A conceptual definition and theoretical model of public deliberation in small face-to-face groups

Stephanie Burkhalter, John Gastil, Todd Kelshaw

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

309 Scopus citations


Although scholars have begun to study face-to-face deliberation on public issues, "deliberation" has no clear conceptual definition and only weak moorings in larger theories. To address these problems, this essay integrates diverse philosophical and empirical works to define deliberation and place it in a broader theoretical context. Public deliberation is a combination of careful problem analysis and an egalitarian process in which participants have adequate speaking opportunities and engage in attentive listening or dialogue that bridges divergent ways of speaking and knowing. Placed in the meta-theoretical framework of structuration theory (Giddens, 1984), deliberation is theorized to exist at the center of a homeostatic loop, in which deliberative practice reinforces itself. A review of theory and research on the causes and effects of deliberation leads us to develop this structurational conceptualization into the self-reinforcing model of deliberation. This model posits that public deliberation is more likely to occur when discussion participants perceive potential common ground, believe deliberation is an appropriate mode of talk, possess requisite analytic and communication skills, and have sufficient motivation. Deliberation directly reinforces participants' deliberative habits and skills, and it indirectly promotes common ground and motivation by broadening participants' public identities and heightening their sense of political efficacy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)398-422
Number of pages25
JournalCommunication Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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