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Olimpija Hristova Book Review 03.11.2011 Steiner Jürg, André Bächtiger, Markus Spörndli and Marco R. Steenbergen. 2005. Deliberative Politics in Action Analyzing Parliamentary Discourse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. It is easy to hold tightly to the attitude that political decision making is all about power. By this we disregard a bundle of representative democracy qualities, neglecting the importance of democratic institutions where arguments are contested. The anecdotal nature of t
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  Olimpija Hristova Book Review 03.11.2011Steiner Jürg, André Bächtiger, Markus Spörndli and Marco R. Steenbergen. 2005.  Deliberative Politics in Action Analyzing Parliamentary Discourse, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.It is easy to hold tightly to the attitude that political decision making is all about power. By this wedisregard a bundle of representative democracy qualities, neglecting the importance of democraticinstitutions where arguments are contested. The anecdotal nature of the argument that parliament is a placefor civilized deliberative discussion is what moves Jürg Steiner and three other scholars to give empiricalgrounds for the normative judgments on how important deliberation is in democracies. “Deliberative Politicsin Action” (2005) is based on the Habermasian deliberative model and offered to a diverse audience: firstare the political philosophers who are presented with empirical data from the measurement of discoursequality (interchangeably used with deliberation) using a Discourse Quality Index - DQI. The secondaudience is the scholars of political institutions, who according to the authors, have been neglecting the roleof deliberation in legislative institutions; and the third audience are those interested in comparative politicssince the research is conducted in four countries, namely, Switzerland, Germany, USA and Great Britain. Igive an overview of the main ideas and findings of this book and I briefly elaborate on whether the authorsachieved the primary goal of their work.Steiner et al. use the Habermasian ideal type model of deliberation as the basis of their research because the variables in his model are consistent and because Habermas is the one who mostly contributes tothe debates on deliberation in politics. The model includes participation by all citizens equally; truthfulexpression of attitudes; logical justification of assertions and claims, common good centered arguments;genuine respect towards other people’s arguments and willingness for yielding to the better argument alsoknown as constructive politics. Steiner et al. remind us of the number of criticisms to this model like theomission of humor as a deliberative component or Mouffe’s alternative model of antagonism. FinallyChambers’ skepticism that the political outcomes speak sufficiently for the decision-making process itself,does not hinder the authors to empirically test the basis of the deliberative process (42).Upon these components, the authors create the Discourse Quality Index through a coding processconducted on parliamentary speeches in the House of Commons in the UK in 1998. They achieved highinter-coder reliability of RCA (ratio of coding agreement) = 0.915 (91.5) with 99 % certainty (55). The unitof analysis is a speech that contains demand  but they do not elaborate sufficiently why speeches withoutdemand in themselves would not be relevant. I would also like to see an attempt for measuring truthfulnessin this coding process, even an unsuccessful one by maybe observing MP’s personal motivation behind their argument. By excluding this measurement, the authors leave the impression that they do not want to touchon a fragile component of the deliberative model and put it as a whole in question.    Nonetheless, as the authors, I find it valid to look at the favorable institutional conditions, in this case parliamentary arrangements, for measurement of high quality discourse and the influence of the latter on the policy outcomes. This means that on the continuum of the DQI, the legislature will score higher or lower depending on the institutional factors (consensual or competitive systems) furthermore the degree to whichthe opinions on the issue discussed are polarized. They test six hypotheses on typologically chosen bothideal type and most comparable cases; namely, parliamentary debates in Switzerland as consensual,Germany, UK and the USA as competitive systems. These political systems have different veto powers,different levels of public- private debate and differences in the discussion between the first and the secondchamber. Debates are chosen to represent both less polarizing issues such as language bills, animal welfareand care for disabled people and highly polarizing issues like abortion and minimum wage. The speeches aremeasured as dichotomies: they either possess the characteristics like respects, justification, constructive politics or not.Having in mind that Steiner et al. want to know more than what political culture might tell us aboutinstitutions, they conclude that discourse quality is higher in consensus systems, but constructive politicsdoes not change across systems. In their understanding constructive politics means that politicians are readyto adjust their arguments or even accept new ones. The discouragement from this finding however still keepsSteiner et al. optimistic about a valuable indicator that respect is the most sensitive to institutional. They seeit as a “window of opportunity” that has the potential to change political outcomes especially in anatmosphere of mutual distrust.But how relevant is it to look only in parliaments? Besides the fact that parliaments are supposed to be the major place of deliberation and decision-making, we know how other institutions and informalmeetings between politicians are much more decisive. Therefore, in my opinion, this study is limited tocomparative parliamentary analysis. Aware of this limitation, Steiner et al. see parliaments only as a goodstarting point for further measurement of deliberation in informal meetings, cabinet sessions, civil societyand other kinds of public debates as well. I still think that in all those case, the code they use will undergoextensive modification or even an entirely different DQI. The hardship of coming to terms with a DQI isvisible even in their modification of the DQI from Chapter 3, changed in Chapter 5 and Chapter 6, leavingthe impression of inconsistency with the main argument they analyze. Another disadvantage is that Steiner et al. exclude the interjections in the debates from the overall results, which to me set artificial standards for a debate. Finally, taking Switzerland, a very unique democratic case, as the best representative for consensual democracy limits the study to comparison with an ideal democratic case. Practically, here thestudy falls short in providing grounds for analysis in developing consociational democracies by setting veryhigh standards for discourse quality.  Lastly, Steiner et al. address the question of interest to the scholars of political institutions: To whatextent deliberation affects the political outcomes? To give the contrast on procedure and outcome, they testtwo hypotheses of whether unified decisions are more likely where there is a high level of parliamentarydeliberation and whether egalitarian decisions are more likely under high level of parliamentarydeliberation. They look at the work of the German Mediation Committee (VA), an institution that mediates between the Federal Diet (Bundestag) and the Federal Council (Bundesrat), consisting of eleven membersfrom different parties, practicing simple majority for decisions but no voting in parliament. The time spanmeasured includes different partisan majorities from 1969- 1982 who discuss legal, social and labor policieswhen partisan conflicts are at their highest peak. The authors acknowledge that looking at one institutionlimits the universe of cases and the external validity of the explanation, but VA is selected on the basis of  being in the middle of the competitive-consensus continuum, so they consider it can serve as a baseline for many comparative studies with institutions of this kind. Steiner et al. discover a strong correlation betweenthe discourse quality and the unified decisions but no relationship between the substance of decisions[accomplished equality] and discourse quality.“Deliberative Politics in Action” definitely engages the reader in a cohesive and relevant research,where Steiner et al. implicitly show favor towards deliberation and cheer for the attention than need to be paid on the “small shifts in institutional design”(137). Besides the optimism they infuse about the smallshifts on the DQI continuum especially with regard to the respect, the authors admit that the presumptionthat power politics shapes the decisions gets support in their study. However, through the coding processand the explanation of the measurement, the research gives extensive ground for further evaluation of thecomponents of the deliberative model. One important suggestion is broadening the case studies to someunstable societies for instance in the Balkans. Here I suggest that it is inevitable to consider the influence of the international factor since a lot of the debates and consensus building among politicians is done in the presence of foreign monitoring missions or negotiators. This book might leave the impression of incompleteness but it certainly gives many incentives for political scientists to search for find characteristicwhich if creatively considered, can increase the discourse quality in may institutions but also non-institutionalized forms of deliberation.
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