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Finding a Seat for Social Justice at the Table of Dialogue and Deliberation

The 4-page article, Finding a Seat for Social Justice at the Table of Dialogue and Deliberation (2014)was written by David Schoem and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 10: Iss. 1. In the article, Schoem discusses the relationships that many dialogue and deliberation organizations have toward social justice. Many D&D organizations have a tendency to shy away from social justice in an effort to maintain neutrality. Schoem puts forth three arguments that “the field needs to 1) work intentionally for social justice and serving the public good for a strong, diverse democracy, 2) confront the illusion of neutrality, and 3) address issues of privilege and power. ”

Read the article in full below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the article…

First, most people, whatever language they choose to use, regardless of their political affiliation, perspective, or point of view, share a hope for a better society and believe in a more just world. To use the foundation of a just society or a better world as a common starting point allows for purposeful dialogue and is an invitation to a wide range of people, perspectives and viewpoints. Even the Pledge of Allegiance speaks of “liberty and justice for all,” so it’s surprising that those words are too often taken off the table in dialogue and deliberation organizations because they are seen as “too political.” To ignore social justice serves only to diminish the opportunity and promise that dialogue and deliberation have to offer.

Second, ignoring inequity and inequality predictably leads to the marginalization and exclusion of less privileged groups and those expressing unpopular opinions. Rather than opening the door to open discussion and dialogue by invoking a value of neutrality, when issues of social justice are left off the table it signals to people who are concerned with such issues that the conversation will support the status quo, that substantive change will not result, and that they are unwelcome at the table.

Third, declaring an approach of neutrality, without accounting for power and privilege, almost always privileges those in power. The invocation of unexamined neutrality ignores the power relations embedded in social issues, makes invisible the privilege and power of members of different social identities actually participating in any dialogue and deliberation, and serves to silence less privileged voices. To presume a priori an approach of neutrality mistakenly creates an unequal situation from the outset.

Fourth, efforts to convene substantive dialogue and deliberation without a social justice orientation typically end up as an exercise to give already privileged people more power. When the D&D community gathers people together for good discussions and conversations without any acknowledgement of or attention to issues of social justice, power or privilege, it simply creates space for a privileged group of people to gain an even larger voice and to reify existing inequalities. Admittedly, some in the D&D community who previously felt excluded have carved a niche for themselves and found a voice in public discourse through D&D, but too often when doing so without any social, racial, economic and/or other justice orientation, they have left even further behind those with even less privilege and power.

Fifth, issues of power and privilege are present in dialogue and deliberation whether or not people are ignorant of their presence or choose not to acknowledge them. The fact that people with more privilege are unaware of their power or may consciously choose to ignore it, does not mean that such dynamics are not present and salient in dialogue and deliberation.

Download the article from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public Deliberation
Journal of Public DeliberationSpearheaded by the Deliberative Democracy Consortium in collaboration with the International Association of Public Participation, the principal objective of Journal of Public Deliberation (JPD) is to synthesize the research, opinion, projects, experiments and experiences of academics and practitioners in the emerging multi-disciplinary field and political movement called by some “deliberative democracy.” By doing this, we hope to help improve future research endeavors in this field and aid in the transformation of modern representative democracy into a more citizen friendly form.

Follow the Deliberative Democracy Consortium on Twitter: @delibdem

Follow the International Association of Public Participation [US] on Twitter: @IAP2USA

Resource Link: www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol10/iss1/art20/

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