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Review of Deliberation across Deeply Divided Societies: Transformative Moments

The 5-page review written by Nancy A. Vamvakas of Deliberation across Deeply Divided Societies: Transformative Moments (2017), by Jürg Steiner, Maria Clara Jaramillo, Rousiley C. M. Maia, and Simona Mameli, was published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 13: Iss. 1. In the book, the authors analyze group discussions from three distinct conflicts in Colombia, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Brazil; and discuss the various approaches to deliberation in each area. Read an excerpt of the review below and find the PDF available for download on the Journal of Public Deliberation site here.

From the review…

Indeed, this book is the result of a very ambitious undertaking; Jürg Steiner et. al. have compiled and analyzed group discussions among ex-guerrillas and exparamilitaries in Colombia, among Serbs and Bosniaks in Srebrenica in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and among poor community residents and police officers in Brazilian favelas.

The discussions were facilitated by passive moderators who posed a general question about peace, but did not intervene; facilitators did not ask further questions and did not ask participants to speak up. In the case of Colombia, the groups were asked: what are your recommendations so that Colombia can have a future of peace, where people from the political left and the political right, guerrillas and paramilitaries, can live peacefully together? (p. 24). The Bosnian groups were asked to formulate recommendations for a better future in BosniaHerzegovina (p. 31). Finally, in Brazil, discussants were given the following question: How is it possible to create a culture of peace between poor community residents and the local police? (p. 36).

Steiner et. al. advance the on-going debate between those deliberative theorists who stress a purely rational approach and those who adopt a softer focus which incorporates finer threads of emotions. The authors argue that “deliberation means that all participants can freely express their views; that arguments are well justified, which can also be done with well-chosen personal stories or humor; that the meaning of the common good is debated; that arguments of others are respected; and that the force of the better argument prevails, although deliberation does not necessarily have to lead to consensus” (p. 2). They are in agreement with deliberative theorists such as Laura Black who see the great potential in storytelling and the limitations of the rationalist approach. Personal stories, as presented here are examples of “non-rational elements” (86) that have added to the deliberation model. Steiner et. al. argue that Jürgen Habermas set “very high standards of how rational justification of arguments should look” (p. 106). The book proposes a less demanding test for rationality; less stringent criteria; the bar is lowered. Context matters, who the actors are matters, and “standards of rationality should not be universal” (p. 106). The authors argue that given the “low level of formal schooling,” the discussions were “hard tests” (p. 86) for rational arguments.

The authors argue that there is a complexity to deliberation, hence, analysis must take into account deliberation over the course of a discussion. They code deliberation to see how it evolves and whether it fluctuates; for these ups and downs of group dynamics they coin the very innovative concept of Deliberative Transformative Moments (DTM). The units of analysis are the individual speech acts. Speech acts were coded using four categories: the speech act stays at a high level of deliberation; the speech act transforms the level of deliberation from high to low (flow of discussion is disrupted); the speech act stays at a low level of deliberation; the speech act transforms the level of deliberation from low to high (participants add new aspects to a topic or formulate a new topic). The reader has the luxury of being able to follow these discussions on the book’s website (www.ipw.unibe.ch/content/research/deliberation) and is able to see first hand the speech acts; and can also see the justifications given for the authors’ coding as to whether deliberation was high, low, shifted up or down. Hence, the authors are able to argue that their research process is “fully transparent and therefore open for replications” (p. 6).

Download the full review from the Journal of Public Deliberation here.

About the Journal of Public DeliberationJournal of Public Deliberation
Spearheaded 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/art9

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