Intergroup Dialogue: Deliberative Democracy in School, College, Community, and Workplace

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Intergroup dialogue represents a grassroots effort to meet one of the major challenges facing our democracy today: the lack of communication among diverse groups of people in schools, in communities, and in the workplace. By forging lines of communication among different elements of society, intergroup dialogue helps to create a more just, harmonious, and strong democracy.

Intergroup Dialogue is the most comprehensive study of intergroup dialogue to date, showcasing twelve in-depth case studies, offering critical perspectives, and exploring the foundation of such dialogue in democratic theory. The case studies are drawn from leading American organizations offering intergroup dialogue, including the Anti-Defamation League and the National Conference for Community and Justice, as well as several major universities and consultants to corporate America. Each case study presents a particular program's rationale, its details, an account of its successes, and evaluation data.

The pieces collected by David Schoem and Sylvia Hurtado will be of interest to community leaders, teachers, human resources managers, student affairs deans, and intergroup dialogue practitioners in the United States and abroad.

David Schoem is Faculty Director of the Michigan Community Scholars Program and teaches in the Sociology Department, University of Michigan. Sylvia Hurtado is Associate Professor of Higher Education, University of Michigan Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780472097821
  • Publisher: University of Michigan Press
  • Publication date: 8/7/2001
  • Pages: 376
  • Product dimensions: 6.33 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.01 (d)

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Intergroup Dialogue: Deliberative Democracy in School, College, Community, and Workplace

By Sylvia Hurtado

University of Michigan Press

Copyright © 2001 Sylvia Hurtado
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0472067826

Chapter 1 - Intergroup Dialogue: Democracy at Work in Theory and Practice

David Schoem, Sylvia Hurtado, Todd Sevig, Mark Chesler, and Stephen H. Sumida

The issues range from race relations to family relations and from peace talks to schoolyard discipline. Today, people in all walks of life report they are confronted with problems of intergroup relations, and many seek some venue to join in dialogue about these issues. Why? Because every day in contemporary society we face conflicts rooted in the historical legacies of the social divisions of our country and because, at the same time, we embrace a pluralistic and democratic America that functions on deliberation, thrives on difference of opinion, and operates on principles of representation. How do we achieve our highest aspirations for a just society in the face of continuing segregation and social divisions in the United States? Each of us, in addition to our unique, individual identities, is a representation of our communities, be they organized by race and ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or class. We must talk with each other to survive as a society. For individuals, success in an increasingly diverse society will depend on having the skills to bridge the spectrum of social differences to help create the type of society we aspire to be. Further, it is important to develop a vehicle for more individuals to deal comfortably with conflict, social differences, and sociohistorical legacies that shape their daily interactions.

Although the notion of bringing groups together to address long-standing conflict has been with us for a great many years, it has gained acclaim and renewed interest as the nation enters the twenty-first century. A small number of education, community, and business leaders have quietly fostered and advanced intergroup dialogue and other conversations at the local level for over a decade (Statham 1997). Media interest and public awareness rose to a new level when President Bill Clinton highlighted the notion of dialogue in the mid-1990s as part of his "Initiative on Race" (One America 1998). He and Hillary Clinton, masters of the town hall meeting, moderated televised conversations in auditoriums filled with thousands of adults and children. Others jumped on the bandwagon, offering what they referred to as "dialogues" to high school and college students, community and government leaders, and corporate managers (Promising Practices 1997). These dialogues came in forms that varied widely in format, including workshops; lectures; one-time, one-hour conversations about race and diversity; and peer-mediated, small, interactive, sustained face-to-face discussions between two groups in conflict (Promising Practices 1997; Statham 1997; Du Bois and Hutson 1997; Sherman et al. 1998).

We clearly embrace the notion of conversation and dialogue, and we applaud much of the work that has gone forward under this broad umbrella. However, we approach the topic with some particular notions as to what intergroup dialogue is and what it is not, and what are the conceptual underpinnings of this uniquely democratic practice. We also have a clear sense of the difficult practical, intellectual, and theoretical struggles that exist for those who engage in this activity and wish to bring about understanding among groups to bridge differences that are evident. In this chapter we present our framework for thinking conceptually and pragmatically about intergroup dialogue by discussing intergroup dialogue as deliberative democracy, defining what is intergroup dialogue, and exploring its place in a just and diverse democracy.

