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The Role of Experts across Two Different Arenas in a Deliberative System

The 35-page article, The Role of Experts across Two Different Arenas in a Deliberative System (2017), was written by Rousiley C. M. Maia, Marcela D. Laranjeira, and Pedro S. Mundim, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. In the article, the authors respond to the call to explore a deliberative systems perspective by looking at how one arena of deliberation affects another; they do this by exploring the role of experts in two distinct arenas of legislative public hearings and the media. Read an excerpt of the article below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the introduction…

Recently, several deliberative scholars have called for a systemic approach to deliberation in order to expand the scale of analysis beyond individual sites or institutions and tap into the complexity of interrelations among parts in the political system (Bächtiger & Wegmann, 2014; Dryzek & Hendriks, 2012; Goodin, 2005; Maia, 2012; Mansbridge et al., 2012; Neblo, 2015; Parkinson, 2006, 2012; Steiner, 2014; Thompson, 2008). While empirical scholars have been developing ever more sophisticated analyses on deliberation and have brought careful empirical evidence to warrant their claims, most studies are conducted in one single arena or in a separate institution. Thus, interconnections among arenas remain poorly understood, and current research designs fail to take note (particularly through systematic measurement) of how findings in one environment relate to other arenas in regards to the larger purposes of democracy. Whereas the systemic approach to deliberation seems genuinely innovative and attractive, empirical research in this field is underdeveloped.

In this article, we attempt to add a layer to this field. While previous studies have compared debate across different assemblies or parliamentary settings (Stasavage, 2007; Steiner, Bächtiger, Spörndli, & Steenbergen, 2004), we are interested in investigating the role played by a particular actor – the experts – regarding a specific debate in two distinct discursive arenas: legislative public hearings and the media. Although the literature has asserted that this actor can play different roles within democracy (Brown, 2014; Christiano, 2009, 2012; Pielke, 2007), we still have a vague notion of how experts’ opinions in face-to-face discussions in forums can be compared to the mediated comments in the media. We assume part of the systemic function of public hearings is to inform expectations about policy-making choices in face to face meetings. Media-based communication is important to draw public attention to issues of public concern and helping citizens to understand public processes and policies. Processes of mediation by media professionals, considering both technological apparatus and institutional organization, operate with their own logic, needs and standards of newsworthiness (Esser & Strömbäck, 2014; Ferree, Gamson, Gerhards, & Rucht, 2002; Gastil, 2008; Schudson, 2003). By paying attention to the news media within the deliberative system, we follow Dryzek and Hendriks’ (2012, Kindle Locations 897-912) suggestion that “it might be a good idea to work on the parts of the political system that are the least deliberative, where policy debates are highly exclusive, and where the rationale for decisions cannot easily be scrutinized.” Then, we ask how experts express and justify their opinions on public policy in a deliberatively designed forum as well as when they are quoted in the news media. We inquire into the kinds of reasons presented and whether it is possible to find experts’ engagement with conflicting views in these settings.

Through a case study, we investigate the debate around a contentious issue – a bill of law proposing the relocation of a bus station from downtown to a more remote district in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. We look at how this controversy played out over two years (2007 and 2008) in: a) public hearings (ALMG) organized by the local government; and b) three major local daily newspapers. Our empirical procedures follow the guidelines of the Discursive Quality Index (DQI), as developed by Steiner, Bächtiger, Spörndli and Steenbergen (2004) and Steiner (2012). Findings reveal that experts, despite facing different conditions, played a fairly similar role in the legislative hearings and as sources in the mass media. Whereas partisan positions for and against the policy at stake had different configurations in these settings, the majority of speakers appealed to technical arguments, and they disputed experts’ diagnoses, knowledge and recommendations to win political disputes.

While focusing only on two sites, we understand this study has some implications for suggesting how the systemic investigation of deliberation can be broadened. First, this study has analytical implications for current research on the role of experts on deliberation, which has proposed that citizens should conduct some checks on the experts’ knowledge input that affects the decision-making process. This study examines practical circumstances of such exchange in both a microsetting (public hearings) and a macro-situation of public debate (the mass media). Second, this article can contribute empirically by examining how a collection of experts can produce intelligibility of controversial policy proposals and clarify policy choices across different settings.

This article is organized in the following manner. First, it outlines a critique of experts in democratic processes and surveys theoretical attempts to reconcile the role of expertise with democratic deliberation. Second, the analysis discusses inclusion in debates, processes of reason-giving and discursive accountability, focusing on public hearings and the news media. Third, we characterize our case study, the methodology and the main issues that structure our research questions. The remaining sections present our empirical results and a discussion on the empirical and theoretical implications of our findings.

Download the full 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/vol13/iss1/art2/

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