True Deliberation and Conflict Resolution

Conflict transformation is concerned with relationships.
This includes both face-to-face interactions and the ways in which we structure
our social, political, economic, and cultural relationships. It is
communicative in nature because conflict transformation focuses on interaction
and communicative processes associated with evolving change. Ethnopolitical
conflicts almost always involve intercultural exchanges and the problems
associated with managing the distortions that result from ingroup-outgroup relationships.
And deliberation is a democracy building activity, along with being a moral,
political, and decision making process that facilitates conflict resolution. My argument here is that the deliberative process can
produce productive change and can draw on existing social psychological and
communication theories to explain how this change occurs.

The essence of
deliberative communication is to transform preferences of conflicting parties in
order to account for the point of view of others. As scholars such as Dryzek
explain, preferences must be transformed in the interaction. The communication
between conflicting parties is organized around the idea of building a common
good. This is the essence of change from a deliberative perspective. Its
transformative capacity is measured by the amount of change from one side to
the other and the epistemic quality of decisions. Deliberative communication
can best be transformative when a diversity of participants has access to each
other in a public sphere of some sort. This maximizes subjectivity and is important because subjectivity is an anecdote
to undue influence from sources of power that seek to manipulate the process
for their own interests. Subjectivity guarantees the inclusion of multiple
perspectives.

But
deliberative discussion utilizes principles of communication designed to pool
considerations in order to form higher quality decisions and produce both
individual and decision-making changes that are more significant. Deliberation
differs from arguing because argument is designed to win others over to the
speaker’s side. In deliberation, participants act to engage each other’s
considerations in order to derive new possibilities. Although deliberation does
not always work, it has been shown to be associated with significant changes
with respect to improved decision quality, opinion quality, understanding the
other side, and other individual benefits. The better argument is most cited
reason for the success of deliberation. But even quality arguments, if they
have any chance at all of becoming common beliefs, must capture attention and
remain foregrounded in memory. This is one reason other rhetorical and
communicative issues factor into the success or failure of the deliberative
process. There is an important distinction between deliberation and argument such
that in deliberation reasons precede opinions; that is, in genuine deliberation
one’s opinions are not formed yet and they process reasons in the service of
developing quality opinions. In the case of argument one expresses opinions and
then reasons follow in defense of those opinions. The reasons-opinions
distinction is important for the epistemic quality of deliberation. The act of
deliberation – weighing reasons before forming an opinion – causes people to
think more intensely and deeply about reasons thus producing reasoning of
higher quality. Giving reasons simply to defend already expressed opinion is
unrelated to deriving new ideas and less complex. The expectation of
open-mindedness improves the likelihood of behaving deliberatively.

 

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Posted on August 6, 2011, in Communication and Conflict Resolution, Democracy and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Well put, my friend, well put:

    “There is an important distinction between deliberation and argument such
    that in deliberation reasons precede opinions; that is, in genuine deliberation
    one’s opinions are not formed yet and they process reasons in the service of
    developing quality opinions. In the case of argument one expresses opinions and
    then reasons follow in defense of those opinions.”

    • There is a research tradition in communication that speaks to these issues. Work by Pingree and a few others have made the point about reasons preceding opinions in an ideal deliberative situation. I think this line of work needs to be further developed.

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