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Fast thinking: Implications for democratic politics

Gerry Stoker, University of Southampton

Tue 20 October 2015

11:00am - 12:00pm

Fishbowl, Building 24, University of Canberra


A major programme of research on cognition has been built around the idea that human beings are frequently intuitive thinkers and that human intuition is imperfect. The modern marketing of politics and the time-poor position of many citizens suggests that ‘fast’, intuitive, thinking in many contemporary democracies is ubiquitous. This article explores the consequences that such fast thinking might have for the democratic practice of contemporary politics. Using focus groups with a range of demographic profiles, fast thinking about how politics works is stimulated and followed by a more reflective and collectively deliberative form of slow thinking among the same participants. A strong trajectory emerges consistently in all groups in that in fast thinking mode participants are noticeably more negative and dismissive about the workings of politics than when in slow thinking mode. A fast thinking focus among citizens may be good enough to underwrite mainstream political exchange, but at the cost of supporting a general negativity about politics and the way it works. Yet breaking the cycle of fast thinking – as advocated by deliberation theorists – might not be straightforward because of the grip of fast thinking. The fast/slow thinking distinction, if carefully used, offers valuable new insight into political science.

This paper is co-authored with Colin Hay and Matthew Barr.

Please see here the paper as well.

About the speaker

Gerry Stoker is Professor of Politics and Governance at the University of Southampton, UK and also Centenary Professor at the Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis, University of Canberra. He was previously professor at both Manchester and Strathclyde. Gerry’s main research interests are in governance, democratic politics, local and regional governance, urban politics, public participation and public service reform. He was the founding chair of the New Local Government Network that was the think-tank of the year in 2004 and his most recent book, Why Politics Matters, won the 2006 political book of the year award from the Political Studies Association of the UK. Gerry has provided advice to various parts of UK government and is also an expert advisor to the Council of Europe on local government and participation issues. More broadly he has, over the past five years, received invitations to speak at conferences on governance issues aimed at practitioners and policymakers as well as academics from the USA, Japan, China, Italy, Korea Norway, Ireland, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and Australia. In particular, he was a keynote speaker at the United Nation’s 6th Reinventing Government Global Forum, Korea in 2005. In 2004, he won the Political Studies Association Award for ‘making a difference’ in recognition of the impact of his work on governance issues.

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