Title

Socrates café: an effective mechanism for realising a more participatory democracy?

Date of Award

2009

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Faculty

Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Lelia Green

Second Advisor

Maggi Phillips

Abstract

This thesis interrogates the practices of the Socrates Café initiative since it was inaugurated nearly 13 years ago by the author of this dissertation. It seeks to critique whether Socrates Café – which strives to establish democratic communities of philosophical inquiry – has successfully embodied the stated goals of the non-profit Society for Philosophical Inquiry, or SPI, as enumerated on the website www.philosopher.org. These goals are to support “philosophical inquirers of all ages and walks of life as they become more empathetic and autonomous thinkers who take active part in creating a more deliberative democracy” The author of this dissertation co-founded SPI, and it is under its auspices that the Socrates Café project is spearheaded.

The Socrates Café ‘movement’ has spawned the establishment of more than 500 democratic communities of philosophical inquiry around the globe, with a decided majority in the U.S., gathering in sundry venues and contexts. Meetings convene primarily in cafés, but also in places like community centres, seniors’ residences, churches, schools from primary to secondary level, universities, libraries, prisons, as well as on the radio and in cyberspace, e.g. online dialogue groups and social networking sites, and virtual reality applications such as Second Life (www.secondlife.com). The working hypothesis is that the Socrates Café initiative has had signal accomplishments, even if these have not always completely coincided with, or fully realised, the stated overarching aims of the non-profit SPI, of which Socrates Café is the flagship undertaking.

In some instances, the Socrates Café dialogue groups may have met or exceeded objectives; in others, they have made beneficial advances for fostering a more participatory democracy, perhaps in unexpected or unintended ways; and still in others, they have not achieved the elaborated aims SPI. Consequently, it is incumbent to speculate, evidentially, discursively and creatively, on what might be further required to realise the long-term ends of Socrates Café, namely of fomenting greater grassroots deliberative democracy.

This thesis recognises the embodied nature of face-to-face dialogical exchange as the foundation for the Socrates Café movement. It further interrogates the inclusive and participatory approach of embracing all participants, regardless of age, education, background or philosophical experience, as potential facilitators of a Café exchange. Building on the thirteen years of evolving public practice, the project combines performative components, to demonstrate engagement in action and the processual nature of the investigation, with more traditional research, including quantitative and qualitative analysis. It includes the results of a survey of Socrates Café facilitators and coordinators for evaluating the achievements of Socrates Café against the stated goals of the Society for Philosophical Inquiry. Ultimately, this thesis strives to identify a gap between the aims of the SPI and the achievements of the Socrates Café initiative which will be assessed via critical analysis of research outcomes. This in turn will serve as a platform for proposing how best to remedy such a prospective gap, bringing the practice of Socrates Cafe into closer alignment with its promise.

LCSH Subject Headings

Philosophy, Modern - 20th century

Political socialization

Democracy - Moral and ethical aspects

Access Note

Access to this thesis - the full text is restricted to current ECU staff and students by author's request. Email request to library@ecu.edu.au

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