Public Discourse: Importance & Strategies

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  • 0:04 Public Discourse Definition
  • 1:07 Public Discourse Purpose
  • 2:16 Public Discourse Importance
  • 3:33 Public Discourse & Persuasion
  • 5:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David White
Public discourse is one of the most important aspects of a democracy. Through this lesson, you will learn what defines public discourse, gain insight into its significance in democratic countries and explore strategies for crafting a successful argument.

Public Discourse Definition

If you pay attention to American news programs, you've probably noticed that there is a growing divide in the US around many social and political issues. The country's two major political parties (Republicans and Democrats) seem to be having considerable difficulty cooperating with each other. This, in many ways, is a reflection of how well the rest of the American public communicates when it comes to differences of opinion.

These big discussions that include or influence the American public are referred to as public discourse. In technical terms, discourse is a fancy word for a dialog or discussion. For example, if you are debating the value of buffalo chicken wings versus BBQ chicken with a friend; you are engaged in discourse. When discussions focus on national issues that are followed by or affect large sections of a population, they become part of the public discourse. In a very broad sense, this is how we arrive at a public opinion or consensus on issues over which people are divided.

Purpose of Public Discourse

If we all agreed on everything and were always cooperative, there would be no need for public discourse because everyone would want the same things. In reality, the United States (and countries with similar social and political systems) is what's known as a pluralistic nation. This means that the population is made up of people from various racial, ethnic and spiritual backgrounds, all of which influence their beliefs and opinions to various degrees. As a result, people want different things for themselves and their country, which puts them at odds with other groups. For example, atheistic or secular young people are generally in favor of same-sex marriage, while religious conservative groups tend to oppose it.

What if everyone just lived by their own rules and did whatever they wanted? You can probably imagine that such a thing would cause absolute chaos and isn't exactly the best way to go about operating a country. Therefore, to keep the nation from collapsing, there needs to be some compromises, laws, and social expectations that will hold everything together, all of which we arrive at through public discourse.

Public Discourse Importance

Though not exclusively political, in the US, public discourse has a lot to do with our right to free speech and the fact that we have a representative government, a system in which different towns, cities and counties are represented by individual politicians. We elect these politicians so that our beliefs, needs and wants are brought to the attention of the federal government, who craft laws based on those things. Given that, public discourse is the primary forum in which individual people can voice their concerns and wants and become educated about the concerns and wants of other people.

Let's look at another issue over which many people have become divided: gun rights. The second amendment of the US Constitution affords all people the right to own and use a gun, but many people want that changed or restricted in various ways to protect people's safety and sense of security. Because there are two (or more) very different perspectives on this, public discourse is used to discuss the issue, present the evidence and make our voices heard. After doing so, our representative government gathers together to consider the evidence and opinions expressed in the public discourse and will attempt to find a compromise that will meet the needs of both or all sides of the issue.

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