Producing Publics: Dewey, Democratic Experimentalism, and the Idea of Communication
Contemporary Pragmatism, Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 143-157, December 2012
16 Pages Posted: 2 May 2013 Last revised: 1 Jun 2013
Date Written: May 2, 2013
In a volume dedicated to celebrating and interrogating the pragmatic – and especially Deweyan – roots of democratic experimentalism, this essay explores some of the more elusive aspects of Dewey’s ideas of communication. It argues that for Dewey, the question of communication was not how speakers should make their interior thoughts and desires transparent and understandable to others but how they could produce shared social contexts – that is, publics – and with them new forms of democratic self-governance. The essay thus suggests that Dewey’s understanding of communication diverges from one that is more familiar in popular problem-solving discourses in law. For example, in predominant strands of alternative dispute resolution communication is understood primarily as a neutral technique used to bridge the mental properties of individuals whatever their aims, rather than, as Dewey would have described it, a means and end of a good society and thus a deeply normative and political practice. By comparing divergent ideas of communication in law, the essay aims to open up for analysis and debate whether and how democratic experimentalists understand communication not like traditional models of popular legal problem solving, but rather like Dewey: as a method of social life that calls publics into being.
Keywords: Democratic experimentalism, new governance, Dewey, pragmatism, alternative dispute resolution (ADR), communication, publics
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