Deliberation in protest groups



Deliberation – understood as consensus oriented arguing under fair conditions – plays a rising role in current debates about democratic theory. In recent years, many empirical studies elucidated the real world conditions for deliberation. Surprisingly, this research neglected the role of social movements and public interest groups, although theories of deliberative democracy very much stressed the role of civil society. Therefore, my aim is to apply one of the most important theories – Habermas’ concept of deliberative politics – to communication in small groups. As participant observer, I reconstruct the relation between life-worlds and discourses in three small groups (Attac, Linkspartei, service sector trade union), which regularly participate in protest activities. My aim is to make visible, how latent political cultures affect the performance of real discourses. First results confirm the common assumption that the “forceless force of the better argument” rather shows up in the open contexts of social movements like Attac. The finding, that in the more closed groups of the trade union and the party, needs of the life-world translate directly into normative political arguments, instead contradicts widespread theoretical beliefs. Since all three forms offer strengths and weaknesses, the results point out that deliberative politics can be made possible by a complex division of labour that includes parties, interest groups and social movements.

Main content

Research Question

Which kinds of life-world make which kinds of deliberative communication possible?

Research Methods

The methodical standpoint is that of theory-driven hermeneutic reconstruction used widespread in sociology as well as ethnology. Using participant observation and field research the main research instruments are content analysis of audio records, document analysis and qualitative interviews.