Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Deliberation and Trust

Academic journal article Argumentation and Advocacy

Deliberation and Trust

Article excerpt

By many accounts, trust is in short supply. In the United States, scholars have pointed to prominent national surveys to argue that trust in society has been declining for more than four decades (Hardin, 2006; Misztal, 1996; Putnam, 1995, 2000; Uslaner, 2000-2001; Wuthnow, 1999; Zmerli & Newton, 2008). When asked whether they could trust "the government in Washington," fewer people have answered affirmatively (American National Election Studies, 2010). Moreover, negative judgments have not been limited to distant institutions in the nation's capital. Expressing skepticism about their interactions with others, respondents increasingly have doubted that "people can be trusted," believing instead that "you can't be too careful in dealing with people" (Davis & Smith, 2009, p. 1811). Scholars studying trust worldwide have reported similar trends in Canada, much of Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and elsewhere (Catterberg & Moreno, 2005; Mackie, 2001; Newton, 2001).

Scholars have offered various explanations for this apparent decline of trust (Norris, 2011). Some point to the performance of government, which in the United States has been implicated in scandals like Watergate and declarations of war but not victory on problems like poverty and terrorism (Behn, 2002). Others highlight news and entertainment media practices that depict a world of strangers who warrant suspicion, since they may swindle or even physically harm earnest citizens (Jamieson & Cappella, 1997). Still others identify generational changes, explaining that the celebrated "greatest generation" in the United States, which survived the Great Depression and defeated fascists in Europe and Asia, constituted a trusting generation, whereas successive generations have trusted strangers less and less (Putnam, 2000). Emphasizing economic developments, some scholars maintain that people who feel financially secure report higher levels of trust but that declining incomes and decreased job security in many Western nations undermine a sense of financial security (Patterson, 1999).

While some scholars interpret declining measures of trust as indicating a healthy skepticism among citizens, others warn of a weakened democracy populated by less engaged citizens (Inglehart, 1999). In his widely cited study of civic engagement, Robert Putnam (2000) offers a glimpse of what could be lost if people stop trusting each other--inclinations toward volunteering, contributing to charity, joining community organizations, serving on juries, giving blood, paying taxes, and more. These activities thrive when people regard each other as capable agents who have a stake in public affairs. Putnam (2000) concludes that "people who trust others are all-round good citizens" (p. 137). They cultivate democratic norms and practices that create opportunities for wider public engagement. Further, trusting citizens may direct their energies to institutions and to each other. Connecting these areas of trust, Danielle Allen (2004) explains that democracy needs institutions that "can act in the people's name and maintain the allegiance of the citizenry, but its citizens also need means of cultivating relationships among themselves that can nourish political trust" (p. 87). Yet if the importance of building trust is evident, the means for doing so remain elusive.

In this context, deliberation appears as a potentially valuable resource. Deliberation may facilitate engagement across differences in complex and diverse societies, where people need to justify to each other their publicly articulated values, interests, identities, and goals. In this spirit, Gerard Hauser and Chantal Benoit-Barne (2002) discern in deliberation the potential to build trust by offering interlocutors the "opportunity to acquire a sense of the range of difference and the mediating grounds of similarity that make it possible for us to form a civic community based on relations of collaboration" (p. …

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