AR; Deliberation as a research framework

Public deliberation could be the organizing principle behind communication research – argue John Gastil and Laura W. Black in their article. They set out to give a “flexible yet precise” definition of the concept, and to establish it as a framework which could orient diverse communication research projects.

[…] the impulse for the bulk of political communication scholarship is to assess and critique contemporary practices in deliberative terms. […] Having our theoretical framework in mind can help researchers make more judicious choices about what aspect of any deliberative context merits their future attention.”

Gastil’s and Black’s abstract model of deliberation comprises of two sets of processes: analytical and social ones. The definition they offer goes like this: “when people deliberate, they carefully examine a problem and arrive at a well-reasoned solution after a period of inclusive, respective consideration of diverse points of view.”

This sounds a bit too vague for me; but anyhow the idea here is simply that the precise forms of the distinct analytical and social processes that together make up deliberation depend on the context.

The analytical processes are:

  • creating an information base,
  • prioritizing key values,
  • identifying solutions,
  • weighing solutions, and
  • making the best decision possible.

Social processes, on the other hand, are the following:

  • speaking opportunities (for everyone involved),
  • mutual comprehension,
  • consideration (of everyone’s contributions), and
  • respect (which means, among other things, sincerity and the presumption of honesty towards others).

So, once we have this framework established, we then know what to look for when analysing different communicative practices and activities. For instance, speaking opportunities might simply refer to taking turns in a face-to-face conversation. In mediated deliberation, it might refer to (a) using a variety of sources, on behalf of the media organ, and (b) reading a variety of different media organs, on behalf of the media users.

I like the way the article emphasizes the two parts of deliberation that make up the whole (the analytical part and the “social” part). I used the same basic underlying idea in my working paper on measuring deliberation; that is, deliberation is discussion, that satisfies particular criteria. The framework suggested in the article is quite loose – so using it might not, in any case, guarantee that one will arrive at a full and comprehensive account of deliberation – that is always the responsibility of the researcher.

But I wonder if the deliberation is really suitable for acting as a framework. Political communication research need not follow the same principles that underlie deliberation – see, for example, Mouffe or Mutz on this; or other, competing models of democracies of the non-deliberative sort.

John Gastil, Laura W. Black (2008): “Public Deliberation as the Organizing Principle of Political Communication Research”, in: Journal of Public Deliberation 4(1), Article 3.

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