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A polychrome approach to social movements and public deliberation

Sergio Guillén, Australian National University

Tue 17 October 2017

11:00am - 12:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


Within deliberative democrats, the perspective on social movements (SM) has shifted with the ongoing evolution of the field. This has included diverse conceptions such as drivers of discursive contestation, problematic partisans, or complex elements in the deliberative system. In each of those cases, deliberative democracy scholarship has adopted a specific lens that highlights a particular role of social movements in relation to other actors in the deliberative landscape. This emphasis on specific roles allows certain features of SM to be studied in greater depth, but it can also obscure some dimensions that may be relevant for understanding their overall engagement with public deliberation.

In my own interpretative study of SM engagement with public deliberation in the highly polarised debate over GMOs in Costa Rica, I sought to develop a more situated grasp of how SM activists enact and construct meaning around their engagement with the diverse spaces of public deliberation. My empirical findings have revealed three distinct orientations within the movement, each of which reflects a converging stream of activist concerns and aspirations in the pursuit of the broader movement goals. While the dominant orientation of partisan resistance corresponds roughly with many of the elements addressed in the scholarship on protest in deliberative systems, the other two orientations trans-partisan inquiry and generative empowerment offer novel elements to the understanding of SM from a deliberative democracy perspective.

In this seminar I will discuss the empirical findings of my study concerning the practises through which each orientation of the movement engages with the spaces for public deliberation, and the distinctive claims made through these practises about the content of public discussions, the standing of social actors, the standards of public reasoning, and the sites for public deliberation. I will then outline how these diverse perspectives align in the context of the movement’s collective pursuits and their effects on generating both networked strengths and internal tensions. I will conclude with a discussion of the contributions that a more situated and polychrome exploration of social movements can make to the theory and practice of public deliberation in polarised and diffuse settings.

About the speaker

Sergio Guillén, is a Ph.D. Candidate at the Crawford School of Public Policy of the Australian National University, and an associated Ph.D. student of the Center for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance in Canberra, Australia.  His doctoral research studies the engagement of Central American social movements, such as environmental, indigenous and campesino organizations, with the formal and informal sites of public participation and contention in the deliberative system.  Before initiating his doctoral studies, he held the position of Senior Specialist in Social Dialogue at the Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM) in Costa Rica. He has worked for 15 years as a certified mediator and dialogue facilitator in public interest conflict resolution in Latin America.  Prior to this, he worked internationally on issues of energy poverty and small-scale clean energy development. He holds a degree in Engineering, from Carleton University, a Master of Arts in Environmental Security and Peace from the University for Peace, and a Graduate Certificate in Natural Resources and Organization Management from the University of Michigan.

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