Intergroup Dialogue as Deliberative, Participatory Democracy

One of the greatest challenges facing democracy in the United States is for its citizens to learn how to live together across their different backgrounds without resorting to inequality, subjugation, and oppression. It is the challenge of how best to build upon difference and conflict in ways that are beneficial to the development and sustenance of a just society (West 1994; Young 1990). This challenge is bound to the history of humankind, not just the history of the United States. But it is an ideal that the American people have long held for the country and its democratic principles through our nation's history and into the present (Hughes 1992; Takaki 1993). The ideal speaks forcefully to the enormous amount of work yet to be done. And yet there are no other national examples to turn to that offer a sustained, successful model for the development of a just society. In fact, the negative models, precisely what we wish to reach beyond, continue to predominate throughout the world. The necessary vision, and the accompanying responsibility and work to see it to fruition, rests today with each and every citizen participating together in the best of democratic practice (Guarasci and Cornwell 1997).

In recent years a growing concern has been expressed for the strength and endurance of democracy in the United States. The uprisings/riots of 1992 in East Los Angeles, the growth of militia groups, and the widespread cynicism toward federal and state governments exemplified by the Clinton impeachment debates are symbolic of a deepening crisis facing the core of this nation (West 1994). Progress toward racial justice moves ever so slowly even in the best of economic times, assaults on separation of church and state are unceasing, violent hate crimes against gays are reported with increasing frequency, the gap between wealthy and poor seems impenetrable, and moves to reduce gender inequity are blamed for much of society's ills. The yuppies and "Me" generation of the 1980s, the enormous accumulations of assets by our wealthiest, and the growing influence of the corporate and special interest lobby groups all carry a message that is a far cry from President John Kennedy's famous words, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

The decline of the last quarter century in civic engagement and the deep cynicism toward public life have been publicly heralded by the "bowling alone" metaphor made popular by Robert Putnam (2000). The significant declines in voter turnout and political involvement, the very low interest in current events on the part of young people, the drastic drop in public trust of the federal government and government leaders, and the astonishingly negative turnabout in participation in public meetings for towns or schools lead many to worry deeply about the decline of civil society and democratic institutions (Dionne 1998). While others interpret the data in a somewhat less threatening manner (Wuthnow 1998), they still acknowledge a sense of porousness in society's civic life, a withdrawal from the traditional communal infrastructures and bonds toward a society that is held together only by "loose connections."

Skocpol and Fiorina (1999, 2) write, "Everyday Americans are increasingly mere spectators of public affairs. Much of the time they are benignly disinterested observers; at other moments angry or cynical. Either way, ordinary citizens have less and less involvement in shaping our common affairs." In turn, the very real danger to society is that our democracy is both increasingly organized by those who are more privileged and, as a result, increasingly serves the interests of those who are more privileged.

The decline in democratic processes is certainly one source of concern, but it is almost necessarily accompanied by a concern about democratic outcomes, in this case, continuing and growing inequality in society.

The alternative vision is that of a strong democracy with facilitating leaders building civic competence (Barber 1998), where individuals speak out spontaneously against ordinary injustice (Rosenblum 1998), and where engaged citizens act in a spirit of social justice and equality, doing with one another, not for one another (Skocpol 1998). This is not a new vision for the United States, but it is one that represents a significantly different ideal of the democratic community, one of difference, connection, and equality (Guarasci and Cornwell 1997). And the vision of a strong democracy may very well be one that is sustained by its citizens embracing community in small groups rather than enormous political organizations (Walzer 1998).

Intergroup dialogue is one significant and bold model of small groups of people coming together from various walks of life to build a strong democracy (Schoem 1995). Intergroup dialogue represents a grassroots effort that is a constructive response to the challenges facing our fragile democracy (Schoem 1991b). It is a positive effort on the part of the citizenry to take initiative and responsibility for talking about building a just, multicultural society (Du Bois and Hutson 1997).

