Understanding Deliberative Systems in Practice: The Crucial Role for Interpretive Research
29 Pages Posted: 5 Aug 2013
Date Written: 2013
Research on deliberative democracy has taken an empirical turn. There is a now an expanding literature that seeks to explore deliberative practice as it occurs in contemporary political practice. Much of this empirical scholarship has been situated within what Bevir and Ansari (2012) label a ‘modernist’ tradition of social inquiry, where hypotheses are tested, causal relationships identified and explanatory models developed. Under this mode of research, scholars have focused much attention on studying deliberative forums; offering insights into the nature and quality of deliberation and the effect of deliberation on individual preferences. But, these discrete face-to-face interactions represent only a small portion of the diversity of what constitutes public deliberation. The recent shift towards a deliberative systems approach emphasizes precisely this point and suggests understanding deliberation as a communicative activity occurring in a diversity of spaces. Notwithstanding its conceptual appeal, the systemic approach raises several questions, particularly when it comes to its empirical investigation and invites us to think harder about how we might study broader understandings of public deliberation. This paper argues that interpretive approaches, with their emphasis on understanding phenomena through experiences, perspectives, artifacts and actions, offer valuable tools for studying how deliberative systems are enacted in modern polities, and the possibilities and limitations for improving them. Drawing on recent empirical studies, the paper demonstrates how interpretive approaches can shed light on how deliberation occurs within, and across, a range of modes and settings in a deliberative system.
Keywords: deliberative systems, interpretive research, deliberative democracy
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