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Can we talk? : examining willingness and facilitating deliberative capital Afsahi, Afsoun

Abstract

The question guiding this dissertation is: are people willing and capable of engaging in deliberations with those with whom they disagree on topics that touch upon and challenge their cultural and religious identities as well as the values and practices attached to those identities? Willingness for deliberation—the first key step in deliberative processes—has been taken for granted by deliberative democratic scholars. I remedy this by offering a theoretical account of the importance of willingness—especially under conditions of diversity. This is supplemented with an empirical examination of willingness through a survey of the students at the University of British Columbia. While there is an overall willingness for participation in a deliberation, there are differences in specific demographic groups and across particular issues. In other words, there seems to be evidence that there is some unwillingness to engage in deliberations with those with whom one disagrees on topics that touch upon and challenge one’s identity. Moreover, in examining capacity, I developed at the concept of deliberative capital—the by-product of investments (i.e. instances of respect or attempts at empathy) and easily threatened by divestments (i.e. instances of disrespect or ignoring/attacking others). Early, self-interested, investments contribute to the establishment of an expectation of reciprocity within deliberation. I further developed and, through deliberative experiments and pre/post deliberation surveys, tested the potency of facilitative treatments aimed at encouraging investments and discouraging divestments under conditions of cultural and religious diversity. Deliberative worth exercises (getting participants to rate each other based their investments/divestments choosing the best deliberators of each round) were shown to be successful at increasing investments in empathy, respect, productive dialogue, and sincerity. Simulated representation (getting participants to switch places literally by learning, presenting, defending each other’s views for a portion of deliberation) was shown to be effective in increasing investments in reason-giving, productive dialogue, reflection on and incorporation of the views of others, and respect. Facilitative treatments were also able to reduce the divestments made by men and non-visible minorities who were responsible for a significant majority of divestments under control conditions.

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