Incivility is a general term for social behaviour lacking in civility or good manners, on a scale from rudeness or lack of respect for elders, to vandalism and hooliganism, through public drunkenness and threatening behaviour. The word "incivility" is derived from the Latin incivilis, meaning "not of a citizen".
The distinction between plain rudeness, and perceived incivility as threat, will depend on some notion of civility as structural to society; incivility as anything more ominous than bad manners is therefore dependent on appeal to notions like its antagonism to the complex concepts of civic virtue or civil society. It has become a contemporary political issue in a number of countries.
Civil behavior requires that people communicate with respect, restraint, and responsibility, and uncivil communication occurs when people fail to do so. Universal pragmatics, a term coined by Jürgen Habermas, suggests that human conflict arises from miscommunication, so communicative competence is needed to reduce conflict. Communication competence "involves the ability to communicate in a such a way that: (1) the truth claim of an utterance is shared by both speaker and hearer; (2) the hearer is led to understand and accept the speaker’s intention; and (3) the speaker adapts to the hearer’s world view." If people disagree about the truth or appropriateness of their interaction, conflict will occur.
According to Habermas, we should establish communicative norms that lead to rational conversations by creating the social coordination needed for interactants to pursue their goals while recognizing the truth or appropriateness of their interaction. Such norms, or social rules, include: "all participants must be allowed to speak freely, all participants must be allowed to speak for themselves (to enable them to establish their own ethos or "selfhood"), and that communication should be equal, with no one participant commanding more attention from the others than is afforded to them on their turn."
Some examples of uncivil communication include rude gestures, vulgar language, interrupting, and loudly having private discussions in public spaces. Recent poll data suggests that Americans believe uncivil communication is a serious problem, and believe it has led to an increase in physical violence. The 2013 study on Civility in America: A Nationwide Survey, conducted by global public relations firm Weber Shandwick and public affairs firm Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research found that 70 percent of Americans believe incivility has reached crisis proportions. Of those who expect civility to rise, 34 percent blame Twitter. The study found that Americans encounter incivility, on average, 17.1 times per week, or 2.4 times per day. Some studies suggest that uncivil communication may have real consequences, including increased health problems due to stress, decreased work productivity, more auto accidents caused by aggressive driving, and vandalism.
Political incivility is different from the everyday incivility described above. According to face negotiation theory, politeness norms require us to avoid challenging others, but political incivility is different because, since it is specific to the political sphere, contestation of views and confrontation are required for a democracy to occur. According to Thomas Benson, "Where there is disagreement, there is a risk of incivility; in many cases, incivility is itself a tactic in political discourse, employed as an indicator of sincerity, as the marker of the high stakes in a disagreement."
Civil discourse is "the free and respectful exchange of different ideas". Eight out of 10 Americans believe that the lack of civil discourse in the political system is a serious problem. Eighty-two percent of American respondents to a 2011 survey felt that political advertisements were too "nasty" and 72 percent believed that political commercials that attacked the opponent were "inappropriate". Research has linked political incivility to reduced trust in the legitimacy of political candidates, political polarization, and policy gridlock.
In his article The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article (1964), Habermas explains that the public sphere is "a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed… Although state authority is so to speak the executor of the political public sphere, it is not a part of it." Political incivility threatens the features of the rhetorical model of the public sphere, which include:
- It is discourse-based as opposed to class-based.
- Norm of reasonableness, meaning the success of an argument depends on participants agreeing that it makes sense.
- It "emphasizes indeterminate bracketing of discursive exchanges", meaning the public sphere is made up of many smaller conversations that happen independently of each other.
- Values communication that leads to shared judgments.
Examples of incivility in political discourse include name calling, derisive or disrespectful speech and vulgarity, intentional lies, and misrepresentation. Another type of uncivil behavior is "outrage speech", which includes name calling, insulting, character assassination, mockery, and emotional displays. There are disagreements among researchers about whether or not emotional speech – using anger, fear, or hatred – should be considered uncivil.
Stryker et al. assert that "political incivility is usefully distinguished from interpersonal politeness outside of politics." Their research found consensus among survey respondents concerning the types of political speech and behavior that "count" as "political incivility".
A 2011 report in USA Today defined Workplace incivility as "a form of organizational deviance... characterized by low-intensity behaviors that violate respectful workplace norms, appearing vague as to intent to harm." The article asserts further that researchers had announced at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association that "Workplace incivility is on the rise. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others." Incivility is distinct from violence. Examples of workplace incivility include insulting comments, denigration of the target's work, spreading false rumors, and social isolation.
