Dialogue is a collaborative endeavor where people come together to share their experiences and strive for understanding. As such dialogue, like debate is a method of discourse that is envisioned and practiced in a myriad ways. In this class we studied three different dialogic practices, specifically Intergroup Dialogue (IGR), Essential Partners/Public Conversations Partners (PCP), and Deliberative Democracy (DD). While each is different, they are ultimately all types of dialogue and thus share many features. In this essay I will explore the similarities and differences between the models using a historical lens to investigate each model’s dialogue goals, dialogue conception, and the participant expectations. Lastly, I will reflect on how each model may contribute to my future dialogue practice and my life personally.
In some way history has informed everything we are surrounded by. Why then is the history of a dialogue model important? While everything has a history or is informed by history, not everything bears the marks of its history. The dialogue models in contrast show the impacts of their history in the form of each models’ dialogue mission. Since a dialogue’s goals flow from its mission, the conception from its goals, and participant expectations from the dialogue’s conception, the history of each model has informed and explains many of the similarities and differences in the models. Essentially the history of each dialogue model explains why the models look the way they do. What then is history in the context of a dialogue model? History in this context includes both contextual events and influential works in dialogue.
The history of IGR was influenced most by contextual events that surrounded its formation. For IGR the influence came in the form of worsening racial tensions at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1987. After several racist incidents, including racist graffiti in a campus bathroom, racist jokes aired on the university’s radio station, and racist comments by the dean of the school (Pak, 1987; Shanker, 1987; Strick, 1987; Wilson 1987), the Program on Intergroup Relations was founded in 1988 with the goal of alleviating these tensions (Intergroup Relations, 2018). It was from this organization that intergroup dialogue was ultimately created. Since intergroup dialogue was formed in response to anti-racists events and sentiments, its mission focuses on promoting social justice through dialogue. To accomplish this mission IGR has set out the following three goals: 1) raise the consciousness of participants, 2) build relationships across difference, and 3) strengthen participants and communities abilities to promote social justice (Zuʹñiga, 2007). Following these goals IGR conceives of dialogue as a series of conversations between at least two different social identities in which social power is shared equally (Zuʹñiga, 2007). This is done to promote participants’ awareness and appreciation of the groups’ differences to help dissolve boundaries between them. With this in minds participants are expected to share stories from their personal experience, ask questions, and create an action plan.
While the historical events surrounding the formation of IGR influenced its ideas of dialogue, it wasn’t the only influence on the dialogue model. Previous dialogist Paolo Friere’s ideas are also evident in the model. In Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed he discusses the importance of the oppressed understanding their history of oppression as a means to end their oppression (Friere, 2005). This idea termed consciousness raising is one of IGR’s major goals. Although Friere’s work focused on the oppressed, IGR seeks to raise the consciousness for all participants by exploring how they and others are affected by privilege and disadvantage. Additionally Freire’s ideas centered on the relationship between oppressor and oppressed, which directly informs who is chosen for the dialogue (Friere, 2005). For example bringing together ethnic minorities with ethnic majorities on the University of Michigan campus, with the minorities as the oppressed and the ethnic majorities as oppressor.
Similarly PCP was influenced by contextual events specifically circumstances of escalating conflict between pro-life and pro-choice proponents. This conflict eventually resulted in an anti-abortion shooting that left two women dead and many others injured (Essential Partners, 2018). This results in PCP focus to be unlike IGR’s, in that its goals aren’t focused on promoting social justice instead they focus on civic engagement and fostering community. Flowing from these goals PCP conceives of dialogue, as a respectful, stimulating, and reflective conversation for people across divisive topics, such as abortion (Essential Partners, 2018). This differs slightly from IGR in that its focus isn’t on enacting change through understanding, but instead is focused on improving individuals understanding and resilience to strengthen communities. Where IGR focuses its conversation between different social groups, PCP focuses on bringing together people from different sides of a divided topic to promote understanding and increase belonging further contributing to their goal of increasing personal and community resilience. Lastly, while PCP expects dialogue participants to share from their own experience as in IGR they also include structured reflective opportunities throughout the dialogue (Essential Partners, 2018). These are included with the purpose of allowing participants to —- thus reinforcing resiliency developed through the dialogue.
Although the surrounding events of PCP’s formation strongly contributed to its goals and conception dialogist Bohm also influenced the model’s ideas. Specfically Bohm’s idea of the importance of shared meaning on social cohesion. (Sleap, Sener, & Weller, 2013, pg. 41). Where understanding leads to social cohesion and that to improved communities resilience, one of the driving goals of PCP. Thus through promoting understanding PCP hopes to improve community relations and resilience.
In contrast to both IGR and PCP the history of DD is rooted in the works of Daniel Yankelovich, a social scientist and dialogue theorist, rather than historical events. Yankelovich’s ideas focused on dialogue as a solution to reinvigorate democracy and place democratic power in the hands of the citizens. DD’s mission closely follows this idea and sees dialogue as way to promote understanding in order to make binding decisions about difficult and divisive topics due differences in values and differing investments in a topic (Sleap, Sener, & Weller, 2013,). Since DD is focused on making a decision unlike IGR and PCP its goals are likewise different. Specifically, the goals are to determine tradeoffs that people are willing to take and provide a starting point for democratic action (National Issues Forums Institue, 2018). Although the above goals are different from the other models their goal of promoting a deep understanding of the issues within a topic, is quite similar. This boils down to the fact that all of the models are dialogue and understanding is the main goal of dialogue in general. Thus all of the models share this goal in some way.
The three models, IGR, PCP, and DD, have a different take on dialogue with each suited to address different problems. By comparing and contrasting the models I learned that there is no one right way to practice dialogue, but rather the dialogue models are suited towards different goals. Therefore a mixing of models can yield a unique dialogue practice suited to specific dialogues. For example I would draw on PCP methods such as structured reflection for a conflict-ridden topic such as abortion. However, if the goal regarding a conflict-ridden topic was to make a decision I would blend the methods of PCP with questions to understand what each group would and wouldn’t be willing to give up as in DD. Ultimately, one must take into consideration what the dialogue is about, who the dialogue involves, and what the dialogue seeks to accomplish amongst other things so a plan can be tailored to the individual dialogue. With this in mind continued study of the three dialogue models and other dialogue models is merited, so your plan is suited for a given audience and topic.
The models can also my day-to-day interactions with others as well. Skills from IGR such as considering the role of privilege and disadvantage, from PCP such as considering what is at the heart of the matter, and from DD can be incorporated in to my daily life. Arguably, I see this impact of dialogue as the greatest on my life as the skills that are designed for large groups can be scaled down for daily interactions, because although I may not facilitate dialogues after this class I hope to have meaningful and respectful interactions with many people without letting differences divide us.