In a sense, intergroup dialogue is a diverse twenty-first-century version of the homogeneous nineteenth-century town hall meeting: sleeves rolled up, talking directly, honestly, and sometimes quite harshly about the most difficult and pressing topics of the day, and then moving forward together with solutions to strengthen the community and the nation. It is local hands-on work to build community in schools, in neighborhoods, in the workplace, in government. However, in the age-old New England-style town hall meeting, there was an assumption of homogeneity of experience, including religion, race, and common goals and values among community members who came together to deliberate differences of opinion and resolve problems. This homogeneity, coupled with common problems and hardships (and even common enemies), served to maintain social cohesion among community members as they shared differences of opinion. Although intergroup dialogues can be arranged to address problems that must be resolved across groups, unlike a town hall meeting, there is no assumption of homogeneity or common goals among different group members. In fact, the assumption is that members who come together in a dialogue likely will have different sociohistorical legacies steeped in intergroup antagonisms due to unequal social relations, hold stereotypical views of each others' behaviors and values, and question whether they are members of the same community (Zuniga et al. 1996).

This is the reality of many of the social differences that permeate our contemporary societal institutions (schools and colleges) and diverse communities. Thus, an important starting point for any intergroup dialogue is the assumption and acknowledgment of group differences. Through discussion, dialogue participants begin to understand why there may be group differences as well as to see that group members are more divergent in opinion and experience than group "stereotypes" convey (Lopez, Gurin, and Nagda 1998). Participants may begin to see that these differences deserve respect and that they are not as divisive or incompatible as they seemed on the surface. Eventually such contact and discussion can lead to the discovery of commonality of goals and values, which can lead to coalitions toward action on a community problem. However, this can only occur after a long process and hard work (Schoem and Stevenson 1990; Schoem 1995).

Many community groups and institutions have turned to intergroup dialogue as a means of addressing today's conflicts and advancing institutional values and culture (Promising Practices 1997). By itself, intergroup dialogue won't solve all of our nation's problems. But the open and honest exchange and serious face-to-face engagement that represents good dialogue provides the best opportunity to engage in the practice of deliberative democracy in order to address our institutional and national concerns. To choose not to join the process of intergroup dialogue when that opportunity is available would seem a certain path to worsening relations across group boundaries, leading to increasingly dangerous, even explosive ways of dealing with conflicts in our communities and in our nation.

And change is taking place. In our schools and colleges, children, teenagers, and young adults are coming together in dialogue-based programs to fight the tide of prejudice, separation, and injustice. They revisit their exclusive friendship patterns, challenge the status quo of socially biased and inequitable paradigms in school, and construct a vision for their futures that will take them, we hope, beyond the structural barriers that have marked the lives of the generations that have preceded them. In our communities, private citizens and civic leaders are coming together to work through neighborhood, marketplace, and governmental issues of concern to all, making sure that all voices are heard and represented in problem solving, decision making, and plans for the future. In the workplace, too, corporate leaders and line workers are engaging in difficult conversations about race and other intergroup relations. These dialogues are intended to build upon the rapidly changing demographic profile of American workers and corporate management to ensure profitability at home and in the global marketplace.

An indication of the powerful potential of intergroup dialogue is that it is sometimes used by powerful groups in a cynical or manipulative way in order to delay or cool out protest and civic participation. The negative use of intergroup dialogue is intended to encourage groups to focus strictly on the dialogue process rather than on substantive, structural issues; to emphasize talk above, and in place of, action; to focus exclusively on celebration rather than on power; and to frame issues restrictively as individually driven, rather than as a part of social group dynamics and social causation.

What Is Intergroup Dialogue?

Intergroup dialogue is a form of democratic practice, engagement, problem solving, and education involving face-to-face, focused, facilitated, and confidential discussions occurring over time between two or more groups of people defined by their different social identities.

1.Dialogue is a process, not an event. Dialogue takes place over time. It requires a commitment on the part of participants to listen, challenge, reflect, and continue to talk with one another. A dialogue that continues over weeks or months allows participants to work through stages of growth, change, conflict, friendship, and anger, uncovering new layers of understanding and insight (Adams, Bell, and Griffin 1997). The depth of meaning, the nuance of difference, and the fulfillment of connection and sharing only come through extended discussion. As trust between participants grows and is tested, people feel freer to probe issues, challenge self and others, express anger, offer comfort, and see beyond group boundaries to both structural conditions and intragroup concerns (Lopez, Gurin, and Nagda 1998).

