Reconceptualizing Dialogue in Environmental Public Participation



In this article we argue that the attempt to overcome technical dominance with democratic procedures has reduced communication to fair procedural rules that do not fully recognize the rhetorical functions of dialogue. The meaning generation process, although important, is not sufficiently accounted for in current participation theories and models. Here, we use Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogic perspective to explore a “sense-making” discourse that includes embracing differences, generating new meanings, and engaging in an open-ended dialogue. This mode of discourse works to construct understanding through a multi-voiced, ongoing struggle among perspectives. It intermingles with a problem-solving discourse focused on developing agreement among disparate views within democratic processes. These types of discourse have differing, yet complimentary goals and we see them as alternating throughout public participation to encourage long-term interaction and relationship building. We highlight techniques that illustrate some ways of encouraging a sense-making discourse and touch upon several lessons they provide for implementing this type of discourse within democratic models.