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

See all articles by Kevin M. Esterling

Kevin M. Esterling

University of California, Riverside (UCR) - Department of Political Science

Archon Fung

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Taeku Lee

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

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

Esterling, Kevin M. and Fung, Archon and Lee, Taeku, Knowledge Inequality and Empowerment in Small Deliberative Groups: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment at the Oboe Townhalls (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1902664

Kevin M. Esterling (Contact Author)

University of California, Riverside (UCR) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Riverside, CA 92521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.politicalscience.ucr.edu/people/faculty/esterling/index.html

Archon Fung

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9846 (Phone)
617-496-1722 (Fax)

Taeku Lee

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Center on Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

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