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Affinity Groups, Enclave Deliberation, and Equity

The 42-page article, Affinity Groups, Enclave Deliberation, and Equity (2016), was written by Carolyne Abdullah, Christopher Karpowitz, and Chad Raphael, and published in the Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 12: Iss. 2. The article provides evidence for the practice of holding enclaves for marginalized groups within dialogue and deliberation processes, as part of a larger conversation. They have found that by creating space within affinity groups for enclaves to dialogue; processes are more inclusive, participatory, and democratic. The authors show several ways in which enclave groups can be used in democratic processes and implemented within government practice.

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

From the article…

Organizers of dialogue and deliberation employ several common strategies aimed at achieving equal inclusion, participation, and influence in civic forums. In forums that are open to all who want to join, each participant typically has an equal opportunity to attend, speak, and, if applicable, an equal vote. Forums that restrict participation to a sample of the public take further steps to practice equality. To achieve proportional representation of members of marginalized groups, organizers often recruit random samples or quasi-representative microcosms of the public, or recruit participants in part through networks of social service or civil society organizations (Leighninger, 2012). Some forums subsidize the costs of participation – including information acquisition, time, and money – by providing background materials about the issues, translation services, paying stipends to participants, and the like (Lee, 2011). To create conditions for equal participation and influence, facilitators set ground rules that encourage sharing of speaking time, respect for participants regardless of status or identity, and openness to a broad range of communication styles (Gastil & Levine, 2005). Each of these strategies seeks inclusion of the disempowered on more equal discursive terms than are often found in traditional public meetings, which can be dominated by more privileged citizens, or by officials or policy experts, and which are not designed to engender cooperative talk between community members as equals (Gastil, 2008).

While these are important strategies, they can be insufficient. Even forums that most aim to create representative microcosms of a community are hard pressed to include proportional numbers of community members who are disadvantaged by their education, income, race, gender, age, and political interest (Jacobs, Cook, & Delli Carpini 2009; Ryfe & Stalsburg 2012). Research often finds that despite organizers’ best efforts, more privileged participants – white, male, highly educated, and professional – speak and influence decisions more than other participants (for summaries, see Black, 2012; Karpowitz & Mendelberg, 2014; Karpowitz & Raphael, 2014). Information, issues, and choices are often framed from the perspective of the powerful, even when presented as neutral or in terms of the “common good” (Young, 2000; Christiano, 2012).

In this article, we argue that incorporating stages of enclave discussion among disempowered people within larger political forums or processes can help move us beyond formal equality to achieve more substantively equitable dialogue and deliberation.1 Democratic theorists have long recognized that members of less privileged groups need to confer among themselves in civil society associations in order to contribute autonomously and effectively to discussion in the wider public sphere (Fraser, 1992; Mansbridge, 1996; Sunstein, 2000). We extend this insight to civic forums, processes, and institutions that aim to engage the whole community, maintaining that it would be better for equity, and ultimately for the quality of deliberation, to integrate opportunities for discussion among the least powerful. We argue that enclaves can counteract background inequalities among participants, the difficult dynamics of small group discussion among people of different statuses, and the dominance of associations and ideas of the privileged in the wider political system. And we believe these benefits of enclaves can be realized not just in advocacy groups or social movements, but in the institutions of democratic deliberation that have been developed over the past few decades, from innovative government-led methods of public consultation and stakeholder engagement to forums such as Deliberative Polls, Consensus Conferences, Citizens Assemblies, and the like.

In this light, enclave discussion is not necessarily an inferior version of crosscutting talk among a microcosm of the public, which is often the dominant ideal in deliberative democratic theory and practice. Indeed, enclaves are a feature of the traditional political institutions from which many contemporary civic forums draw metaphorical legitimacy and some design features. Consider the role of enclaves in the namesake institutions of our “21st Century Town Meetings,” “Citizens Assemblies,” “Deliberative Polls,” and the like. Citizens who want to bring proposals to Town Meetings meet in like-minded groups to develop their arguments beforehand (Mansbridge, 1983). Members of legislative assemblies form caucuses based on common issue priorities and interests. Individual polling responses are shaped in part by our networks of family, friends, and others with whom we discuss politics. Like all forms of political communication, talking in enclaves poses some threats to good dialogue and deliberation, and we discuss ways of overcoming these dangers. But we start from a belief that enclaves are natural and necessary organs of healthy political institutions rather than warts on the body politic.

We begin by defining the kind of enclaves we are advocating, which share marginalized perspectives or social locations rather than essentialized identities, and the ways in which their members may be disempowered in deliberation among heterogeneous groups. Next, we draw on the empirical literature to describe the contributions that enclaves of the disadvantaged can make to creating more equitable and higher quality civic deliberation. We also describe the potential dangers of enclave discussions – such as extremism, sectarianism, and conformism – and why we see these dynamics as pitfalls that can be avoided by good deliberative design rather than as iron laws of political communication. For us, the key is to connect enclave deliberation among the marginalized well to other elements of the political system, and so we review several ways in which enclaves have been integrated productively into larger structures of democratic deliberation in forums and institutional processes that aim to represent a whole polity. To illustrate some more specific design principles for enclave deliberation, we present an extended example drawn from a set of dialogues in the U.S., entitled Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation. Finally, we discuss conditions in which enclave deliberation is most likely to be needed to create equity and sketch out an agenda for future research on the topic.

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/vol12/iss2/art6/

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