Learning to Listen Agonistically: Dialogue Encounters on the Eastside

This essay describes a multi-stakeholder process of listening as a first step toward dialogue among community members in Santa Barbara’s ‘Eastside’ neighbourhood. Already the site of multiple shelters and outreach programmes, the fragile Eastside coalition of neighbours, business owners, and social service providers fractured when a local agency proposed new housing for those experiencing chronic homelessness. Amid this conflict, our initiative for public dialogue and deliberation was approached as a ‘neutral’ third party to help guide a restorative process. This essay is a reflection on this work: The interplay between active community engagement and theories of dialogue, alongside complications from the worldwide pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions. Because of pervasive change, fear, and identity politics on the Eastside, we consider the role of agonistic dialogue in creating a haven to speak, listen, bear witness, and take concrete action toward social justice.

Deborah Dunn

Co-director, Westmont Initiative for Public Dialogue and Deliberation

Professor Dunn earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in communication arts and sciences from the University of Southern California. Her BA is in speech and communication with an emphasis on social movements from San Francisco State.

Rachel Rains Winslow

Research Fellow, the Kettering Foundation

Professor Winslow received her Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara, an M.A. in History from California State University, Sacramento, and a B.A. in History and Political Science from the University of Rochester. She is the author of The Best Possible Immigrants: International Adoption and the American Family (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017).