University project aims to find more agreeable ways to disagree

Monday 23 May 2022

One of the first University of St Andrews projects selected to be part of its Scotland’s Future Series is to host an interactive public event with an expert panel focussing on the importance of responsible debate in an increasingly polarised world.

Members of the RSE Young Academy of Scotland will introduce their recently launched Charter for Responsible Debate at the event in Lower College Hall, St Salvator’s Quad at the University on Wednesday 1 June.

They will be joined by Dundee West MP Chris Law, Ruth Unsworth, the University’s Head of Mediation and Wellbeing, and Professor Stephen Gethins from the School of International Relations, as well as the team behind the University’s Ethics Cup, who will talk about their mission to promote more collaborative debate.

St Andrews Responsible Debate team (from left): Matthew Chrisman, Peter McColl, John O’Connor, Alice König

The team, led by Dr Alice König, lecturer in the School of Classics at St Andrews, aims to widen the discussion on what ‘responsible debate’ involves and offer tools and techniques designed to make debating issues at the dinner table, in the classroom, at work and on social media more collaborative and less confrontational.

Dr König said: “Many of us have grown up with quite confrontational models of public debate, and social media is exacerbating that. But debate doesn’t have to be competitive: it can be collaborative. That doesn’t mean that we all have to agree with each other or find some kind of compromise between competing positions. But it does mean that there are better and worse ways of disagreeing with each other – and we want to generate lots of conversation about them.

“This workshop is open to anyone and everyone who has ever got into a debate and wondered afterwards if they could have managed it a bit differently. We will be talking about why public debate tends to get very confrontational, and what other options we have for disagreeing with each other while making progress towards common goals.”

Commenting on the importance of responsible and civilised debate, Chris Law MP, who is SNP spokesperson for International Development and Climate Justice, said: “Never has it been more important that we strive towards maintaining and upholding the principles of reasonable and polite debate.

“The last few years have brought to the fore issues which can often be contentious or fractious, as well as new adaptions in modern technology which make it easier than ever to get involved in debate.

“This will be a vital and pertinent discussion on the need for collaboration and compromise in light of this, and I look forward to sharing with attendees and the panel my experiences as a Member of Parliament in both building coalitions and avoiding confrontation.”

Scotland’s Future Series is a programme of events and projects involving University of St Andrews academics, professional staff, students and the wider community in stimulating and shaping debate on Scotland’s place in the world by looking at a wide range of issues from the war in Ukraine to climate change and decolonisation.

The event takes place in Lower College Hall, North Street, University of St Andrews on Wednesday 1 June from 10am to 11.30am.

Tickets are free, but booking is required: register online. 

This is an in-person event, taking place in Lower College Hall at the University of St Andrews. It will be following the health and safety guidelines relating to Covid-19 that are in place at the University of St Andrews at the time of the workshop. More detailed information will be circulated to participants nearer the time.

Scotland’s Future Series at the University of St Andrews

The YAS Charter for Responsible Debate

The St Andrews Ethics Cup

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Category Scotland's Future Series

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