Beyond Talk: The Role of Non-verbal Communication in Deliberative Democracy

Panel Code

Deliberative democracy has often been defined as a ‘talk-centric’ notion of democracy emphasising the centrality of citizens speaking to each other and/or to their representatives. The idea of talk or dialogical exchange has also been at the centre of deliberative practices such as mini-publics, open assemblies or councils. The rules of deliberation in these practices have been subject to intense scholarly debates and criticisms, pushing deliberative theory to expand in two important ways. The first expansion has been about the acceptable forms of communication in deliberative forums. Following Iris Young, many deliberative democrats have argued for the need to go beyond the rational speech requirement and allow the use of rhetoric, story-telling and greetings in public deliberation. The second expansion in deliberative democracy has come with the ‘deliberative systems’ approach, which suggested locating deliberation beyond the forum. Jane Mansbridge’s seminal piece on the importance of ‘everyday talk’ in public deliberation, in particular, has opened up new avenues for research and lead to key developments in the field.

Despite these two crucial developments in the growing field of deliberative democracy, deliberative theory has remained a talk-centric approach. The role of non-verbal practices such as silence, visuals, sit-ins, occupations, flash-mobs, hunger-strikes, walk outs or various other forms of performing an argument have received only limited attention from the scholars of deliberative democracy. The widespread use of such practices in contemporary democracies for expressing dissent in the public sphere demands greater attention from scholars to understand the role they play in public deliberation. This proposed IPSA panel seeks to do so by bringing together theoretical and empirical scholarly work that investigates the role of non-verbal communicative practices in public deliberation. It addresses – but is not limited to – questions such as:

• What non-verbal communicative practices should be taken into account by deliberative democrats?
• How do non-verbal forms of communication affect deliberative processes?
• How can non-verbal communicative practices be conceptualized as reason-giving?
• When do non-verbal forms of communication hinder public deliberation and when do they enhance it?
• What are the boundaries of deliberative democratic theory in conceptualizing non-verbal communicative practices?