up of people who already know each other and coincide in one or more activity. When the discussion group meets these conditions we call it communicative.

The people who are selected should reach an agreement about the implementation of the group, which means a prior reflection about the theme and their position or opinion on the subject. In this context, the researcher is another participant in the group, at the same time as assuming the role of coordinator, to secure that the dialogue is focused on the research theme and that everyone participates. Obviously, to establish an egalitarian dialogue does not mean that the researcher renounces his or her knowledge; instead, it supposes that he or she participates and exchanges with everyone on egalitarian terms. As in the life story, an outline is prepared, which marks the themes to address and that the group knows. Afterwards, the interpretations and conclusions are established on the basis of the dialogue that is held within the group, which are debated and agreed upon definitively in a second meeting.

  • Communicative observation

Observation, as a data collection strategy, allows the researcher to directly witness the phenomenon of study, such that they can rely on their version, in addition to that of others’ and the contents of the documents. The expression participant observation is used frequently to designate a methodological strategy that implies combining observation and direct participation. Participant observation is appropriate for the study of phenomena that demand the researcher to get involved and participate in order to gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. What distinguishes and characterises this type of observation is its participatory nature, which makes it possible for the researcher to come closer to the studied individuals and groups, and the problems that concern them in a more intense way. Furthermore, it allows them to learn about social reality in a way that would be difficult to attain through any other technique. In order to register the observations, the observer uses field notes; these are live registers with observations and reflections that are perceived in the natural context. The objective of this technique is to attain narrative registers in the most exact and complete form possible.

However, in the critical communicative methodology, the observer and the subject of the observation interact and share the meanings and interpretations of actions, their attitudes, motivations, skills, elements characteristic of non-verbal language… on egalitarian terms. As with the other communicative techniques, interpretation is done by both parties. There is a dialogue that occurs before the observation, which serves for sharing the objectives, and there is another that takes place afterwards in order to validate the results obtained. There can be two points of view about the same action, that of the observer and that of the observed, who seek points in common through dialogue in order to reach consensus. This is precisely what makes the observation communicative.

People are conscious of having certain forms of knowledge. Thus, if they ask us what are our forms of knowledge, generally, we refer to formal knowledge. Driving, doing an electrical installation or an X-ray are examples of practical knowledge. However, if we try to explain how we carry out these activities step by step it would be difficult, given the tacit nature of this knowledge. The communicative observation helps us to make these tacit forms of knowledge explicit; it is a very useful technique for finding out these considerations. In addition, when we refer to communicative observation, we think of defining the possible skills (social, personal…) that are normally employed in daily situations that should be observed (for example, skills for calculating). This means making a list of the important aspects that the situation or activity in question demands; this list can be prepared jointly with the people involved in the observation.

In terms of the application of the communicative observation, it is necessary to define the most appropriate context in which to carry it out (workplace, familial surroundings…), with the aim of identifying the attitudes, behaviours, expressions and skills of the people in situations of participation and interaction in different areas of their daily lives. Once the context is selected, the observation takes place in the space where the activity is usually carried out, with the aim of observing in situ the series of tasks and skills defined, noting everything that is considered to be relevant and keeping in mind the different ideas and theories constructed throughout the research process. Once the observation is done, there is a process of reaching consensus with the individual who was observed, sharing the text and selecting the aspects that are significant for the research, which must be related to the list that was previously elaborated and helps in the interpretation.


Communicative research

There is a continuum between perspective, conception of reality, how to recognise it, methodology and method or type of research investigation. The positivist perspective has an objectivist conception of reality, in which scientific statements are based on objective realities and use a quantitative methodology (with quantitative data collection techniques that are reflected in instruments like tests, objective proof, measurement scales, systematic observation, closed questionnaire…) that are carried out with experimental, quasi-experimental and non-experimental research methods. The interpretative or comprehensivist perspective have a constructivist conception of reality, with scientific statements that are social constructions and use a qualitative methodology (with qualitative data collection techniques that are manifested in interview-like strategies, discussion groups, participant or non-participant observation…), which are put into practice in research methods such as ethnography, grounded theory, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, and in large part, case studies. The socio critical perspective has a critical conception of reality (oppressive historical structures that are embedded) in which the scientific statements are products of a dialectics, using a socio-critical methodology (with quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques) that take the form of research methods like some evaluative research and action research in their diverse forms. The  communicative perspective has a communicative conception of reality in which scientific statements are the result of dialogue, using a  communicative methodology, communicatively oriented data collection and analysis techniques. In this way, the research is carried out as a communicative research investigation, which, to a greater or lesser degree, follows the postulates procedures and organisation of the  communicative methodology.

Therefore, communicative research can be identified by the following elements:

•  Anyone has the capacity to communicate and interact with others, given that language and action are inherent capacities, universal attributes; people are transformative social agents who reflect, dialogue and can modify the structures; communicative rationality is used instead of instrumental, taking language as a medium of dialogue and understanding; participants’ common sense is considered to be important; the premise of an interpretative hierarchy is rejected by the research team, which participates on egalitarian terms with participants, jointly creating dialogic knowledge.

•  Communicative action is established, which cannot be carried out in a research investigation with a methodology that allows for the imposition of what is good or true through power positions of the members of the research team. Dialogue is oriented and constructed on the basis of an understanding in which the best arguments prevail and interpretations are based on negotiations that are susceptible to agreements where there are no power claims.

•  Communicative organisation is facilitated through diverse actions, including the creation of an Advisory Council, multicultural research groups, operative work groups and plenary meetings of the research team.

All of this does not mean that communicative research must meet each and every one of these postulates, procedures and forms of organisation at all times. It is not about being or not being. A research investigation is communicative if it follows the communicative orientation, and will be even more so the more the postulates, procedures and forms of organisation are followed. However, we must see it like egalitarian dialogue, like something we seek 100% although we might not reach it fully. We can say that we are engaging in egalitarian dialogue when, for instance, the research team changes its theoretical premises through the arguments of the participants; we can also enter into a communicative research investigation when, for example, communicative techniques are used that break the gap between researchers, and/or they create an Advisory Council who aims to assure a positive ending of the research and its social utility.

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