The term meta-discussion thus means consideration of a discussion itself instead of the actual topic of the discussion. Meta-discussion explores such issues as the style of a discussion, its participants, the setting in which the discussion occurs, and the relationship of the discussion to other discussions on the same or different topics.
As it happens, published commentary about the governess has reached enormous proportions. So significant meta-discussion about such first-order criticism has arisen. Literary critic Edmund Wilson, for instance, offered various theories about the governess and other aspects of The Turn of the Screw over the years, as other critics influenced him to recant or modify his views. As a result, substantial discussion of Wilson’s commentary on the book has occurred. This constitutes a classic example of meta-discussion based on Wilson’s original, first-order examination of James’ book.
Other examples of meta-discussion often occur on Usenet or other Internet-based discussion forums. Frequently, contributors to these forums will complain about the tone of the discussion, the personalities of other contributors as supposedly revealed in the conversation, the inability to stick to the topic at hand, or comparisons of the discussion to conversations elsewhere on the Internet. All these constitute meta-discussion based on first-order Internet conversations about a particular topic.
In fact, it may be a relatively rare occurrence that any substantial, extended discussion of a subject doesn’t include at least some meta-discussion. Simple requests for a contributor to pay attention or to let others be heard are very common examples of meta-discussion in both face-to-face conversation and written communication.
Still, it may sometimes be valuable to explore the higher-order issues about a discussion rather than the subject of the discussion itself. Tactful consideration of personality issues with some contributors as revealed in a discussion may lead to better insight and calmer exploration of the actual topic of the conversation.