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Equality and Equity in Deliberation: Introduction to the Special Issue

The 11-page article, Equality and Equity in Deliberation: Introduction to the Special Issue (2016), was written by Carolyne Abdullah, Christopher Karpowitz, and Chad Raphael, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 12: Iss. 2. The authors make the distinction within deliberation between equity and equality, and confront what this means to fairness and participants being able to fully engage in deliberation. The article examines different approaches to inclusion within deliberative theory and practice, as well as, the authors address some challenges and opportunities.

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

From the article…

Deliberative democrats have had much to say about equality and have long been concerned with creating conditions for it in discourse. Amy Gutmann and Dennis Thompson, for example, write that the principle of political equality “stands behind” the demand for deliberation (1996, p. 28). That is, deliberation presupposes that people deserve equal respect and that in conditions of disagreement such respect demands the open exchange of views and the mutual attempt to identify fair and just solutions. Yet how is equal respect constructed in deliberation? For example, if pursuing equality means treating everyone similarly, regardless of what they bring to deliberation, there are longstanding concerns that this approach can reproduce and reinforce enduring hierarchies of income, education, race, gender, or other characteristics (Young 2000; Sanders 1997). These disparities have the potential to frustrate and even derail the attempt to create conditions in which all perspectives can be included and fully heard. At the same time, if attention to such inequalities means treating deliberators differently, then the worry is that such approaches may stigmatize disadvantaged voices or even provoke a backlash among the more powerful.

This special issue examines different approaches to the full inclusion, participation, and influence of all voices in deliberative theory and practice. In approaching this issue, we mark a key distinction between the values of equality and equity. By equality, we mean an approach to deliberative fairness that emphasizes the need to treat all deliberators the same, regardless of their power (or lack thereof) outside of the deliberative forum. This approach holds that deliberative fairness is most likely to be achieved when those background inequalities are put aside, bracketed, or neutralized in discussion. In contrast, equity means taking into account the advantages and disadvantages that have shaped participants’ experiences, which may require treating participants differently in order to create conditions that achieve fair deliberation and decisions. As Edana Beauvais and André Bächtiger (this issue) put it, equality asserts “the fundamental sameness of common humanity” and the need to “abstract from social circumstances,” while equity emphasizes “attending to” social circumstances and the resultant distribution of power and resources. The contributors to this issue take up this core distinction between equality and equity in a variety of different ways, and occasionally with slightly different terms, but all of them are confronting the common challenge of creating circumstances in which all deliberators can participate fully and even authoritatively.

Tensions between equality and equity emerge constantly in both formal institutions of political decision-making and the wider political culture. We see these struggles in debates over access to education, fair wages, health and welfare policy, policing, immigration, regulation of speech, and many other issues.

Should universities prioritize equal treatment of applicants by following a “colorblind” approach to admissions or remedy the accumulated effects of past disadvantages by practicing affirmative action? Should schools prioritize creating more supportive environments for students from non-dominant groups by regulating offensive speech directed at them or privilege equal rights to engage in robust, even uncivil, expression? Should countries give equal access to immigrants regardless of their geographic origins, economic status, and social condition, or privilege applicants from particular countries, the highly-skilled, political refugees, or others based on social and historic circumstances? When do assertions of equal rights function to dismiss aspirations for equity? For example, in the United States, when the Black Lives Matter movement for fair and equitable treatment of people of color by the police is met with the response that “All Lives Matter,” does invoking the language of equality make it more difficult to confront and address historic and systemic inequities?

Friction between equality and equity also emerges in each stage of public deliberation, confronting organizers with thorny decisions about the design of institutions and projects, naming and framing issues, recruiting community members, rules for participation and decision making, and implementing outcomes. At every point in the process, civic forums must address the question of whether public deliberation should be organized using an equality or equity approach, or how to balance the two. For example, if we issue a general call for participation through “neutral” channels, can we have much hope of attracting less privileged and empowered community members? In the absence of facilitation or institutional rules that actively promote contributions from non- dominant participants, and encourage thorough questioning of prevalent understandings of issues, are we likely to reproduce the power dynamics that helped create the very social problem under discussion? Alternatively, at what point does stocking the room with under-represented people fall prey to charges of stacking the deck in favor of particular outcomes, risking the perceived legitimacy of deliberation?

Equality and equity must also be considered as outcomes of public deliberation. The historically marginalized are often drawn to politics more by a hunger for more equitable policies than for opportunities to deliberate. How concerned should we be about whether the policies developed through deliberation are equal or equitable? Can we be assured that deliberation will deliver fairer outcomes than other kinds of political engagement? What steps, if any, should deliberative democrats take to compel attention to equity and equality as critical aspects of all policy decisions? These are the questions that have motived this special issue.

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/vol12/iss2/art1/

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