Political Dialogue in Polarizing Times: Election 2016 | Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky | October 25, 2016

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Political Dialogue in Polarizing Times: Election 2016

by Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky Show/Hide

“With an open heart, we can learn to stand in each other's shoes, and see through each other's eyes…we can embark on the hard work of negotiation, and reconciliation…we can worry less about which side has been wronged, and worry more about joining sides to do right.” – President Barack Obama, July 12, 2016, Dallas, Texas

Despite the encouragement from U.S. President Barack Obama above, commentators, scholars, and casual observers alike have been calling the 2016 Presidential election one of the most polarizing and divisive in recent memory. Genuine dialogue between those with differing and competing views on contentious political issues seems in decline in both public and private spaces. In place of civil dialogue, conflicts seem to escalate through use of social media on Twitter, Facebook, and anonymous blogging that is often demonizing and dehumanizing. This reading group will provide participants with an opportunity to explore the possibilities, benefits, and limits of sustained, civil dialogue on the most contentious political issues of the day. We will also explore some of the reasons for the decline of civil conversation in contemporary American life.

Meetings of the Reading Group will be devoted to reading and discussion on the purposes, shape, form, methods, limits, and critiques of political dialogue. In addition, there will be four optional sessions devoted to providing participants a chance to engage in challenging, political dialogue on issues related to the 2016 Presidential election. These issues may include U.S. immigration policy, race & criminal justice reform, gun control, the Supreme Court, and U.S. counterterrorism policy at home and abroad. The elective sessions on political dialogue will be facilitated by students enrolled in The Lawyer as Facilitator Workshop. 

The only pre-requisite for this Reading Group is a willingness to engage openly and bravely with classmates on political issues that may touch on identity, emotions, perceptions, privilege, and perception.

Attendance at all class sessions is required. 

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  1. 1 Show/Hide More Session 1: What and Why?
    Original Creator: Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky

    What is dialogue?
    Why, and why not, dialogue about political issues?

     

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  2. 2 Show/Hide More Session 2: American Repertory Theatre for: "Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education"
    Original Creator: Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky

    Since we first announced this Reading Group, we learned that Anna Deavere Smith’s new play Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education is being performed at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge. The play deals with an important set of issues relevant to Election 2016, namely the school-to-prison pipeline and the intersection of America’s education system and its mass incarceration epidemic. A special feature of the play is that Act II consists of facilitated small group conversations, scattered throughout the theatre, where audience members engage with others about their reaction to what they just witnessed. Given how connected the play and its dialogue component are to the subject of our Reading Group, we sought and were fortunate enough to obtain tickets for all members of the Reading Group to attend on the evening of September 15. Because of the event’s dialogue component, we are considering the performance to be one of our six class sessions.

     

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  3. 3 Show/Hide More Session 3: Then and Now
    Original Creator: Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky

    What has caused the decline of civil conversation in contemporary American life?
    Is the current climate unique in American history?
    What has dialogue looked like in the past in the United States?

     

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  4. 4 Show/Hide More Session 4: Insights From Psychology and Social Science
    Original Creator: Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky

    What psychological and sociological factors are at play in group dialogues about contentious political issues, particularly those that cut to the core of identity and belief?

     

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  5. 5 Show/Hide More Session 5: Politics, Media, and Society
    Original Creator: Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky

    What are the political forces, trends, and structures that help or hinder citizens’ ability to dialogue effectively about contentious political issues of the day?

     

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  6. 6 Show/Hide More Session 6: The Role of Narrative and Story in Political Dialogue
    Original Creator: Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky

    What do individual stories bring to dialogue?
    What is the role and impact of political dialogue on individual stories?

     

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  7. 7 Show/Hide More Optional Additional Reading
    Original Creator: Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky


    Optional additional reading:

    • Sandy Heierbacher and the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation, Resource Guide on Public Engagement, (National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation: October 11, 2010).

     

     

    • Bernard Mayer, “Staying with Conflict: A Strategic Approach to Ongoing Disputes” (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2009), Chapter 4 “Working the Conflict Narrative”.

     

    • Charles Pattie and Ron Johnston, “Talk as a political context: conversation and electoral change in British elections, 1992-1997”, Electoral Studies 20 (2001) 17-40, pp. 17-40.

     

    • Samuel J. Abrams and Morris P. Fiorina, “‘The Big Sort’ That Wasn’t: A Skeptical Reexamination”, PS: Political Science & Politics, Volume 45, Issue 2, April 2012, pp. 203-210.

     

    • Ned Lazarus, “Evaluating Seeds of Peace: Assessing Long-Term Impact in Volatile Context”, in Peace Education Evaluation: Learning from Experience and Exploring Prospects, edited by Celina Del Felice, Aaron Karako, and Andria Wisler (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing Inc., 2015), pp. 163-177.

     

    • Ifat Maoz, “Does Contact Work in Protracted Assymetrical Conflict? Appraising 20 years of reconciliation-aimed encounters between Israeli Jews and Palestinians”, Journal of Peace Research 48(1), 2011, pp. 115 -125.

     

    • Alan Charles Kors and Harvey A. Silvergate, The Shadow University: The Betrayal of Liberty on America’s Campuses (New York: The Free Press, 1998), Chapter 5 “The Moral Reality of Political Correctness”.

     

     

    • David Bohm, On Dialogue, edited by Lee Nichol (New York: Routledge, 1996).

     

    • Martin Buber, I and Thou, translated by Walter Kaufmann (New York: Scribner, 1970).

     

    • Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (Woodstock: New York Overlook Press, 1973).

     

     

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Robert C. Bordone, Rachel Viscomi, and Adriel Borshansky

Thaddeus R. Beal Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinic

Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program

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