As political polarization increases, organizations across the United States are trying to figure out how to help citizens have conversations across divides. While that sounds good in theory, having a dialogue that is both meaningful and useful for democracy is something else entirely.
A panel of experts organized by the Penn State Consortium for Social Movements will explore the question “Does dialogue work?” from noon to 2 p.m. April 1 via Zoom. Panelists include Ana Garcia-Ashley, executive director of the Gamaliel National Network; John Gastil, professor of communication arts and sciences and political science at Penn State; Laurie Mulvey, executive director of World in Conversation; and Francesca Polletta, professor of sociology at the University of California Irvine.
Gary Adler, associate professor of sociology and one of the event’s organizers, said the event is built around Polletta’s latest book, “Inventing the Ties that Bind: Imagined Relationships in Moral and Political Life.” In the book, Polletta questions the efficacy of events that bring strangers together for dialogue and instead looks at other ways to create solidarity through social movements and organizing for a common cause.
“I think dialogue is fundamental to democracy, particularly one as diverse as the United States,” Adler said. “But I think it’s important to not mythologize dialogue. Otherwise, we might forget to see how exactly it is important to democracy.”
Adler said he hopes attendees will come away with a healthy skepticism about what dialogue really is, as well as an understanding of how to use it as one tool for building political change.
“Our speakers think about dialogue as a tool for critical reflection and power building, not as just a way of sharing differences,” Adler said. “We hope people will come away with an appreciation for how dialogue can be done well in a variety of different settings, from campus initiatives like Penn State’s World in Conversation, to neighborhood groups, to local religious congregations.”
The “Does Dialogue Work?” panel is free and open to all. Click here to register.