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Deliberating or quarrelling? Final draft of my thesis. November 7, 2010

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, My master thesis, Political Theory , comments closed

After a long and arduous process, the work on my master’s thesis is finally nearing the end. Here is a slightly adapted version of the introduction, and a link to the  print ready version (PDF).

Some of the inspiration for my thesis comes from an article in the student newspaper in Trondheim, Under Dusken, and similar comments over the following years. Political science professor Anders Todal Jenssen insisted that the student democracy in Trondheim lacked legitimacy because of the low voter turnout and that the introduction of political parties would be the solution to this problem. Binding platforms would make student politicians accountable to the voters and increase support for democracy. As a student representative myself at the time, I was provoked. We were proud of the lack of polarization within the student democracy and, although I didn’t know the term at the time, the level of deliberation. This started me on the quest for an alternative to Professor Todal Jenssen’s strong belief in the salience of political parties.

Democracy does of course seem unthinkable without political parties. Almost every democracy is dominated by a system of organized factions that structure, educate and drive the political process forwards. The necessity for such a system is no longer seriously questioned in political science. I do not believe, however, that any institution should be beyond question. Even if we have no intention to get rid of political parties, we should strive to understand the effect they have on democracy. As I will show in this thesis, one such effect may be reducing open and free deliberation among decision-makers. This may be a cost we are willing to pay, but not a cost we should pay without knowing its size. (more…)

Does lack of rhetorical skills make you less deliberative? November 20, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : Methods in political science, My master thesis, Uncategorized , comments closed

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:

  1. Significance – Must be a method we can expect a large portion of empirically oriented political science to accept.
  2. 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.
  3. Completeness – Must be a method that is theoretically consistent with established theory of deliberation, for example Habermas’ discourse ethics.


  1. My rewrite of the rules presented in his book discourse ethics []

My thesis and my blog June 24, 2009

Posted by Sverre in : My master thesis , comments closed

This blog hasn’t gotten the attention it did a few months ago. There are several reasons for this, but most of them boil down to the fact that I’ve been occupied with other things, among them my Norwegian language blog Det politiske dyr. Another thing that has gotten too little attention has been my master thesis. I’ll now be trying to kill two birds with one stone through using this blog as a tool for my master thesis work. Beginning with right now I am going to start posting bits and pieces from my thesis in temporary versions as I write them. My hope is that someone will actually read it and comment on any errors, weaknesses, disagreements or even encouragement. I don’t believe in hogging my secrets, arguments and data. If I open myself to continuous commentary, I might possibly have some insights I otherwise wouldn’t have.

I start off with posting the last rewrite of the outline of my thesis:

Thesis outline

I start out with a belief that deliberation is important to democracy and that our current systems of democracy are in several ways detrimental to good deliberation. I believe that this affects the quality and outcome of political decisions without actually empowering the people in the way supposed by much of current thought.

I do however realize that my beliefs are not very important to anyone but myself. My beliefs have no relevance to scientific debate if I cannot transform them from beliefs into complete scientific arguments. I am furthermore of the impression that current thought on deliberation, although far advanced, suffers a lack of credence in the social sciences because of weak empirical underpinnings.

This has led me to single out three research topics, each of which will be devoted a separate section of this thesis. The topics are separate and will be handled with different methodical approaches, but will hopefully constitute a meaningful totality. My main goal is to effectively argue that deliberation is important to democracy and to contribute in the search of effective ways to strengthen that idea through empirical research. (more…)