During April 3-6, 2014, Texas A&M’s Department of Communication hosted a Civic Dialogue and Leadership Conference. Civic dialogue is both a process and a product. As process, it indicates how multiple groups and individuals engage in persuasion, conversation, and argumentation in the context of civil society and politics. But as product, it is something to strive for through sometimes “uncivil” acts, often in the face of powerful opposition. Thus, civic dialogue is at the same time a means of engagement and a desired endpoint. The tension between process and product is particularly acute in contemporary political culture in which the proliferation of polarizing discourse in our public sphere and in organizations presents a challenge for politicians, citizens, and organizations who wish to take a leadership role. But whether as process or product, civic dialogue always stands in relationship to acts of rhetorical leadership that mobilizes people to act in concert toward a common aim. This conference brought together rhetoric, leadership, and organizational communication scholars to explore and analyze civic dialogue and leadership in political and organizational contexts. Scholars presented papers on civic dialogue and leadership in different contexts including: democratic deliberation, social movements and protest, workplace democracy, corporate social responsibility, ethics and leadership practice, the presidency, and diversity and difference.
One goal of the conference was to draw together both established and junior scholars (including graduate students) interested in civic dialogue and leadership. The conference featured both plenary speakers and contributed paper presentations. Plenary and contributed papers and responses were competitively selected to appear in a planned edited conference volume. A second goal of the conference was to draw together a group of interdisciplinary scholars interested in civic dialogue and leadership; thus the conference featured the work of both rhetorical and organizational communication scholars. Professor John Murphy delivered Texas A&M University’s annual Kurt Ritter Lecture in Political Rhetoric during the conference.