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Living rooms and coffee shops as deliberative forums : informal political conversations and the practice of deliberative democracy in the 1997 Canadian federal election Owen, Andrew

Abstract

Theories of deliberative democracy perceive decision-making processes as truly democratic only when choices are publicly considered by all members of a society in an effort to serve the interests of a community as a whole. The size of modern political units, however, presents a tremendous obstacle to the practice of such an approach since participation by all members of a society in a single formal deliberative setting is unrealistic. This paper seeks to assess the degree to which informal political conversations emulate those envisioned in formal deliberative theory. Data collected in the 1997 Canadian Election Study is employed to assess the degree to which the processes and impacts of casual discussions about the campaign match the expectations described in deliberative theory. The results presented are equivocal as informal political discussions do have some effects on relevant political behaviours but these effects are weak and inconsistent. The concluding chapter discusses the value of competing explanations for these findings. Namely, informal conversations are significantly different from formal deliberations, and/or, the methods employed failed to adequately measure the key concept under investigation.

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