Americans share a mutual frustration with the climate of public discourse today. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though there is nothing to be gained from talking about contentious issues. Public discourse is, however, essential to democracy. Voters, activists, and policy makers cannot make informed decisions unless they are able to listen to different perspectives. Moreover, many of the practices that are essential to democracy—including compromise, negotiation, and persuasion—require dialogue with others. During the 2021-2022 academic year, PPD invites the broader UNC community to participate in an ongoing conversation about how to strengthen American democracy by improving public discourse.
We will kick off this year’s theme with a panel discussion in which UNC faculty draw on research from various disciplines to identify obstacles to effective public discourse and explain how those obstacles might be addressed. Our signature Abbey Speaker Series events will explore particular challenges to constructive public discourse in more detail, such as the political, economic, and cultural divide between urban and rural citizens and the ways in which social media has transformed how citizens communicate with each other. Finally, the Agora Fellows will do a variety of activities related to our theme, including an ongoing discussion of Danielle Allen’s Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.