AR; Types of deliberation

Today: an excellent, and quite fresh, article by Luigi Bobbio, clearing up some of the confusion about deliberation. It really is a great piece!

So the basic idea is that there’s no point in talking about “deliberation” as such; or at least not in a meaningful way. One important thing is to recognize whether we are talking about deliberation on the macro-level (the way it is most important for Habermas), or on the micro-level, dealing with the practicalities of face-to-face or mediated discussion. Bobbio is interested in this latter.

On this micro level, we shall distinguish between different types of entry positions to deliberation. Bobbio sets 3 dimensions for these entry positions: degree of definition, reflexiveness and freedom. The freedom of taking a position in a debate is a variable to bear in mind all the time; while the matrix of the first two dimensions presents us with the following possible entry positions:

  • well defined and reflexive – “certainty of judgement”
  • ill defined and reflexive – “suspension of judgement”
  • well defined and unreflexive – “prejudice”
  • ill defined and unreflexive – “uncertainty of judgement”

(E.g. if a person has well defined, strong views about the matter at hand, and if this person is not open to other possible interpretations or views, he or she can be described as taking a prejudiced entry position to the debate.)

Now, we can speak of symettrical and asymmetrical deliberation, depending on the differences (or equality) of the participants’ entry positions. For instance, the best possible arrangement of things is when every participant is of “suspension of judgement” – i.e. open to what others say, and not overly certain of the virtues of his or her own solution. In contrast, when participants have loosely formed opinions only (or not even those), and don’t seem to be open to what others say, that might signal a lack of interest, and in any case necessitates that the educational factor of deliberation be more prominent. (Achieving self-understanding, cf.)

The problem with asymmetrical deliberation – which is probably the most frequent of all types of deliberation, and which opponents of deliberation seems to have in mind most often – is that it is the most susceptible to giving way to manipulation, given the uneven starting positions and the sociopsychology of conversations. At least this applies in case deliberation runs according to the “conversation” model.

But, and that’s the best  idea I think, that’s not the only model.

Deliberation could also take place following an “oratory” model. In this arrangement, there is a more or less clear line between those who debate, and those who decide (the audience). The debaters, who are supposedly of the same entry position, play out the argument for the audience. This seems to be the most promising way to eliminate differences between entry positions, not to mention that this model also integrates the antagonistic element – so dear to Mouffe and others – into the picture. Plus, I might add, it chimes perfectly also with Lippmann’s phantom public; and also practical examples, such as juries at anglo-saxon courts, suggest that it can actually work IRL too. And of course, this model, when taken to the macro level, is what mediated deliberation is all about.

(Such a great idea, and so evident in hindsight, in a way it’s strange how nobody wrote about this before.)

And of course the oratory model can be combined with other models too. Or rather: this combination happens automatically all the time, as prominent debaters rise up and gain more attention in the course of the debate. But if we have this kind of arrangement in mind to begin with, then we can better assure that the debaters are truly of even starting positions, that they are considerate, that they represent the largest possibility of views, that they are honest etc.

Bobbio, Luigi (2010): “Types of deliberation”, Journal of Public Deliberation 6 (2), Article 1.

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