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The Contexts of Dialogue: Reflections on the Power and Limitations of Dialogue

It is clear that dialogue can be distinguished from more one-sided or contentious activities like lecturing or interrogating, and still further from contentious activities like debate or courtroom proceedings. Those distinctions made, however, there yet remains a huge variety of verbal exchanges regarded as laudable (perhaps simply because they involve some seriousness and some good will) that are frequently regarded as dialogue by at least one of the involved parties but which disappointingly fail to produce any of the expected outcomes of dialogue. Aside from understanding the perhaps inescapable slippage back into debate or monologue that frequently occurs under the strain of dialogue, an enormous number of factors need to be taken into consideration before we ought to say that a dialogue was likely or possible, and/or that it succeeded or failed. This presentation attempts to catalogue the variety of such factors…

It is ordered around several variables or dimensions of attempts at dialogue: the topics or the issue-focus, a description of the participants in the dialogue and what expectations or interests they might be bringing to the conversation, the shared (or more likely unshared) goals or purposes of the dialogue, and the various criteria that might be used to measure or judge the outcome of the attempted dialogue.

A brief concluding section compares these observations to those of Habermas on ideal speech situations, and reflects on the implications for interracial dialogue on predominantly white, middle-class college-campuses.

This paper was presented as part of a panel session at NCDD’s 2004 conference. The session was called “The Contexts of Dialogue: Three Perspectives.” Panelists were John G. Bell, Antioch University Seattle; Robin R. Fenske and Patrick J. Hill, The Evergreen State College; Jolanda Westerhof-Shultz, Grand Valley State University/ College of Education.

Patrick J. Hill, The Evergreen State College

This paper was submitted to and presented at NCDD’s 2004 conference in Denver, Colorado.

Resource Link: www.ncdd.org/exchange/files/docs/Hill-ContextsOfDialogue.doc

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