When The People Speak: a new book about deliberative democracy
November 16th, 2009

I’ve been interested in the public sphere for a long time, and I’m increasingly concerned about the amount of misinformation, disinformation, sloganeering, and brutal polarization among citizens. I grew interested in Jim Fishkin’s work long before I started teaching in the Communication Department at Stanford (Fishkin is dept chair). Fishkin’s book, When The People Speak: Deliberative Democracy and Public Consultation, is being released this month by Oxford University Press. This is not just theory and not just solid empirical study, but a practical demonstration that it is possible for citizens to come together and actually deliberate about the kinds of issues we need to grapple with if we are to remain citizens of free societies, capable of some degree of self-governance.

All over the world, democratic reforms have brought power to the people, but under conditions where the people have little opportunity to think about the power that they exercise. In this book, James Fishkin combines a new theory of democracy with actual practice and shows how an idea that harks back to ancient Athens can be used to revive our modern democracies. The book outlines deliberative democracy projects conducted by the author with various collaborators in the United States, China, Britain, Denmark, Australia, Italy, Bulgaria, Northern Ireland, and in the entire European Union. These projects have resulted in the massive expansion of wind power in Texas, the building of sewage treatment plants in China, and greater mutual understanding between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The book is accompanied by a DVD of “Europe in One Room” by Emmy Award-winning documentary makers Paladin Invision. The film recounts one of the most challenging deliberative democracy efforts with a scientific sample from 27 countries speaking 21 languages.

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