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Does deliberation make better citizens? Examining the case of community conflict mediation.

Pincock, Heather
June 4, 2015

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)


AbstractCourtsPolicePrisonsRJ and Community DisputesRJ in SchoolsTopic: RJ Practices
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