Civic Disputes in Focus

Making Democracy Work

The Civic Inquirer Project

Peter Alexander Meyers, Director

THE CIVIC INQUIRER is an innovative experiment aimed to create and implement new practices for citizens. We are interested in existing forms of politics and civic engagements insofar as they may advance or constrain this goal. We focus on pragmatic inquiry, or the way every sort of person must ask and answer questions to address their problems and advance or defend their interests. THE CIVIC INQUIRER intends to develop as a tool for citizens in the pursuit of real lives, attainable liberties, and the happiness that comes from increased agency in a common world.

OUR ULTIMATE GOAL is to alter the conduct of civic disputes.

The civic is a specifically human type of relationship oriented towards problem-solving in an interdependent world. It is manifest in personal capacities that we can see called forth in disputes. Through the encounter of civic capacities, the common world is transformed in a drama that repeatedly unfolds on the public stage.

A dispute is the transformation of a problem through speech into a special type of disagreement. It is a way of reorganizing problems that makes them susceptible to human problem-solving capacity. THE CIVIC INQUIRER focuses on disputes because that is where civic capacity typically takes shape and is applied. The civic evolves in this crucible of interest and ideas.

Disputes differ from other sorts of disagreement because they are driven by underlying and urgent stakes. THE CIVIC INQUIRER is not concerned with arguments about abstract issues between persons whose lives will remain the same no matter the outcome.

Within the “real time” and respecting the real forces of public disputes, THE CIVIC INQUIRER intends to orchestrate structured collaborations to bring into contact two types of persons. The first is the Citizen, or any person motivated by and situated within the typical problems of civic life. Citizens are inherently bearers of irreplaceable “local knowledge” concerning problems in their own lives and in their own communities. The second type of person is the professional researcher, which is to say, bearers of general, empirical, scientific, legal, or practical knowledge that has potential to reconfigure grounded disputes and thus open towards unexpected solutions invented and pursued by the participants themselves.

In this way, THE CIVIC INQUIRER values both expertise and democratic autonomy. We affirm that both are essential for satisfactory civic life. We do not promote the substitution of one for the other. Without pretending to find consensus or more than momentary negotiated agreements, our goal is to transform the style of and possibilities within contestations inevitably engaged by citizens around everyday community matters, ranging from the uses of streets to access to housing, from demands upon schools to responsive policing, from accommodation of immigrants to care for local environments, and the many similar matters that you will bring to us.

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