From Culture War to Difficult Dialogue: Exploring Distinct Frames for Citizen Exchange about Social Problems


While the precise nature of socio-cultural conflict in the United States remains contested, there is growing scholarly agreement that elite (media/governmental) framings may be significantly aggravating public animosities. In order to better understand how actual citizens frame meaningful issues in such an atmosphere, we collaborated as socially liberal and conservative-leaning researchers in a joint study of twenty citizens across the political spectrum, from a conservative pastor and a traditional family advocate to a socialist activist and a leader of a feminist organization. This paper reports our analysis of citizen comments on fundamental problems facing society and their proposed solutions. Themes are organized within three general categories: 1) Talking about citizen exchange: What is the essence of “good” public discourse? 2) Defining social problems: What is the nature of fundamental challenges facing society? and 3) Delimiting solutions: What is the scope of needed social change? Within each category, patterns across citizen comments are identified and explored in light of prevailing stereotypes about “liberals” and “conservatives.” Based on this examination, possible shifts in the framing of liberal-conservative exchange are proposed as a potential contribution to a more nuanced and productive public deliberation across the partisan divide.


morality, diversity, culture war, intergroup dialogue, social change, social problems, social conservatism, social liberalism, interpretation, Framing

How to Cite

Hess J., (2008) “From Culture War to Difficult Dialogue: Exploring Distinct Frames for Citizen Exchange about Social Problems”, Journal of Public Deliberation 5(1). doi:







Jacob Z. Hess (University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign)



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This article has been peer reviewed.

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