Doyle Stevick

Dialogue and transformation in Holocaust education? Reweaving the tapestry of experience, research and practice


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This article draws upon Habermas’s three human interests to discuss different goals in Holocaust education research, namely the technical/instrumental interest in changing others’ racist views, the communicative interest in understanding how such views make sense to others from their own perspective through dialogue, and the emancipatory interest in self-knowledge through which the researcher can uncover both implicit values about how things should be and implicit, and perhaps even subconscious theories of how things work. Achieving greater clarity about these implicit normative and empirical foundations of researchers’ design decisions and interpretations has several positive outcomes: first, it enhances subjectivity, positionality and transparency in a field that is often highly personal for its participants; second, it enables the field to deliberate about the ethical dimensions of the work, while making theories about how things work explicit opens them up for critical examination; third, it has heuristic value, sharing ways of thinking, meaningful narratives and metaphors that may enhance Habermas’s second, communicative interest in understanding. In practice, Habermas’s three interests are not cleanly differentiated in Holocaust education research and practice, but are interconnected. This article focuses upon the emancipatory interest by exploring the interrelationships between experience and inquiry, or more specifically, how the author’s encounter with tragedy shaped an evolving research agenda in Holocaust education. It revealed a set of implicit theories and commitments that, once unearthed and made explicit, are available for reflection and critique. It also clarified the ethical and empirical grounds for certain theories and commitments.