Cafe Conversations:

Democracy and Dialogue in Public Spaces

Café Conversations is the first book in English to look closely at the phenomenon of philosophy in a café. Since the tradition of philosophical dialogue in coffee-houses was revived in Paris in the 1990s, public venues for participatory philosophy have sprung up in numerous countries, taking many forms, all seeking to stimulate intellectual interest as well as meaningful community engagement and democratic participation. In Paris,  numerous Café Philos still run regularly, and other dialogue series, including some of the earliest to take root, have continued through the decades. The simple activity of reasoning together in a café is of interest to democratic theory, epistemology, social philosophy, philosophy of education. Although much has been written on the theory and practice of philosophy for children, little or no concerted exploration has taken place of participatory philosophy in the public sphere. This volume brings the international voices of numerous facilitators of engaged philosophical inquiry, including some of the most prominent, together with observers in allied fields, to explore practical, organizational issues, but also to bring critical and theoretical perspectives to bear on the Café Philosophy.

Café Conversations will be available soon from:

Café Conversations: Democracy and Dialogue in Public Spaces will be of interest to readers concerned with contemporary intellectual culture in Canada and abroad.

Authors in Café Conversations:

  • Lydia Amir, Israel
  • Mark Battersby, Canada.
  • Matthias van Dijk, Belgium
  • Brian Fraser, Canada
  • Walter Kohan, Brazil
  • Tetsuya Kono, Japan
  • Anthony Simon Laden, USA
  • Christopher Phillips, USA
  • Michael Picard, Canada
  • Elly Pirocacos, Greece/Canada.
  • Daniel Ramirez, France
  • Miriam van Reijen, Netherlands
  • Marc Sautet, France
  • Barbara Weber, Germany/Canada
  • Yosef Wosk, Canada
  • Carmen Zavala, Peru
  • Medguido Zola, Canada

Overview of the Book

Recent decades have witnessed the rise of the phenomenon of philosophy in a cafe. Since Marc Suatet first held court at the Café des Phares in Paris in 1992, many have followed in his wake during the 90s, not only in France but elsewhere in Europe and across the world. In the US, Lou Marinoff soon began a monthly Philosopher Forum in bookstores in New York City, and Christopher Phillips held his first Socrates Cafe in Wayne, NJ, but then criss-crossed America and later took his show all over the world. Café-Philos sprouted up in Japan, Peru, Brazil and elsewhere that continue to function today. In January 1997 Michael Picard started a twelve-year run of weekly Cafe Philosophy sessions in Victoria, Canada, which ran to over 500 sessions. Not long after, in 1998, Simon Fraser University’s Philosophers’ Cafe program was inaugurated. Originally conceived by Yosef Wosk as a one-off event, this award-winning program has expanded over two decades to include in 2018 around three dozen moderators at over 30 venues in the lower mainland, hosting over 250 meetings in 2018 and thousands of participants.

The growth and spread of public participatory philosophy, or cafe philosophy, indicates an appetite amongst the public to be part of stimulating intellectual conversations with neighbors. It is time to take stock of the phenomenon, to review where we’ve been, account for what we are doing, and look toward where we are going. How do practices differ, not only from each other, but from their first appearance? What norms govern these conversations, either generally or locally, that constitute them as philosophy, or even reasoning? What role do or could they theoretically play in the collective deliberation required by democracy?

Unlike Philosophy for Children, there is very little written on the theory and practice of public participatory philosophy, or cafe philosophy.  Its role or potential role in civil discourse and the collective deliberation required of democracy has not been closely thematized. The plan with the book is to include not only critical reports on the practice from various parts of the world, but to raise more general and theoretical questions, including questions of method, norms of reasoning, the role of disensus and consensus, and the tensions between hospitality and criticality, among other issues.

Anvil Press plans in 2020 to bring out a volume on participatory philosophy in the public sphere. Covering the early years of the SFU program and its regional counterparts, the book examines the problems, progress and prospects of philosophy in local cafes. There are also attempts to place the local phenomena in broader historical and theoretical contexts. Perspectives from long-running philosophy cafes elsewhere in the world are also represented. Philosophically speaking, the simple activity of reasoning together in a cafe is of interest to democratic theory, epistemology, social philosophy, philosophy of education. The complex problem of articulating the norms of reasoning that best ensure conversational success (which might be variously conceived) is also addressed here. Considerations of the future of public participatory philosophy round out the volume

Included are articles tracing the founding and development of public participatory philosophy institutions in BC; selected forms of cafe philosophy elsewhere in history or the world; a deeper history of the cultural phenomena of reasoned conversations on public affairs and social issues; discussion of the role of civil discourse in theories of democracy and political philosophy; an examination of the nature of typical café conversations; transcriptions of actual conversations (or annotated transcriptions of past events); critical and expository pieces on particular philosophers (e.g. Shaftsbury, Dewey, Habermas, Foucault, A.S. Laden, etc.) whose ideas have influenced forms of dialogue; inquiries into key ideas in logic of dialogue, such as the role of consensus and disensus, the conflict between hospitality and criticality; new forms of participatory philosophy that have emerged in response to challenges in the way of shared critical conversations; future speculations; and much else besides.