Some Ways of Measuring Quality of Conversation

There are many ways to consider how well a discourse community handles disagreement, including the following:

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  • How diverse are the viewpoints in circulation?
  • How fairly do viewpoints describe others?
  • How well do interlocutors converge on shared questions (stasis)?

To even begin to consider these questions requires more self-awareness than is often available, especially within a setting of hierarchical power relations. And all discourse communities have foundational values and assumptions that they are not quick to interrogate.

“Of course we value disagreement,” we might say while at the same time deploying all manner of closures to shut down conversation.

So perhaps before the above questions can be raised for a detailed discourse analysis, others can be considered to help support a more reflective and change-oriented mindset:

  • To what extent do we acknowledge that different viewpoints event exist?
  • Where are we making out assumptions explicit?
  • What has been normalized? What do we think can’t be different and why?
  • What do we think is good that might not be as good as we thought? What might we see as bad that could be good?

About Todd Battistelli

Rhetorician and writing teacher. Keeping an eye on the state of civic discourse.
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