A Theory of Communication and Justice  book cover
1st Edition

A Theory of Communication and Justice

ISBN 9781138807266
Published December 30, 2020 by Routledge
318 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

This book outlines a theory of communication and justice for the digital age, updating classic positions in political philosophy and ethics, and engaging thinkers from Aristotle through Immanuel Kant and the American pragmatists to John Rawls, Jürgen Habermas, and Amartya Sen.

In communication seeking to define justice and call out injustice, there is such a thing as the last word. The chapters in this book trace the historical emergence of communication as a human right; specify the technological resources and institutional frameworks necessary for exercising that right; and address some of the challenges following from digitalization that currently confront citizens, national regulators, and international agencies. Among the issues covered are public access to information archives past and present; local and global networks of communication as sources of personal identities and imagined communities; the ongoing reconfiguration of the press as a fourth branch of governance; and privacy as a precondition for individuals and collectives to live their lives according to plans, and to make their own histories.

The book will be of interest to students and researchers in media and communication studies, cultural studies, political philosophy and ethics, and interdisciplinary fields examining the ethical and political implications of new information and communication infrastructures.

Table of Contents



1 The end of communication

What is, what ought to be, and what could be

Turns of philosophy

Theories of communication

Justice – an essentially contested concept

Communication as action

The chapters of the volume


2 A brief history of justice

Between chance and necessity

The prehistory of justice

Three traditions of justice

Do good – virtue ethics

Do the right thing – deontology

Do the math – consequentialism

The global futures of justice

Migration as communication

Communication as migration

Does the world still need a theory of justice?


3 The structural transformation of Jürgen Habermas

From the coffeehouse to the internet

The rise and fall of the bourgeois public sphere

Historical norms

Retrospective systematics

Reconstructed interests

Interested knowledge

Disinterested communication

From the categorical imperative to communicative action

"A third, somewhat less demanding way"

How to do things with other people’s words

Laws of communication

The power of communication

Speaking of ideals

Communicative action in the public sphere

Religious communication

Global communication

Remember Habermas!


4 John Rawls behind the veil of communication

Habermas v. Rawls

Justice as fairness

Principles and consequences

Procedures and communications

An overlapping consensus

The rational and the reasonable

The public uses of reason

The laws of the lands

The veil of communication



5 The long legacy of pragmatism

Erro, ergo sum

Theoretical, practical, and productive sciences

The modern inversion of theory and practice

The American revival of pragmatism

The pragmatic maxim

Communication as representation and resource

Individual beliefs and collective actions

Priests, prophets, and heirs of pragmatism

Cambridge pragmatisms

Postmodernist pragmatism

Transcendental pragmatism

Pragmatism, communication, and justice



6 Media of justice

Medium theory

The in-formation of justice

Saying, writing, and printing it

Mediated modernity

Media of discovery, justification, application, and dissemination

Communication flows

One-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many communications

Information flows, user flows, and context flows

Many-to-one communication

Performing justice

Positive and negative freedoms

Branches of governance

The mediation of agency and structure



7 The communicative position

The right to communicate

The capability of communication

Principles of communication and justice

Justice as representativity

Rights of information

Rights of communication

Rights of participation

Rights of privacy

Communication as condition and constituent of justice


8 Justice – measure for measure

Measures and meanings

The reality of justice

The empirical, the actual, and the real

Institutional, technological, and discursive mechanisms

The empirical goods of justice

Information goods

Communication goods

Participation goods

Privacy goods

Monitoring injustice

Inferring justice

Identifying injustice

Practicing justice


9 The future of justice

What is, what has been, and what will be

Not enough

Justice in time

Agricultural, industrial, and informational goods

The silk roads

Capital and ideology

Timing communications

Unknown knowns

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Klaus Bruhn Jensen is Professor, Department of Communication, University of Copenhagen, Denmark. His research centers on communication theories and research methodologies regarding digital media. Previous publications include Media Convergence: The Three Degrees of Network, Mass, and Interpersonal Communication (2010), International Encyclopedia of Communication Theory and Philosophy (2016, coedited with Robert T. Craig), and A Handbook of Media and Communication Research: Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies, 3rd ed. (2021). He is Life Member for Service of the Association of Internet Researchers and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute.


A timely and scholarly work that focuses attention on the imperative to deepen the normative turn in communication studies and the communicative turn in philosophy, with focus on the articulation and practice of the contested concept of justice. Drawing on a diverse range of philosophical traditions and thinkers through a communications lens, Jensen succeeds in bringing together philosophy and communications research to propose a seminal theory of justice that speaks to our contemporary global dilemmas.

Anjali Monteiro, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai

In a world seemingly dominated by polarization and disinformation, Klaus Bruhn Jensen’s impressive mastery of both classic philosophy and modern communication science gives his readers a new perspective on how human communication and social justice are fundamentally intertwined.

W. Russell Neuman, New York University

How can communication research and theory advance the cause of justice in the world? Klaus Bruhn Jensen’s theory of communication and justice illuminates many possibilities in the spaces between what is, what ought to be, and what could be.

Robert T. Craig, University of Colorado Boulder

Grounded in a compelling narrative arc from Charles Sanders Peirce to John Rawls, Klaus Bruhn Jensen provides us with a fresh pragmatist philosophy that recognizes communication and its accompanying goods not only as human rights but as engines of civilizational growth.

John Durham Peters, Yale University

In an era marked by disturbing shifts towards populism, nativism, identity politics and cancel culture, justice must be done and seen to be done. Communication on and of justice are therefore key. Drawing deeply on philosophical theories and the core foundations of the discipline of communication, Klaus Bruhn Jensen provides us with a reflective and provocative exposition of how justice and communication are deeply intertwined.

Sun Sun Lim, Singapore University of Technology and Design

Klaus Bruhn Jensen presents a timely deliberation on communication and justice that links philosophy and communication studies to explore theories and practices pertaining to this crucially important matter. Drawing on ethics and pragmatist inquiry, Jensen considers communication as action and suggests a communicative turn that may help us to better understand various forms of justice, including essential environmental concerns. This insightful book should to be taken very seriously by academics, policy-makers and the public. 

Janet Wasko, University of Oregon

Jensen offers us a normative theory of communication informed by an historically informed analysis of philosophy and communication theory. His goal is to understand how human communication can better contribute to fairness and justice. Treating communication both as a condition of being and becoming and as deliberative action, its potentials and limitations are critically weighed to assess how communication might make a practical difference. An inspiring and provocative foundation is provided for assessing entitlements to reflection and deliberation in a way that also will spark novel empirical research agendas.

Robin Mansell, London School of Economics and Political Science

In this timely volume Klaus Bruhn Jensen proposes nothing less than a theory of communication and justice. The volume travels through the history of ideas to explore the meeting points and different avenues of communication research and classic philosophy, as they relate to justice. In a theory-rich, yet practice-oriented, manner, Klaus Bruhn Jensen convincingly argues that the study of communication can and should engage with debates about justice.

Rikke Frank Jørgensen, The Danish Institute for Human Rights