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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Study of Deliberative Forums

Deliberation is a central theme of our book.  In a paper prepared for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Brian E. Adams analyzes citizen deliberation.  Here is the abstract:
Critics of deliberative democracy argue that average people are either unable or unwilling to engage in thoughtful, reasoned discussion over policy issues. Through an analysis of conversational dynamics in 10 National Issues Forums, I found that deliberators typically gave reasons to support their arguments, most commonly with factual statements or examples drawn from personal experience. However, the logical connections between evidence and conclusions were often tenuous: even though the evidence presented was relevant, deliberators frequently neglected to explain how and why it supported their conclusions. Further, they rarely explored the premises underlying their arguments, assuming away key points of contention. These findings indicate that the obstacle to effective deliberation does not lie in citizens’ inability or reluctance to give reasons to support their opinions, as they routinely did so. Instead, a more significant barrier to effective deliberation lies in deliberators’ capacity (or willingness) to construct coherent arguments. These findings also indicate that the manner in which citizens engage in policy discussions can limit some of the beneficial outcomes hypothesized by deliberation proponents.