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- Habermas, Jurgen (1984). Theory of Communicative Action, trans. Thomas McCarthy. Boston: Beacon Press.
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- Digby Anderson, editor (1996) Gentility Recalled: Mere Manners and the Making of Social Order
- Stephen L. Carter (1998) Civility: Manners, Morals, and the Etiquette of Democracy, Basic Books, 1998, ISBN 978-0-465-02384-4
- P.M. Forni, Choosing Civility: The Twenty-five Rules of Considerate Conduct, St. Martin's Press, 2002, ISBN 978-0-312-28118-2
- Judith Martin, Miss Manners: A Citizen's Guide to Civility, ISBN 978-0-609-80158-1
- Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace
- Benet Davetian, "Civility – A Cultural History," University of Toronto Press, 2009, ISBN 978-0-8020-9722-4
- P.M. Forni Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct
- P.M. Forni The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude
- Os Guinness The Case for Civility
- George Washington Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation
- T.S. Bogorad The Importance of Civility
- "Candor, far from being the enemy of civility, is one of its preconditions." Robert George, McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, May 29, 2009
- "I don't believe in confrontation. That seems to me outside civil discourse and we all have to find way to be civil to one another." Condoleezza Rice, NPR interview, March 4, 2009.
- "... people shouldn't underestimate the value of civility." President Barack Obama
- "There is a toxic nature to Washington that thrives on food fights and thrives on controversy and thrives on people not getting along." Matthew Dowd, Bush's pollster and chief strategist for the 2004 presidential campaign.
- "On both sides of any issue, I'd like to see us increasingly wage ideological battles with words and ideas and not with volume and antics." Mark DeMoss, NPR interview, August 12, 2009.
- "Civility costs nothing and buys everything." Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, 1689–1766
- "It's too much to expect in an academic setting that we should all agree, but it's not too much to expect discipline and unvarying civility." John Howard, Australian statesman
- "Teaching civility is an obligation of the family." Stephen Carter
- "The greatest challenge facing contemporary civilization is to bring some peace between our competitive spirit and our need for communal well-being." Benet Davetian
Movements and organizations promoting civility
- Dr. P.M. Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, co-founded the Johns Hopkins Civility Project in 1997. An aggregation of academic and community outreach activities, the JHCP aimed at assessing the significance of civility, manners and politeness in contemporary society. The JHCP has been reconstituted as The Civility Initiative at Johns Hopkins, which Dr. Forni now directs. This Web site is designed to introduce Dr. Forni's work on civility and to offer links to related material (http://sites.jhu.edu/civility/index.html).
- The Civility Project is a voluntary, grassroots movement of people from diverse backgrounds who agree that, at this critical time in America's history, solutions to our most pressing problems will be found only through a more civil exchange of ideas. A web-based organization, CivilityProject.org hopes to promote more civility in public discourse. Mark DeMoss and long-time Clinton advisor Lanny Davis launched The Civility Project (http://www.CivilityProject.org) earlier 2009.
- Choose Civility is an ongoing community-wide initiative, led by Howard County Library, to position Howard County, Maryland as a model of civility. The project intends to enhance respect, empathy, consideration and tolerance in Howard County (http://www.choosecivility.org).
- The National Civility Center is a not-for-profit organization established in 2000 to help people make their communities better places to live. They believe that a comprehensive approach to community improvement—one that engages all local stakeholders around shared ideas and a unified plan for action—can help community members and organizations become more effective at solving tough social issues (http://www.civilitycenter.org).
- The Institute for Civility believes there are two key threats to the effectiveness and efficiency of our governing process today. A nation experiencing both polarization and citizen apathy is a nation at risk. The institute works to reduce polarization in society by focusing on the very public civility (or lack of it!) in the governing process by facilitating dialogue, teaching respect, and building civility (http://www.instituteforcivility.org/ and http://www.civilityblog.org/).
- "The Civility Institute" (http://www.civilityinstitute.com), founded by Dr. Benet Davetian (author of Civility-A Cultural History), conducts research on civility and provides consultations for institutions, schools, corporations. The goal of the institute is to offer beneficiaries with a practical understanding of the social psychology of civility and how civility can be increased without interfering with the mandates of a competitive society.