Risky Talk: The Ethics, Politics, and Practice of Learning through Dialogue
Rachel Wahl

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Virginia

Primary Discipline

Contemporary political polarization suggests to some commentators that democracy requires citizens who can listen to and learn from people they oppose. This points to the importance not only of learning for democracy, as in the educational preparation of citizens, but also of learning in democracy, as in the capacity of adults to learn even in the midst of intense political fighting. Universities may offer an ideal setting for emerging adults to practice such learning. However students� wariness regarding learning from political opponents, such as demonstrated by protests against offensive speakers, brings to light important concerns about how the call to learn from opponents may deepen structures of inequality and oppression. This project analyzes four case studies of learning through dialogue across political divides within and beyond college campuses. The project examines under what conditions, how, and why it is constructive and ethical to ask politically opposed students as well as adults to learn from each other through dialogue and when, how, and why such expectations may be harmful. I attend in particular to how different forms of inequality shape whether, what, and from whom college students and other adults learn.
About Rachel Wahl
Rachel Wahl is an assistant professor in the Social Foundations Program, Department of Educational Leadership, Foundations, and Policy at the Curry School of Education and Human Development at the University of Virginia. She is also a Fellow and co-Chair of the Colloquy on Culture and Formation at UVa?s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture, as well as an affiliate faculty member of the Center for Race and Public Education in the South. Her research focuses on learning through public deliberation between people on opposing sides of political divides. Her prior research focused on efforts by community activists to change police officers? beliefs and behavior through activism and education, which is the subject of her first book, Just Violence: Torture and Human Rights in the Eyes of the Police (Stanford University Press, 2017). Her research has been funded by donors such as the Spencer Foundation and National Academy of Education, the Carnegie Corporation, and the federal Institute of International Education.

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