Knowledge Inequality and Empowerment in Small Deliberative Groups: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment at the Oboe Townhalls
24 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 17 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2011
Many deliberative theorists assume that inequality is fatal for constructive deliberative discourse. Using data from a randomized experiment, we demonstrate that, in contrast to this expectation, satisfaction with deliberation is maximized at moderate levels of knowledge disparities, and this view is shared both by those with low initial levels of knowledge as well as those with high initial levels. One discursive mechanism consistent with this result is that knowledge inequality causes debate participants to more fully explain the background assumptions and logic of their arguments, premises that might remain implicit in the absence of inequality. These results suggest that under the right circumstances deliberation can empower those at the low end of the knowledge distribution; a well-designed deliberation can help to address and remedy one of the most basic barriers to constructive discourse.
Keywords: Field experiments, Knowledge Inequality, Deliberative Democracy
JEL Classification: C93
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation