Mary F. Scudder, "Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation" (Oxford UP, 2020)

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Mary (Molly) Scudder, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Purdue University, has a new book that focuses on an incredibly timely issue: how do citizens with deep and conflicting differences come together to foster democratic life? Part of the answer, according to Scudder, is by pursuing the political power of listening. In her book, Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation (Oxford UP, 2020), Scudder examines a listening-based approach that moves a step further than previous empathy-based approaches within public and political conversation. This emphasis, on refining and engaging the capacity to listen, weaves together aspects of different dimensions of our understanding of democracy, building on the theoretical approaches to democracy to explore how listening to opposing ideas is particularly important in developing public policy. As the title of the book indicates, Scudder’s thinking suggests that empathy and inclusion, while important, are insufficient tools to bridge opposing viewpoints and differences.

Communication and debate amongst citizens, or deliberation, are essential components of democratic citizenship. Without forms of listening, actually hearing, and taking in differing positions and ideas, democracy cannot really function as established. The importance is in the act of listening. Scudder defends this position by explaining the results and limitations to incorporating an empathy-based approach to politics and how this can further drive a wedge between differing groups and identities. An empathic approach to deliberative democracy is important in understanding or putting oneself in another’s shoes, in understanding the position of other citizens. The difficulty that Scudder notes regarding empathy is that it may demobilize citizens, moving them away from political engagement. Beyond Empathy and Inclusion examines how we act in listening, if we are actively or performatively listening, we are giving legitimacy to the opinions and ideas of others, even if we continue to disagree with them. This is a listening-based approach to political engagement in democracy that promotes both inclusion and uptake. Uptake, as defined in Beyond Empathy and Inclusion, is a concept which can empirically measure the effectiveness in and of listening. Finally, Scudder puts her ideas and theories to work in politics with a practical evaluation regarding the currently polarized political climate and the capacity to listen to opposing ideas. Disagreement is acceptable and expected, but the various positions need to be heard—this is how both the form of government itself, democracy, and the institutional outcomes, the policies and laws, will all maintain legitimacy. Scudder presents a political work that engages with current citizen deliberation while also giving her readers the ability to improve their own skills to better contribute to public and political life within American democracy.

Shaina Boldt assisted with the production of this podcast.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015).

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