Democratic engagement through the ethic of passionate impartiality

Leah Sprain, Martín Carcasson


Building on conceptions of democratic engagement, we explicate the epistemological and political commitments of engaged scholarship tied to deliberative democracy that responds to the neutrality challenge of doing impactful political work without advocating for a particular political position. The Colorado State University Center for Public Deliberation (CPD) provides a model of democratic engagement by serving as an impartial resource for its community, in part by training students to be facilitators of public processes. This type of democratic engagement can cultivate mutual benefits for students, professors, universities, community organizations, and citizens. We offer a principle of passionate impartiality for guiding process-design and facilitation. Passionately impartial scholars and students are passionate about their community, democracy, and solving problems but are nonetheless committed to serving a primarily impartial, process-focused role in order to improve local communication practices. Drawing on challenges from critical theory and the academy, we offer a nuanced account of what it means to negotiate the tensions between serving an impartial role while also upholding democratic values of equality and inclusion. 


Democratic engagement; passionate impartiality; deliberation

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