The Level Telling Field (LTF) is the key metaphor of OPPORTUNITIES, defining the way we seek to conceptualize and improve narrative dynamics in the public sphere. The concept is inspired by the sports metaphor of the “level playing field.” The Oxford English Dictionary defines this as “a state or condition of parity or impartiality; a situation offering equality of opportunity or in which fairness to all parties is observed.” In global trade, level playing fields ensure that “all countries and firms compete on an equal footing to offer consumers everywhere the widest possible choice and the best value for money” (OECD 2021, n. p.). In analogy to fair trade, level telling fields ensure fair competition between narratives, concepts, and ideas in the public sphere to prevent lies, distorted representations, toxic narratives, or xenophobic propaganda from shaping the public image of migrants and refugees and from influencing migration policies.
Level Telling Fields are playbooks and mechanisms for an open, constructive, and productive debate – the cornerstone of a democratic, pluralist, secular society. They are best viewed as commitments by all participants in a debate to adopt a shared set of premises, to agree on principles and rules, and to define processes and procedures for conducting debates and documenting results. LTF premises include: a) A commitment to a democratic worldview grounded in human rights and a human development paradigm (see Nussbaum 2010); b) Adhering to commonly accepted standards for evaluating claims, opinions, and arguments; and c) Sincerity, i.e. a serious commitment to debate as a democratic means of opinion-building and decision-making. LTF principles include vertical multiperspectivity, an ethics of listening, and perspective taking. LTF processes and procedures depend on contextual parameters such as participants and goals.
An LTF approach to migration insists that all participants in a debate subscribe to these premises and principles, and define a set of procedures designed to ensure a fair conversation, e.g. in the context of a Cross Talk event. The LTF approach requires that a wide range of perspectives (i.e. experiential stories of migration as well as policy narratives on migration) should be represented, and calls for a system of checks and balances to move beyond the toxic debates which have characterized European narratives on migration following the so-called refugee crisis in 2015. Level telling fields can be established locally, in Cross Talk events, but they also have an impact on national and European conversations on controversial issues.
The LTF approach is not limited to migration. It seeks to overcome toxic debates, with a particular focus on institutional and endemic racism, and addresses wide-spread feelings of anger, frustration, and anxiety (see Mishra 2017, Shafak 2020) which are indicative of the closing of public space in a “post-democracy” (Crouch 2004). LTF playbooks and mechanisms continue examining the shifting boundaries of public and private spheres (see Habermas 1992) as well as other consequences of digital communication. They also serve as diagnostic tools for evaluating narrative dynamics in the public sphere and detecting threats to democratic systems of checks and balances across the globe (see Ziblatt and Levitsky 2018).
⇢ see also Cross Talk, Ethics of listening, Multiperspectivity, Narrative dynamics, Stories of migration, Narratives on migration, Perspective taking, Scale
References and further reading:
Crouch, Colin. 2004. Post-Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Habermas, Jürgen. 1992. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Mishra, Pankaj. 2018. Age of Anger: A History of the Present. London: Penguin.
Nussbaum, Martha. 2010. Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton: Princeton UP.
Shafak, Elif. 2020. How to Stay Sane in an Age of Division. London: Profile Books.
OECD. 2021. “Levelling the Playing Field.” OECD. URL: https://www.oecd.org/trade/topics/levelling-the-playing-field/.
Ziblatt, Daniel, and Steven Levitsky. 2018. How Democracies Die. New York, NY: Crown.
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