Universität Mannheim / Sowi / lspol1 / englisch / Research / The Conversations of Democracy

The Conversations of Democracy. Citizens' Everyday Communication in the Deliberative System

The project is to address a major gap in the empirical study of deliberative politics. Although democratic theory's deliberative turn stimulated increasing interest in the role of talk for the quality of democratic politics, research paid as of yet hardly any attention to ordinary citizens' informal conversations about politics. No assured knowledge exists about how this form of political communication stands up to the high normative standards of deliberation. Likewise, there is no robust evidence on the factors that lead to a higher deliberative quality of everyday political talk, nor on whether it actually entails the beneficial influences on the democratic process expected by deliberative theory.

By investigating their deliberativeness as well as its conditions and consequences the project seeks to contribute to a deeper understanding of people's conversations about public affairs as the most basic form of political communication and foundation of democracy's deliberative system. Complementing research on political communication in institutional arenas of the deliberative system the project seeks to answer three interrelated research questions: (RQ1) How deliberative is citizens' everyday talk about politics? To assess the deliberative quality of people's interpersonal communication it will be empirically described on a range of subdimensions and systematically compared to the ideal type of genuine deliberation. (RQ2) Which conditions contribute to the deliberativeness of citizens' everyday talk about politics?

Building on approaches from participation research the project will focus on individuals' personal skills and motivations as well as on opportunities and constraints that result from their embeddedness in socio-spatial and situational contexts. (RQ3) Does the deliberativeness of citizens' everyday talk about politics lead to the beneficial consequences for democratic politics assumed by deliberative theory? The project will test hypotheses from deliberative theory that pertain to effects of
deliberative communication on individuals' civic orientations and legitimacy beliefs. It will thus contribute to a better understanding of the micro foundations of the system-level consequences of deliberative communication. To address these research questions the project combines a local two-wave panel survey of a random sample of citizens with a snowball survey of political discussants and aggregate data on sociopolitical contexts. To investigate the role of situational circumstances the panel will be timed in such a way that the baseline interviews reflect the normal conditions of 'between-election' politics and the reinterviews the politicized context of electoral politics.

The project is part of the research programm of the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (B 1.3). Further information can be found here.