Dialogue exercises and techniques also can be adapted to enhance and enrich other institutional activities, although they should not be confused with distinct intergroup dialogues (Adams, Bell, and Griffin 1997; Cox and Beale 1997; Schoem 1995). The college seminar class can truly become a setting for active, engaged learning with text and fellow students through incorporation of dialogue techniques. Faculty development activities and human resource workshops, social studies classes and student organizations, administrative policy meetings, staff training sessions, and community organization meetings can be transformed through the adaptation of dialogue activities for those settings.

2.Dialogue is about relationship building and thoughtful engagement about difficult issues. Dialogue involves in-depth conversations about competing perspectives. It requires face-to-face engagement and attention to relationship building across groups, within groups, and between individuals (Dalton 1995; Hubbard 1997). In addition, the purpose of dialogue, unlike debate, is not to declare winners and losers at the end of the day, but rather to engender deeper and broader understandings and insights, oftentimes leading to action, among all participants.

Intergroup dialogues can take place in many settings in schools, colleges, communities, and the workplace. They can include students, teachers, staff and administration, citizens and citizen groups, community and governmental leaders and their constituents, clerical staff, line workers, management and professional staff, and corporate CEOs.

Dialogues should be small, about twelve to eighteen participants, in order to increase the opportunity to build more trusting relationships, encourage more engaged interaction, provide greater safety and confidentiality, and make better use of the limited time (Nagda, Zuniga, and Sevig 1995). With highly skilled facilitation, it also is possible, though not generally desirable because of the difficulty involved, to conduct dialogues with more participants.

Intergroup dialogue exercises and techniques can be constructively used to encourage in-depth interaction and conversation with groups ranging from thirty to three hundred participants. But in most cases these should not be considered dialogues per se; they are more like town hall meetings. These larger events also serve a very important purpose of bringing people together for focused and engaged discussion. However, town hall meetings are different from intergroup dialogues. Finally, gatherings of five hundred to ten thousand people or more about topics of race relations or intergroup dialogue can also be educational and even provocative for those in attendance, using dynamic speakers and panels, multimedia presentations, and performances. Nevertheless, however beneficial they may be, these events should not be confused with intergroup dialogues as described here.

3. Dialogue requires an extended commitment. Implicit in the definition of dialogue is the notion of a sustained activity (Sherman et al. 1998). Dialogue is more likely to be meaningful and successful when participants agree to participate for more than a few meetings. With commitment, people realize they can confront tough issues and know the conversation will continue and move forward the following week with the group intact. When people participate in an extended dialogue, they begin to realize that it is only through a long-term commitment that our racial and other divisions will be fully addressed. Over an extended time, trust slowly builds in the group to allow for more frank and difficult discussion (Schoem and Stevenson 1990).


Excerpted from Intergroup Dialogue: Deliberative Democracy in School, College, Community, and Workplace by Sylvia Hurtado Copyright © 2001 by Sylvia Hurtado. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

1 Intergroup Dialogue: Democracy at Work in Theory and Practice 1
2 Research and Evaluation on Intergroup Dialogue 22
3 Building "Bridges" of Understanding through Dialogue 45
4 Student Voices: The ADL's A World of Difference Institute Peer Training Program 59
5 Students Talk About Race 74
6 Voices of Discovery: Intergroup Dialogues at Arizona State University 87
7 Educating for Social Justice: The Program on Intergroup Relations, Conflict, and Community at the University of Michigan 99
8 Intergroup Dialogue, Education, and Action: Innovations at the University of Washington School of Social Work 115
9 Engaging the Whole Community in Dialogue and Action: Study Circles Resource Center 137
10 An Honest Conversation on Race, Reconciliation, and Responsibility: Hope in the Cities 151
11 Not Just Dialogue for Dialogue's Sake: The National Conference for Community and Justice 166
12 Cultural Study Groups: Creating Dialogue in a Corporate Setting 181
13 Dialogue in Corporations 194
14 Dialogue throughout an Organization 210
15 Training Peer Facilitators for Intergroup Dialogue Leadership 227
16 Embracing the Paradox: Dialogue That Incorporates Both Individual and Group Identities 247
17 The Content/Process Balance in Intergroup Dialogue 266
18 A Celebration of Power 280
19 Extending Intergroup Dialogue: From Talk to Action 294
20 Design Considerations in Intergroup Dialogue 306
21 Adapting Intergroup Dialogue Processes for Use in a Variety of Settings 328
22 A Directory of Intergroup Dialogue Programs and Organizations 345
Contributors 353
Index 359
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