Playing the good citizen

Special report: deliberative arenas
The contrasted effects of engagement inside deliberative arenas
By Julien Talpin

The deliberative paradigm, prominent in the field of democratic theory, is based on a strong anthropological assumption: deliberation would have the virtue of shaping citizens' preferences and identities, orientating them towards the common good. The epistemological groundings of this assumption inspired by experimental psychology and the cognitive sciences and emphasizing the inner self, nonetheless appear inappropriate. As individual opinions are the product of the context in which they are expressed, and given that decisions taken in deliberative arenas are the result of actually expressed arguments, the study of the impact of deliberation should focus on actors' discourses in situation, on the space of interactions where people talk, argue, and act together, and occasionally play the collectively constructed role of "good citizen." Civic competence in participatory institutions therefore requires following a deliberative public grammar that rejects overly politicized postures but implies the use of arguments compatible with the common good. From this perspective, it does not appear a-political per se. These implicit grammatical rules, enforced by regular and integrated participants, encourage actors to revise their arguments and assume the role of good citizens. Participation in deliberative arenas can thus produce argumentative and trajectory shifts among the interactants who can therefore fully play their role of good citizens.

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