Deliberative Communication

The inspiration for the idea of deliberative communication stems from pragmatism, classical (John Dewey 1916/1980, 1927/1984) and modern (Habermas 1990, 1996).  Deliberation – mutual and carefully-balanced consideration of different alternatives – is in the current literature of political and social science closely coupled to democracy as communication, and hence to a specific way of understanding how democracy can and should be elaborated, i.e. deliberative democracy as a normative political project of a specific communicative character (Habermas 1996, Gutmann & Thompson 1999).

The use of the concept ‘deliberative’ in education without that of ‘democracy’ does not imply that the direction of democracy is neglected, but there is an important difference between deliberation, deliberative communication and deliberative democracy. In the latter constellation, a close relationship to one or other formal democratic decision-making process is present, whereas deliberative communication does not presuppose that. However, it is more a question of difference of degree than of two clearly distinct phenomena. The second key difference is that deliberative democracy implies in principle (if not in reality) equal citizens (Knight & Johnson 1997). The participants in deliberative communication are in different educational settings teachers and students, developers, leaders and educators  i.e. individuals with different knowledge and experience and differences in authority, formal as well as real, deliberating within a ‘weak’ public (Fraser 1992).

Deliberative communication implies communication in which

  • different views are confronted with one another and arguments for these different views are given time and space to be articulated and presented
  • there is tolerance and respect for the concrete other and participants learn to listen to the other person’s argument
  • elements of collective will-formation are present, i.e. an endeavor to reach consensus or at least temporary agreements or to draw attention to difference
  • authorities or traditional views can be questioned and there are opportunities to challenge one’s own tradition
  • there is also scope for participants to communicate and deliberate without leader presence, i.e. for argumentative discussions between participants with the aim of solving problems or shedding light on them from different points of view (cf. Englund 2000 and forthcoming)

By iterative deliberating over crucial issues, mutual and carefully-balanced consideration of different alternatives in participants will be given opportunities to create, pronounce and develop their meanings, challenge the meanings of each other and perhaps also change their meanings persuaded by the best argument. Through the practice of deliberative communication participants will all be given the chance to develop their judgement abilities, learn to see that there always are possible different ways of performative language settings implied with different ways of categorizing with different consequences, different evaluations and different interpretations. Thus by deliberative communication participants may develop a kind of formation and competence building, a courage to act in accordance with the implications of the professional responsibility also in current circumstances of “accountability regimes”. 

We will argue that if higher education of professionals and professional development welcomes and encourages practices of deliberative communication by the kind of deliberative communication sketched out, professional work, by what might be called discretionary specialisation involving subjective judgement and tailored decisions to different circumstances will have higher chances to fulfil the highest levels of professional responsibility (Freidson 2001, cf. Englund & Solbrekke 2011), may be reached. Thus, students may in this way develop capacities to live out professional responsibility in practice – a practice that reaches beyond a narrow understanding of employability.

To specify what we are aiming at we believe that through deliberative communication developers, teachers and students may become professionals who are knowledgeable and aware of tensions and dilemmas that must be handled at work. The capacity to critically reflect upon ways of coping with conflicting interests and the ability to understand the tension between the two logics of accountability and professional responsibility (Solbrekke & Englund 2011) may be nurtured through deliberative communication, because it emphasizes both articulation of arguments and actual practice. In current New Public Management ideology becoming aware of and capable of deliberating and analyzing the consequences of these different logics seems to be one necessary component of a future professionalism. 


Dewey, John (1916/1980): Democracy and Education. . In J.A. Boydston ed Dewey, John : The Middle Works 1899-1924 Volume 9. Carbondale: Southern University press

Dewey, John (1927/1984): The Public and its Problems. In J.A. Boydston ed. Dewey, John: The Later Works 1925-1927 Volume 2:  235-372. Carbondale: Southern University press

Englund, Tomas (2000): Deliberative communication: A pragmatist proposal. Journal of Curriculum Studies 38(5) 503-520.

Englund, Tomas (forthcoming 2016, on line July 1 2015): On moral education through deliberative communication. Journal of Curriculum Studies

Englund, Tomas & Solbrekke, Tone Dyrdal (2011): Professional responsibility under pressure. In C. Sugrue & T. D. Solbrekke eds: Professional Responsibility. New Horizons of Praxis, (57-71) London & New York: Routledge.

Fraser, Nancy (1992): Rethinking the public sphere; a contribution to the critique of actually existing democracy. In C Calhoun ed: Habermas and the Public Sphere, (109-142) Cambridge: MIT press.

Freidson, Eliot (2001): Professionalism. The Third Logic. Cambridge: Polity press.

Gutmann, Amy & Thompson, Dennis (1999): Deliberation and Disagreement . Cambridge: Belknap press.

Habermas, Jürgen (1990): The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity press

Habermas, Jürgen (1996): Beyond Facts and Norms. Cambridge: Polity press

Knight, J. & Johnson, J. (1997): What sort of  political equality does deliberative democracy require?  In J. Bohman & W. Rehg eds. Deliberative Democracy. Essays on Reason and Politics (279-319) Cambridge: MIT press.

Solbrekke, Tone Dyrdal & Englund, Tomas (2011): Bringing professional responsibility back in. Studies in Higher Education 36(7) 847-861.

Published Nov. 2, 2015 4:33 PM - Last modified June 1, 2016 4:56 PM