Using deliberation to tackle social problems

Our project aims to develop a means of tackling the marginalisation and stereotyping of young Muslims by drawing together insights from political science with the arts and cultural sector. One of the most exciting things about the project is the way it takes theoretical principles from the world of academia and applies them to a pressing social problem. This post provides a very brief introduction to some of the ideas that underpin our work, and how they relate to the aims of the project.

The intervention we develop in the project will draw on insights which originally developed in the literature on deliberative democracy. A major area of work within political science, this is a complex (and at times controversial) idea but in broad terms it suggests that the quality of democracy can be improved through reforms which focus on free, open participation in discussion over issues which are important to those who take part. Of course, not any discussion can count as ‘deliberation’, and important principles such as equal participation, respect, reason-giving and reflection are built into reforms and experiments in deliberative democracy. Examples of real-world applications of these ideas include participatory budgeting, citizens’ juries and deliberative polling.

Importantly, the use of these ideas has reached beyond the reform of formal democracy into other areas of social life. The principles of deliberative democracy have been used in a wide range of different settings, including reconciling conflicting views on environmental management, with former combatants in post-conflict situations and amongst deeply-divided social groups. In many cases, they have had a demonstrable effect on the attitudes of the participants. Deliberation has been shown to make participants more tolerant, knowledgeable about important issues, and to enable groups who are normally marginalised from public debate to have a voice.

Of course, there are a whole set of disagreements and problems, both theoretical and practical, that lurk just beneath the surface of this brief introduction, and some of these will be addressed in future posts as we progress with the project. In the meantime, anyone interested in reading more about these issues might enjoy the below resources:


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