Source: (2011) Dissertation. Doctor of Philosophy. Syracuse University.

In this dissertation, I explore the educative effects of deliberation through interviews and observation at two community mediation organizations in Toronto. Theorists have long claimed that participation in deliberation can change the skills and dispositions of participants in ways that make them better citizens. Despite the normative work such claims perform in justifications for participatory and deliberative democracy, they remain theoretically and empirically underscrutinized. I seek to address this by developing empirically grounded insights about the educative potential that can realistically be attributed to deliberative processes. I argue that educative claims can best be examined when parsed into three categories of efficacy, interests and relationships. I identify empirical contexts ripe for the study of deliberation’s educative effects by sorting the deliberative field according to 1) collective decision making, 2) issue scope, and 3) participative intensity. One such context is community mediation, a process of facilitated negotiation for addressing small scale citizen disputes convened by staff and volunteers at Community Dispute Resolution organizations (CDRs). I study this case empirically through in-depth interviewing and observation at two CDRs in Toronto. I find limited evidence that participation in deliberation in this context can strengthen the efficacy or clarify the interests of participants. Furthermore, the efficacy and interest effects I do find are often limited to the specific context of the mediated relationship. I find that relationship effects are the most salient in participants’ post-deliberation narratives, but that they frequently characterize their renegotiated relationships in terms of mistrust, indifference, and avoidance. This runs contrary to the thrust of theorizing about the potential for deliberation to strengthen civic bonds between citizens. Yet participants praise this avoidance suggesting that it should be viewed, at least in some cases, as an appropriate ideal. I conclude that a wholly dismissive view of educative claims is not borne out by the evidence of modest educative effects reported by a minority of participants. It does however, provide reasons to moderate educative claims considerably and to reinterrogate standard conceptions of what constitutes “better citizens”. (Author's abstract)


Read Full Article