Does lack of rhetorical skills make you less deliberative? November 20, 2009Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, My master thesis, Uncategorized , trackback
I’m working on a master thesis about political deliberation, and I’m interested in finding a good method for measuring and evaluating the level of deliberation in a discussion. Two current methods I’ve been looking into, the Discourse Quality Index and pragma-dialectics, both seem to share the same validity problem: They register low rhetorical or logical skills for a lack of deliberative attitude.
Put simply, deliberation is a term that is used about discussion when people engage in a rational dialogue about something in which they are dedicated to the “forceless force of the better argument”. According to Jürgen Habermas, its most famous theoretician, it should be characterized by sincerity, inclusiveness, equality, reasoned critique, reflexivity, respect and be free from the influence of money and coercive power1 . In the more realistic conceptions of the term, we are willing to consider a discussion as more or less deliberative, realizing that a few real world discussions are likely to be perfect.
As I mentioned, I’ve been looking for methods to analyse discussion in order to determine how deliberative it really is. I’ve been trying to find a method that satisfies the criteria of:
- Significance – Must be a method we can expect a large portion of empirically oriented political science to accept.
- Usefulness – Must be a method that is suitable for comparative study of cases, preferably on a large scale and with a multitude of institutional arrangements.
- Completeness – Must be a method that is theoretically consistent with established theory of deliberation, for example Habermas’ discourse ethics.
In order to determine whether or not a debate is really deliberative, they both focus on the correctness of arguments presented. According to the DQI method, they evaluate the level of justification, classifying each speech act as either containing no justification (0), inferior justification (1), qualified justification (2) or sophisticated justification (3). The pragma-dialectical method does something similar when it examines entire debates for logical consistency, identifying so-called fallacies that constitute bad arguments which should not be part of reasoned discussion.
My claim is that both these methods measure something separate from the level of deliberation, they measure the level of sophistication of the debatants. They measure how good their rhetorical and logical skills are, not their dedication to reasoned debate and fair discussion. This is not a major problem when you compare debates where you can expect people to be at a similar skill level, as when comparing two parliaments. The problem arises when you want to compare the debates in parliament to debates in other areas of society. If you compare two groups with different levels of rhetorical skill, the less sophisticated group will register as less deliberative even if they really were more dedicated to the ideals of deliberation. The core principles of deliberation dictate that the best argument should prevail no matter who presents it, but if we use rhetorical sophistication as a measurement criterion, we are already violating it by derogating the arguments of the less educated.
This is still a work in progress, but it seems likely that this specific find will play a major part in the conclusions to my thesis.
- My rewrite of the rules presented in his book discourse ethics [↩]
- described most elegantly in a conference paper by Nicole Curato [↩]
- Outlined in: Steiner, Jürg, André Bächtiger, Markus Spörndli and Marco R. Steenbergen (2004). Deliberative Politics in Action: Analyzing Parliamentary Discourse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. [↩]