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Deliberative dialogue and online communication across differences

Heidi A McKee, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The Internet—an electronic public sphere for millions of Americans—would seem to be an excellent means to bring people of diverse viewpoints together for discussions of public issues. But discussions on the Internet, whether limited to students in one class or to a larger network, frequently lead to miscommunication. My research focuses on the dynamics of online communication through a multi-year study of the Intercollegiate E-Democracy Project (IEDP), a collaborative network where each semester hundreds of college students from across the country engaged in Internet-based discussions about social and political issues. The goals for my research are to identify discursive moves that promote and block deliberative dialogue and the mindset of openness that such dialogue entails. Deliberative dialogue is discourse characterized by individuals' explicit engagement with multiple perspectives on an issue in a way that reflects consideration of and listening to others' views and that demonstrates receptiveness to movement in one's own thinking. I researched the IEDP for several semesters, conducting textual analyses of thousands of posted messages and interviewing 40 participants from 13 different institutions. From these extensive data, I focus on the exchanges and participants in threads on affirmative action, reparations for slavery, and homosexuality. Drawing from students' perspectives and from theories of deliberative democracy and rhetoric and composition, I identify discursive strategies for promoting exchanges where participants develop multi-perspective understandings of their own and others' views and where they show the possibility for movement in their own thinking rather than merely posting to defend their own views and to engage in what one student I interviewed called “battle competition.” I conclude my dissertation by proposing pedagogical approaches for integrating online discussions in composition curricula, including the integration of what I call textual listening into both online discussion forums and other web-based and paper-based writing. My research shows the need to reinvigorate listening as a textual act because listening does not occur only when reading others' texts, but also when writing one's own text, particularly when engaged in written dialogues with others where the only way to demonstrate that one has indeed listened is through text.

Subject Area

Rhetoric|Language arts|Educational technology|Communication

Recommended Citation

McKee, Heidi A, "Deliberative dialogue and online communication across differences" (2005). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3179900.