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Institute for Civic Discourse and Democracy


Dialogue is a special kind of communicative relationship; the kind of relationship which broadens worldviews, reshapes perspectives, and speaks to both our cognitive and emotional capacities for mutual engagement.[1] A helpful distinction comes from the introduction to Creating Space for Democracy:

At the most basic level, dialogue is not about trying to win an argument (the realm of debate); rather, it is a collaborative and relational process to engage with others and cocreate meaning. At the ontological level, in the words of philosopher Martin Buber (1947), “the basic movement of the life of dialogue is the turning towards the other” (p. 22). Educators like bell hooks, Paulo Freire, Meg Wheatley, and Myles Horton have since expanded these ideas to make dialogue a fundamental vehicle for understanding issues and making social change.

With echoes of the seminal writings of Martin Buber and scholarly work in the area of communication studies, Laura Black (2015) describes dialogue as “communication that involves a moment of full mutuality between people” (p. 365). She notes further that dialogue is “a way of speaking and relating in which both parties are fully present, open about their ideas, and accepting of the other people involved, even while engaging in disagreement” (pp. 365–366). Dialogue in this sense is a way of being as well as a way of communicating between people or groups.[2]

[1] Oliver Escobar, Public Dialogue and Deliberation: A Communication Perspective for Public Engagement Practitioners (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Beltane, 2011), 16.

[2] Nicholas V. Longo and Timothy J. Shaffer, "Discussing Democracy: Learning to Talk Together," in Creating Space for Democracy: A Primer on Dialogue and Deliberation in Higher Education, ed. Nicholas V. Longo and Timothy J. Shaffer (Sterling, VA: Stylus, 2019), 21-22.