Deliberative Democracy and Difference
By Mark Kann
Design by Alessandro Ceglia

Author's Statement

My initial intention in this project was to illustrate one problem with theories of deliberative democracy. That problem was that theorists' efforts to invoke, articulate, and apply standards "rational" discourse to democracy in the West have failed to address adequately the concerns of religious people who either (1) rely on a faith-based epistemology to ground their analyses and arguments or (2) expand the meaning of "rational" to encompass biblical traditions and truths. If a goal of deliberative democracy is to legitimize decisions based on citizens' reasoned understandings and recommendations, that goal cannot be achieved without developing ways to bring people of faith under the discursive umbrella.

Working with Alex Ceglia on ways to illustrate this problem, a second problem emerged. Alex was fascinated with the predispositions that participants bring to deliberative forums. These predispositions--including flexibility, assertiveness, and persuasiveness--seem to be likely "non-rational" influences on the outcomes of deliberations. If so, the problem for deliberative democrats is that rationality is not necessarily the basis for deliberative outcomes, which compromises their contribution to democratic legitimacy. Following Alex's lead, I examined the systematic predispositions associated with gender. Together, Alex and I then sought to illustrate the problem that gender dispositional differences pose for deliberative forums as well as democracy.

The result is that this project illustrates two difficulties with joining rational discourse to political equality in societies with histories of systematic differences and inequalities. Simulation One focuses on the difficulty of maintaining rules of reason when some participants rely on different, potentially contradictory, epistemologies as their source of meaning and value. Simulation Two examines the impact of participants' gendered predispositions on the outcomes of deliberations. The main conclusion is that deliberation is less important to fostering democracy than other modes of political participation.