Why Conversation Is Not the Soul of Democracy

By Michael Schudson, Charles Girard

Inspired by the writings of John Dewey among others, communication studies has often taken face-to-face conversation to be the heart of democratic life. But face-to-face conversation has been as honored in aristocracies as in democracies, and there are, in fact, two distinctive and contrasting ideals of conversation: the social conversation and the problem-solving conversation. Conversation that serves democracy is distinguished not by egalitarianism but governed by norms and “publicness,” not by spontaneity but by civility, and not by its priority or superiority to print and broadcast media but by its necessary dependence on them. An argument is offered that institutions and norms of democracy give rise to democratic conversations rather than that the inherent democracy of conversation gives rise to politically democratic norms and institutions.


  • conversation
  • democracy
  • equality
  • sociability
  • problem-solving
  • norms of discussion
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