A sequential analysis of democratic deliberation

Abstract

Recent developments in deliberative democratic theory have witnessed a renegotiation of classic deliberative principles to conceptualise the form deliberation could take under suboptimal speech situations. Application of deliberative virtues is negotiated, suggesting that different contexts warrant different deliberative expectations. Such approach presents a topical model of deliberation but it also raises concerns regarding the extent of these norms’ negotiability, whether there remain core deliberative virtues that cannot be compromised regardless of the context. This piece addresses this theoretical challenge by putting forward a sequential analysis of democratic deliberation. It draws on pragma-dialectics, an approach to the study of argumentation that examines how a ‘difference of opinion’ is handled in practice. It suggests that deliberative norms and discursive tactics have specialised functions at particular moments of exchange while retaining focus on components that make deliberation a distinct form of political practice.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    I use the terms speech styles (Young, 1996) and discursive ‘tactics’ (Fung, 2005) interchangeably in this piece. These refer to verbal utterances and non-verbal communicative modes that serve a function in communication. Examples of these styles and tactics have been extensively discussed by Young (1996) in her conceptualisation of Communicative Democracy.

  2. 2.

    The pragma-dialectical model, also known as the ‘Amsterdam School’ in argumentation theory, is developed by Frans van Eemeren and Rob Grootendorst. They have published several books on the subject which conceptualise theoretical models and heuristic devices to analyse argumentative practice (see van Eemeren and Grootendorst, 2004).

  3. 3.

    Knops (2006) provides an extended discussion on the linguistic foundations shared by pragma-dialectics and deliberation.

  4. 4.

    It is worth reemphasising that this article uses the pragma-dialectical model as springboard for creating the sequential model of deliberation and does not aim to apply all of pragma-dialectics’ heuristic tools to the study of deliberative democracy. However, further research on the application of its other tools could be useful, such as pragma-dialectics’ analysis of speech acts and argumentative schemes.

  5. 5.

    In deliberative theory, ‘traditional’ forms of reason-giving are described as argumentation that favours dispassionate speech styles and logical coherence. These are often associated to institutions dominated by white, upper-class males such as modern parliaments, courts and scientific debates (see Young, 1996, p. 124).

  6. 6.

    Enriching the ‘economy of moral disagreement’ is the term Gutmann and Thompson use to describe a situation where citizens manifest mutual respect as they continue to disagree on morally important issues (see Gutmann and Thompson, 2004, p. 153).

  7. 7.

    I am grateful to the anonymous reviewer for this insight.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank John Dryzek, Andrew Knops and the anonymous reviewers for the constructive feedback on the earlier drafts of this paper.

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Curato, N. A sequential analysis of democratic deliberation. Acta Polit 47, 423–442 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1057/ap.2012.15

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Keywords

  • deliberative democracy
  • argumentation theory
  • activism