“Reasonable Hostility”: Its Usefulness and Limitation as a Norm for Public Hearings

Karen Tracy


“Reasonable hostility” is a norm of communicative conduct initially developed by studying public exchanges in education governance meetings in local U.S. communities. In this paper I consider the norm’s usefulness for and applicability to a U.S. state-level public hearing about a bill to legalize civil unions. Following an explication of reasonable hostility and grounded practical theory, the approach to inquiry that guides my work, I de-scribe Hawaii’s 2009, 18-hour pub-lic hearing and analyze selected segments of it. I show that this par-ticular public hearing raised de-mands for testifiers on the anti-civil union side of the argument that rea-sonable hostility does not do a good job of addressing. Development of a norm of communication conduct for this practice, as well as others, must engage with the culture and time-specific beliefs that a society holds, beliefs that will shape not only how to argue but what may be argued and what must be assumed about particular categories of persons.


argument, citizen testimony, civil unions, civility, conduct norm, discourse, grounded practical theory, reasonable hostility, public hearing, same-sex marriage.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.22329/il.v31i3.3399

ISSN: 0824-2577