National Writing Project

Writing as Dialogue Across Difference: Inventing Genres to Support Deliberative Democracy

By: Jennifer Clifton
Publication: English Journal
Date: November 2013

Summary: Stories of "critical incidents", narratives of unresolved conflict which provide information about the stakeholders' social contexts, challenges, and approaches to those challenges, can play a crucial role in building productive dialogue about problems in diverse groups. Jennifer Clifton and Justin Sigoloff share their experience developing the critical incident as a genre of writing, and show how having students write these narratives helps them consider the perspectives and interests of competing stakeholders, and approach conflicts not as arguments to be won, but as issues requiring deliberation and change.


It is through deliberation together that we 'clarif[y] problems, risks, and possibilities we face as humans and societies' (Flyvbjerg 4); frame (and then reframe) issues of shared concern; and weigh possible courses of action. But if the confusion over the Day of Remembrance is any indication, greater visibility and broader circulation alone are not enough to call young people into productive dialogue across difference.

In this article, we contend that high school English classes are a critical place for teaching democratic ways with words, and we call on and extend the tools of intercultural inquiry (Flower; Higgins, Long, and Flower) for the purposes of teaching democratic deliberation. Here we describe our collaborative engagement with an inventive data-driven genre—the critical incident, a genre capable of calling people from different social, cultural, and economic positions into productive dialogue to discover and deliberate issues of shared concern. While certainly the outcomes of deliberation are important, here we focus on teaching an inventive genre, accessible to youth, capable of calling people with divergent interests to the table and, thus, constructing spaces of deliberation."

About the Authors

JENNIFER CLIFTON is a professor at the University of Missouri, and is the director of the Missouri Writing Project.

JUSTIN SIGOLOFF is a creative director for Mission HydroSci, a game-based virtual learning environment being created by the University of Missouri.

Clifton, Jennifer and Justin Sigoloff. "Writing as Dialogue Across Difference: Inventing Genres to Support Deliberative Democracy." English Journal 103:2 (2013) 73-84. Copyright ©2013 by the National Council of Teachers of English. Reprinted with permission.

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