Imagine a political discussion that involves in-depth reasoned discussion and has the potential to move people with entrenched positions to considering alternative viewpoints.
In light of the recent US election, such a scenario might seem utopian. Even so, participation in political communication is one of the cornerstones of democracy. Robust democratic involvement asks that citizens deliberate on issues – that they think deeply and engage with each other on issues of public importance.
One of Professor Erik Schneiderhan’s new research projects studies the ways in which citizens deliberate, and how ethnicity matters for this deliberation. The project will use funding from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Insight Grant to convene five assemblies, or Deliberation Days, where Canadians in five different communities come together to deliberate over political issues that impact Canadians of all ethnicities: gun control policy measures, and policy regarding climate change. Professor Schneiderhan’s previous lab-based research has shown that deliberation “shakes things up” and often can change individual positions. This project takes the research out of the lab and into the complexities of our multi-ethnic communities in Canada.
To understand how deliberation “matters” for individual policy preferences and attitudes in the short and long term, Professor Schneiderhan’s team will begin by telephoning 1,000 people sampled from the five communities. The survey will ask baseline opinions about gun control and climate change. The team will then develop a representative sample out of these participants and invite 25 of them from each location to participate in Deliberation Days where they will deliberate in groups with specific experimental inputs from the research team to help the researchers understand the influence of deliberation and the ways that ethnicity interacts with it. The team will also follow up after the Deliberation Day to determine whether the effects of the deliberation endured.
Ultimately, this project promises to bring understanding to one of the biggest challenges facing modern democracies: how to bring in marginalized voices so that their voices can be heard.
Professor Erik Schneiderhan has recently published a new book studying the tension that exists in American society between the ideals of individualism and the goal of helping others.
The publisher has this to say about Professor Schneiderhan’s book:
Americans have a fierce spirit of individualism. We pride ourselves on self-reliance, on bootstrapping our way to success. Yet, we also believe in helping those in need, and we turn to our neighbors in times of crisis. The tension between these competing values is evident, and how we balance between these competing values holds real consequences for community health and well-being. In his new book, The Size of Others’ Burdens, Erik Schneiderhan asks how people can act in the face of competing pressures, and explores the stories of two famous Americans to develop present-day lessons for improving our communities.
Although Jane Addams and Barack Obama are separated by roughly one hundred years, the parallels between their lives are remarkable: Chicago activists-turned-politicians, University of Chicago lecturers, gifted orators, crusaders against discrimination, winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Addams was the founder of Hull-House, the celebrated American “settlement house” that became the foundation of modern social work. Obama’s remarkable rise to the presidency is well known.
Through the stories of Addams’s and Obama’s early community work, Erik Schneiderhan challenges readers to think about how many of our own struggles are not simply personal challenges, but also social challenges. How do we help others when so much of our day-to-day life is geared toward looking out for ourselves, whether at work or at home? Not everyone can run for president or win a Nobel Prize, but we can help others without sacrificing their dignity or our principles. Great thinkers of the past and present can give us the motivation; Addams and Obama show us how. Schneiderhan highlights the value of combining today’s state resources with the innovation and flexibility of Addams’s time to encourage community building. Offering a call to action, this book inspires readers to address their own American dilemma and connect to community, starting within our own neighborhoods. See publisher’s page