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Author Biography

Edana Beauvais is a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of British Columbia. Her research interests include deliberative democratic theory, political communication, and political psychology. Her dissertation, “Discursive Equality,” considers how cognitive biases (such as stereotypes) can contribute to the internal exclusion of disempowered speakers, and theorizes potential solutions to this problem. Edana is involved in the Participedia project, trying to leverage the potentials of information technology to gain insight into citizen participation in democratic innovations.

Abstract

Deliberation must be immunized against coercive power by a baseline of equality. But what does the requirement of equality mean, in practice, for organizers designing deliberative events and forums? This question is complicated by the fact that equality is fundamentally about two—at times contradictory—values. On the one hand, the value of universal moral equality, which requires abstracting from social circumstances. On the other hand, the value of equity, which requires attending to social circumstances. Deliberative institutions vary in their capacity to promote one value over the other, or in their capacity to compromise between the two. We argue that negotiating between these twin values should be done with reference to the different goals of the deliberative process (generating legitimate decisions, producing more informed opinions, promoting mutual respect, enabling accommodation, and so on), and with an eye to the trade-offs that achieving particular goals might require. Focusing on civic forums, we review existing research related to three important aspects of design—participant recruitment, the nature of the interaction, and decision-making—and discuss how different designs impact deliberation’s different normative goals. We argue against a totalizing view of deliberation, where unitary institutions try to achieve all of deliberation’s goals at once, and instead discuss how the trade-offs between deliberation’s different functions can be resolved at the system level. We conclude by arguing that practitioners should not try to realize all deliberative goals—including equality and equity—at once, but rather should prioritize the goals they want to achieve, and select institutional rules and practices that optimally achieve these goals.

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