Thursday, 22 March 2012

Ideology, Advocacy, and the Capacity to Change

In an earlier blog on “Sceptics or ideologues”, we had commented on the findings of research (available online) by Kersty Hobson of the University of Oxford and Simon Niemeyer of the Australian National University that showed that deeply held beliefs denying anthropogenic climate change are hard to move.

In contrast, however, there are other studies that demonstrate the efficacy of dialogue and deliberation in allowing people to shift their positions. One such study (available online) by Theodore Zorn, Juliet Roper, C. Kay Weaver, and Colleen Rigby of the University of Waikato found that “as a result of participation in dialogue, laypeople’s attitudes toward scientists were more positive and scientists’ and laypeople’s attitudes toward HBT [Human Biotechnology] tended to converge.”

Clearly there are limitations to processes such as deliberation and dialogue in as much as they do not automatically address issues of power, conflict, and capital. Questions around the inclusiveness of such processes, of who gets to determine who is included or excluded in such processes, and with what effect, all need to be addressed. In a lecture at the University of Waikato on “Care, Concern and Advocacy: Is There a Place for Epistemic Responsibility?”, Professor Lorraine Code of York University explored the importance of advocacy as a way of including often marginalised voices, while acknowledging the potential for ‘advocates’ to speak past each other.

Notwithstanding the potential of powerful economic/corporate and political interests to subvert democratic processes, a key issue in these debates seems to be how strongly vested – ideologically and emotionally – individuals and groups may be in particular positions. Another fundamental issue flagged by the seeming inability for reflexivity by people/publics on contentious issues is the paucity of time. Conversations, deliberations and dialogues need time to come to fruition (as evident in the practices of many non-Western societies) but rarely do policy frameworks allow for this.

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