Summer Reading Series: Creating Space for Democracy

By Dr. Sarah Ropp

This is the third entry in our dialogic pedagogy summer reading series. For more on the series and a full list of texts, see here

Title: Creating Space for Democracy: A Primer on Dialogue and Deliberation in Higher Education (published in 2019; $37; available for purchase here)

Editors: Nicholas V. Longo and Timothy J. Shaffer 

Context of Creation: This is an edited volume containing contributions from 45 educators, including the two editors. Longo is a professor of global studies and public and community service at Providence College; Shaffer is an assistant professor of Communication Studies at Kansas State University. The book grows out of the authors’ prior work and collaborations related to what they have termed “deliberative pedagogy,” an education process that includes authentic and constructive dialogue as a key component in preparing students to encounter diverse perspectives and make informed choices as citizens (broadly, not legally, defined) in a democracy. 

Context of Reception: I haven’t yet finished this book. I work only quarter-time as Difficult Dialogues Program Coordinator, and nearly half of my hours for the week had already been absorbed by responses and deliberations related to the previous post in this series before I started work on this week’s reading and blog post. I share this in order to enact two gestures I consider important. The first is to make labor and its constraints more visible, and thereby resist the often unspoken but strongly felt expectation in the academy for uniform and steady production regardless of external stressors or unforeseen impediments (though I want to make clear that this is not an expectation of the Humanities Institute in particular, which functions incredibly humanely, in my experience!). The second is to demonstrate the necessity that so often comes up in dialogue and dialogic processes to slow down: circle back, rethink, hear new responses, and adjust course. Thus, I read the introduction and initial, framing chapter of Creating Space for Democracy, then decided to focus (for now) on Part II of the book as the section I thought might be most immediately useful for myself and others. I will be continuing to work my way through the rest of the text as I can. 

Overview of Structure and Content 

Following an introduction and a framing chapter written by the editors entitled “Discussing Democracy: Learning to Talk Together,” Creating Space for Democracy is organized into five thematic parts containing chapters written by contributors. Part I, “Concepts and Theories,” offers three chapters of different conceptual frameworks. Part II, “Methods of Dialogue and Deliberation,” contains seven chapters, in each of which a different model for dialogue is presented by representatives from seven different dialogue-driven organizations. Part III, “Dialogue and Deliberation in the Curriculum,” provides four chapters in which contributors describe and reflect on efforts to integrate dialogue and deliberation at their respective higher ed institutions. Part IV, “Dialogue and Deliberation Using College Spaces,” includes three case studies of campus dialogue in spaces beyond the classroom, including student centers, libraries, and residence halls. Part V, “Dialogue and Deliberation in the Community,” contains four chapters about collaborations between colleges and universities and the community to create dialogue spaces (including a chapter on “front porch conversations” in Austin from Suchitra V. Gururaj and Virginia A. Cumberbatch of UT-Austin’s Division of Diversity and Community Engagement!). Finally, Part VI, “Dialogue and Deliberation Networks,” contains three chapters detailing cross-institutional networks for resources and engagement. 

7 Models for Dialogue

I have created a snapshot overview of the seven different models for dialogue presented in Creating Space in this infographic (also available online HERE). I include the defining elements of each approach, the stated goals, the facilitator’s role, its origin and genealogy, and sample materials sourced directly from each organization that illustrate their approach. Organizations and materials are hyperlinked in the chart for further exploration. 

I hope that this chart is useful as a quick reference for instructors to compare and contrast the basic structure, goals, and background of a few dialogic models, so that they can explore the model(s) that interest them. Beyond that, here are a few ideas for how instructors might use this resource with students: 

  • Share these models with students at the beginning of the semester and ask for their thoughts and feedback. You might divide a class into 7 small groups and assign each group a model to further research. Groups present their summaries and thoughts on their assigned model to the rest of the class, and the class deliberates together over which model feels most appropriate for the content and aims of the course, balanced with student interests and identities. 
  • Select one or more different approaches to practice over the course of the semester. Share the background, goals, and structures of the model(s) you have chosen and your decision-making process and rationale with students upfront. Create structures for students to provide feedback and reflection on their experiences with each approach you have chosen. 
  • Have student facilitators select an approach to practice themselves as they lead dialogues. 

Are there other approaches to dialogue you have encountered or created? Do you have other thoughts on how to involve students in the process of selecting and/or reflecting on different approaches to dialogue? Please let us know in the comments! 

Next Week . . . 

We will be reading Teaching Through Challenges for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (Storms, Donovan, and Williams, 2020). 

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