Deliberative democracy as a tool for dialogue and development

Phuhlisani and Associates have recently completed research and a civil rights education programme for farmworkers in the Cape Winelands District Municipality. Reflecting on this process it is clear that relations between organised agriculture, NGOs, Unions and different spheres of government remain strained - severely so in some cases.


However the different processes have created some momentum  which could help to get organised agriculture, civil society and national, provincial and local government  parties back round the table and bound into a more structured process of dialogue. In our view this could lay the foundations for some real progress in rural sector in the CWDM and the opportunity to set national precedents. 


However we recognise that it will not be enough simply to get the parties to the table. The parties will need to rethink the terms of engagement if we are make real progress and effect change.


In the international policy and development literature there has been some focus on trying to develop processes of a more “deliberative democracy” that increases the opportunities for citizens to deliberate on key issues and reach decisions on a basis of dialogue.


Dialogue in this sense is distinct from the point scoring “debate” which characterises much of the interactions at present. In some respects this type of debate provides a comfort zone for everybody because everyone can dig in their heels and no-one is required to move forward.


Sirianni & Friedland provide a useful explanation of deliberative democracy


“Deliberative democracy rests on the core notion of citizens and their representatives deliberating about public problems and solutions under conditions that are conducive to reasoned reflection and refined public judgment; a mutual willingness to understand the values, perspectives, and interests of others; and the possibility of reframing their interests and perspectives in light of a joint search for common interests and mutually acceptable solutions… It promises to cultivate a responsible citizen voice capable of appreciating complexity, recognizing the legitimate interests of other groups (including traditional adversaries), generating a sense of common ownership and action, and appreciating the need for difficult trade-offs.”


Clearly such approaches can gloss over 'deep difference' and skewed relations of power which continue to characterise South African social relations. So the challenge is how best to practically create conversational spaces which are alert to inequalities of power and capability, but which enable meaningful dialogue and shared processes of social learning.

Posted: 7/1/2010 (6:30:50 AM)

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