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David Farrell, University College Dublin

Tue 5 March 2019

12:00pm – 1:00pm

The Dryzek Room, Building 22, University of Canberra


This paper compares the debate quality in the plenary sessions of the Irish citizens’ assembly and an Irish parliamentary committee to assess the epistemic effects of public deliberation on a particularly contentious subject – abortion. The unusual occurrence of a similar process of detailed discussion on the same topic in different institutions at around the same time allows us to make real comparisons between the deliberative capacities of these fora. We suggest that the epistemic effect of deliberation on abortion should facilitate nuanced multi-layered discussion that is both ‘deeper’ in being based on multi-faceted arguments and ‘wider’, in terms of a more accommodative view. We anticipate that these effects should be more pronounced in the more deliberative, less polarised, environment of a citizens’ assembly rather than in the parliamentary committee. The analysis deploys the psychological concept of ‘cognitive complexity’. Examining these epistemic standards allow us to judge whether a given deliberative process produces better or worse outcomes from an epistemic rather than purely procedural point of view. We find that experts tend to talk in more cognitively complex ways and that the members of the citizens’ assembly also demonstrate a deeper cognitively complex grasp of the subject matter. In contrast, advocates and parliamentarians tend towards shallower and more narrow patterns.

About the speaker

Professor Farrell was appointed to the Chair of Politics at University College Dublin in 2009, having returned to Ireland after two decades working at the University of Manchester (where he was Head of Social Sciences). He is currently Head of Politics and International Relations at UCD. In 2013 he was elected a Member of the Royal Irish Academy. He has held visiting positions at the Australian National University, Harvard, Mannheim, and the University of California Irvine. A specialist in the study of representation, elections and parties, he has published 19 books and more than 100 articles and book chapters. His most recent books include: Political Parties and Democratic Linkage (Oxford University Press, 2011; paperback 2013), which was awarded the GESIS Klingemann Prize for the Best Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) Scholarship, A Conservative Revolution? Electoral Change in Twenty-First Century Ireland (Oxford University Press, 2017), The Post-Crisis Irish Voter: Voting Behaviour in the Irish 2016 General Election (Manchester University Press, 2018), and The Oxford Handbook of Irish Politics (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). His current work is focused on constitutional deliberation, and in that capacity he was the research director of the Irish Constitutional Convention (2012-14) and the research leader of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly (2016-18). In November 2018 he retired as (founding) co-editor of Party Politics. He is a member of the executive committee of the European Consortium for Political Research.

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