Affinity Groups, Enclave Deliberation, and Equity

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The newDemocracy Foundation


There is growing appreciation for the value of holding enclave dialogue and deliberation among marginalized peoples in their own affinity groups, as one stage in a larger conversation with the broader public or with public officials. These enclaves may be disempowered by enduring political inequalities, or in relation to a particular issue under discussion, or by the act of deliberation itself. Recent research and practice has demonstrated that well-structured dialogue and deliberation in enclaves can increase the inclusion, participation, and influence of members of society who have been excluded from public discourse, while avoiding the dangers of coercion, sectarianism, conformism, error, and illegitimacy. We review normative arguments and empirical evidence for the judicious use of affinity group enclaves to advance equity. We show multiple ways in which enclaves can be incorporated into democratic projects and processes that also include discussion among more representative samples of the public and with government. We offer design principles for affinity group discussion, which are illustrated by a recent series of dialogues on Facing Racism in a Diverse Nation, organized in the U.S. by Everyday Democracy. Finally, we discuss conditions in which enclave deliberation is most likely to be needed to create equity and suggest an agenda for future research.