[cross-posted at deliberative-democracy.net]
Today’s New York Times features the very interesting article “Japan Learns Dreaded Task of Jury Duty.” The article reports on a central tension facing the Japanese as they move towards using juries in their court system:
Japan is preparing to adopt a jury-style system in its courts in 2009, the most significant change in its criminal justice system since the postwar American occupation. But for it to work, the Japanese must first overcome some deep-rooted cultural obstacles: a reluctance to express opinions in public, to argue with one another and to question authority.
And it goes on to describe how participating in simulated jury deliberations is causing a great deal of embarrassment and moral confusion for Japanese citizens who have grown up in a culture that values that harmony, ambiguity and not speaking up.
Although it takes place in a context very different from the US, I thought this article was a great example of the role culture plays in shaping dialogue and deliberation, and raises questions for US theorists and practitioners to consider. Even within the US, cultural norms about public talk vary from region to region - in the Midwest, where I teach, it’s clear that people are not as comfortable publicly disagreeing with one another as they may be in other parts of the country. How can we researchers and practitioners be sensitive to different cultural values about public talk, and try to accommodate them? Or should we aim instead to develop a widespread national culture that normalizes forthright discussion, and that overrides cultural shyness about public disagreement?