Deliberativeness denotes a specific quality of political communication that centers around argumentative exchange in a climate of mutual respect and civility. Empirically, deliberativeness is a variable feature of political debate or discussion. From a normative point of view, the standard of deliberativeness can be used to evaluate political communication processes and settings, and to suggest possible ways to improve them. Deliberativeness has been studied in very different communicative settings, including parliamentary debate (Steiner et al. 2004), news media content and television talk shows (Ferree et al. 2002; Wessler & Schultz 2007), online discussion forums (Price et al. 2002), civil society organizations (Ryfe 2002), as well as everyday political talk among citizens (Mutz 2006). When deliberative discussion is not confined to arcane settings, such as decision-making behind closed doors, or private settings, such as the family, it is also called public deliberation or public discourse (for an overview of the empirical literature, see Delli Carpini et al. 2004; Ryfe 2005).
Normative Standards And Models
Standards of deliberativeness are an important ingredient in normative theories of deliberative democracy (for an overview, see Fishkin and Laslett 2003). Although it is by no means a uniform body of theory, deliberative democratic theorists agree on the central value of argumentative exchange in order to foster both the cognitive quality of political judgment as well as mutual respect and social cohesion between deliberators. If applied to the role of the news media in political communication, deliberative media content can be theorized to have salutary effects on both political decision-makers and citizens (Wessler, in press). Vis-à-vis decision-makers, political deliberation can foster active justification of political claims and decisions, and thereby at least help to avoid egregious mistakes. Vis-à-vis ordinary citizens, deliberative media content can serve as a repository of arguments and justifications as well as a model for deliberative behavior in everyday political talk.
Conceptions of deliberative democracy contrast with other normative conceptions that are either less demanding in their normative standards or focus on different normative elements in political communication, or both. Habermas (2006) distinguishes (1) a liberal model, which places particular emphasis on equal rights for citizens and fair representation, (2) a republican model, particularly favoring political participation by active citizens, and (3) a deliberative model, prizing the formation of considered public opinions and the responsiveness of decision-makers to such opinions. Ferree et al. (2002) present a similar typology, adding a fourth variant called constructionist theory, which aims at privileging and empowering oppressed or marginalized groups and nondeliberative forms of communication (also called “agonistic pluralism”). It must be noted, however, that the assignment of individual theorists to these traditions is by no means unambiguous. For example, John Stuart Mill (1806 –1873) has been claimed for the “representative liberal” theory by Ferree et al., while in his work we find numerous remarks on the epistemic and social benefits of deliberation. This shows that the traditions are not as mutually exclusive as they are sometimes portrayed for didactic purposes.
Still, there are important differences centering around three issues. First, a deliberative model of political communication demands more than providing a mirror image of preexisting positions (as in a strictly representative liberal model) and asks for an actual exchange of positions and justifications. Second, due to the expected benefits of such exchange, a deliberative model tends to place more emphasis on argumentative exchange than on maximal popular inclusion and maximal levels of participatory activity (such as a strictly participatory model would suggest). Empirical research suggests that deliberation and participation can indeed not be maximized at the same time but that a tradeoff exists between them (Mutz 2006), and deliberative theory places a comparatively higher premium on innovation and creativity in public discourse than on strict equality (Peters 2008). Finally, a deliberative model privileges civil and “literal” modes of exchange over purely strategic, strongly impassioned, or rhetorical forms (as in the agonistic or “constructionist” tradition) in order to secure chances for considered opinions to emerge from public exchange.
Connecting Normative Theory To Empirical Investigation
In connecting normative theories or models to empirical investigation, three basic strategies can be employed. First, one can try to measure the normative concepts in order to find out which normative model approximates social reality best. While this tells us something about social reality, such investigation cannot serve to bolster up or discard the normative claims, which can only be supported or contested on the level of normative theory itself. A second strategy attempts to test implicit or explicit empirical claims in the normative framework; in the case of deliberativeness, this pertains particularly to the putative benefits of deliberative media content (see below). A third strategy, finally, tries to ascertain the degree to which different normative conceptions guide social action in the real world. This can be studied, for example, by asking to what degree journalists subjectively or in their meta-communication endorse elements of the deliberative model (Gerhards et al. 1998, 163 –177).
Measurements Of Deliberativeness In Media Content
For all three strategies, valid operationalizations of deliberativeness are needed. In print media content, elements of deliberativeness have been studied on four different levels of analysis, ranging from an entire page or edition down to the level of an individual idea expressed by a particular actor (in direct or indirect quotation; see Table 1). Ferree et al. (2002) find no consistent differences in the level of deliberativeness between Germany and the USA. Such cross-national differences have not been studied on a larger scale, but it is likely that deliberation in print media will take different forms in different countries, depending on, for example, journalistic traditions as well as the degree of political parallelism in the media and the degree of polarization in political discourse (Wessler, in press).
Table 1 Measures of deliberativeness in print media content
Similarly, the deliberativeness of political talk shows on television has been measured by the extent to which participants, in their contributions to the debate, engage in justification, explicitly weigh arguments, directly relate to other participants’ utterances, or directly attack and vilify their opponents. Schultz (2006) has shown that levels of deliberativeness are generally higher for experts and journalists than for politicians, lobbyists, artists, and celebrities. Participants addressing others directly in talk-show discussion seem to be more prone to also engage in justification but do not necessarily weigh arguments more in their contributions. In public debate in front of large audiences, dialogue thus fosters justification but not argumentative integration. In addition, talk-show hosts have been studied with respect to their propensity to confront participants with questions eliciting justification or challenging participants to react to others’ contributions. Hosts differ in these respects and have considerable latitude in making a talk show more or less deliberative. In general, research has shown that deliberative features do exist in media content to a degree that merits close scrutiny but that they are not dominant in most media and most formats.
Measurements Of Deliberativeness In Citizen Talk
In citizen deliberation, the degree of deliberativeness has been measured by citizens’ argument repertoires, i.e., their awareness of rationales for their own positions as well as for possible counter-positions (Price et al. 2002; Mutz 2006). Both elements of argument repertoire have been shown to increase with increased exposure to political disagreement in citizens’ personal networks. Conversely, exposure to political agreement (homogeneous networks) increases awareness of rationales for one’s own position but decreases citizens’ knowledge of reasons for opposing positions (Fig. 1).
These results lend support to one central empirical element in the normative deliberative model as described above, namely that “hearing the other side” does contribute to the formation of considered opinions. Network heterogeneity has also been shown to be related to more intense public affairs media use as well as to better factual political knowledge (Scheufele et al. 2006). One crucial question remains open, however; namely, whether the news media can serve as a substitute for heterogeneous individual networks and thus also foster deliberative opinion, and whether they do so to varying degrees in different countries. More precisely, even, the deliberative model would suggest that it is not the news media as such, but deliberative features of news media content, as described above, that serve to enhance deliberative opinion. While this claim seems plausible from a deliberative perspective, more research is needed to substantiate it empirically.
Figure 1 Effects of exposure to political agreement and disagreement on awareness of rationales for own and oppositional political perspectives
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