Our discussion culture

Language defines out interpersonal relationships to a great degree. It is not a mere literary device to express facts and opinons but by talking we are already acting in a way or another 1. By making use of words, we state our intentions, enter into “contracts” by carrying out the needed rituals, we condemn and hurt other people. Thus, it is even more important to question and reflect our own speech acts as only by doing so we can prevent linguistic discrimination from happening.

Especially in political discussions, especially when (supposedly) working again discrimination it is therefore necessary to pay great attention to the way discussions are led.

In addition, we expect to gain knowledge from political discussion. We reject to dogmatically persist in one’s viewpoint without being responsive to another as well as to deliberately disturb discussions and to disturb them by unsubstantial comments.

That’s not always easy, especially in political contexts where there are different experiences and notions, different interests and positions. Furthermore, everyone can be involved to a different personal degree into a subject. That’s why we provide some guidelines here that can help to prevent these certain kinds of situations that we have come during the course of time, in that discussions fail very often.

Guidelines for insightful and anti-discriminatory discussions

In the course of our discussion workshop on January 19, 2017 we have worked out discussion guidelines. These you can find here: Discussion Manual [currently only in German, we will provide an English translation as soon as possible]

Moderation of discussions

According to our experiences it is useful to appoint one or persons as discussion leaders, especially to ensure a balanced and anti-discriminatory discussion in which every participant gets a chance to speak. The task of the moderation is to make sure that all participants preferably have a similar stake in the discussion and to ensure that the essential subject of debate is not being “lost” on the road. Additional tasks of the moderation might be to pay attention to the adherence to time limits as well as to the end the debate when no gain of knowledge is to be expected anymore or when participants have been discriminated repeatedly and thus when the framework conditions for a objective discussion are not met anymore.

Especially the task of making sure that all participants have a similar stake in the discussion might issue a challenge for the moderation. In order not to loose track, we make use of system called balanced list of speakers 2.

For this, the moderation lists all participants in a column oder of the list of speakers 3. As soon as persons raise their hand because they want to say something, the moderation writes down a number in the next column which is determined by the respective order in which the hands were raised in this column. Assuming person A and person B raise their hands one after the other, where person A has been rising her hand before person B:

Person A 1
Person B 2
Person C

It is always the turn of the person whose last number which is not crossed out is closest to the left.
When there are numbers for different people in the same column than it is the turn of the person associated with the lowest number, thus the person who raised her hand first. After a person had her turn the corresponding number gets crossed out. In our example, after person A spoke, it is the turn of person B. While person B is speaking, first person A is raising her hand again, followed by person C:

Person A 1 1
Person B 2
Person C 3

So after person B has spoken, it is first the turn of person C and only after that the turn of person A. Assuming that person A is a very dominatant participant of the discussion and at an arbitrary point of time the list of speakers would look like the following:

Person A 1 1 1 1 1
Person B 2 3
Person C 3 2

Now both person C and person B would be called on a rotating basis as long as they are raising their hands and have not reached the colum in which person A is waiting for her turn to speak yet.

Thus, the balanced list of speakers is designed for thwarting dominant participants in a discussion and to faciliate passive participants in order to reach for a as balanced discussion as possible in this way.

Often the gender of the participants is used as a second criterium for a quota 4. However, according to our experiences this is a problematic criterion for the use in the radical left the for various reasons.

Experience has shown that it makes sense to sort different types of speeches, especially in big discussion groups, as in order to ensure a lively discussion it make for example make sense to favor suggestions of how to proceed or queries over actual speeches. Hand signals have been established to differentiate various speeches. However, for accessibility reasons we prefer using different- colored and symobolically marked discussion cards with which the participants can let the moderation their kind of speech know. When needed, this system can be changed for using acoustic signals instead in order to not exclude persons who are visually impaired.

While the moderation is dealing with the “normal” speeches according to the balanced list of speakers described above, queries and suggestions of how to proceed are being written down on two different lists that are not quoted. After a certain speech than first the queries are being processed which can be answered by the respective person herself, upon which the suggestions of how to proceed are being processed before moving on to the next “normal” speech.

Literature

Austin, John L. Zur Theorie der Sprechakte (How to do things with Words) (1962/1975). Deutsche Bearbeitung von Eike von Savigny. Stuttgart: Reclam. 1979.

Footnotes

  1. This way of thinking is mostly influenced by the philosopher John L. Austin who introduced one of the first (closed) theories about the so called ordinary language philosophy in a lecture about speech acts. See Austin, John L. Zur Theorie der Sprechakte (How to do things with Words) (1962/1975). German edition by Eike von Savigny. Stuttgart: Reclam. 1979. In her work, Judith Butler refers extensively to Austin’s theory as well.
  2. See e.g. https://georgjaehnig.wordpress.com/2010/02/09/balancierte-redeliste-als-alternative-zur-quotierten-redeliste/. (in German). For pratical reasons, we have modified this procedure a bit.
  3. From time to time there might be certain concerns about writing down the participants of meeting. In such a case of course pseudonyms can be used. In addition, the list of speakers could be destroyed in a proper way after the discussion has ended (e.g by burning it). It is definitely not very clever to keep the list of speakers after the discussion has come to an end.
  4. On the one hand, in order to use a gender quota the participants are forced to commit themselves to a certain gender, in many cases they are commited to a gender by the moderation often based on the exterior. On the other hand certain societal stereotypes are implictily reproduced by using a gender quota, namely that there are typical “female” and “male” positions.