DepolarisingEU

© 2024 DepolarisingEU COST Action CA 22165
Redressing Radical Polarisation: Strengthening European Civil Spheres facing Illiberal Digital Media

About the Action

full description of the action

Create an interdisciplinary network of Radical Polarisation and identify successful interventions to de-escalate uncivil partisanship

The main aim and objective of the Action is to create an interdisciplinary network that will advance common understanding of radical polarisation and identify successful interventions to de-escalate uncivil partisanship.

Polarization is an increasingly prevalent feature of liberal democratic societies. Ordinary liberal politics uses binary discourse that “otherises.” However, the extreme “otherisation” manifest in intolerance, hostility, deep partisan animosity, and hate speech is becoming a threat to the civil virtues of tolerance, hospitality, openness, and to civil discourse. In the context of this political and civil divisiveness, there is now a widespread belief that digital media both contributes and exacerbates radical polarisation.

This Action aims to create an interdisciplinary network that will advance common understanding of radical polarisation and identify successful interventions to de-escalate uncivil and undemocratic partisanship. It will engage with civil and media organisations in order to ensure de-escalation, depolarisation, and pluralism, through a multifaceted approach to strengthening democratic values in Europe.

By applying the lenses of cultural sociology and civil sphere theory, the Action adds an eminently normative and interpretive character to existing literature on the topic. This theoretical scaffolding will contribute to understanding online polarisation. While there is no conclusive research on the impact of digital media on polarisation, if radical polarisation can be confined, on the grounds of commonality and plurality, to an issue-by-issue basis, it might be able to harness the agonistic energy of radical polarisation, while disarming its antagonistic potential. 

The Action will provide a toolkit that brings together civil-communicative depolarisation skills, guidelines on how to avoid engaging unintentionally in increasing polarisation through inadequate messaging and reporting, as well as examples of best practice to reduce radical polarisation successfully where it already exists.

Specific Objectives

01. Research Coordination

To provide a means of drawing together current European and international interdisciplinary research on radical polarisation and strategists to redress uncivil partisanship, enabling researchers across the COST countries collectively to identify gaps in knowledge, fostering co-ordinated and collaborative research.
To foster knowledge exchange in order to develop novel concepts and advance new theoretical perspectives to understand radical polarisation and ways to redress uncivil partisanship, and to identify empirical contexts and processes across Europe in which such theories could be applied and concepts operationalised.
To identify successful interventions and strategies to de-escalate radical partisanship across Europe and internationally through a review of relevant academic research and practitioners’ reports and to explore such interventions through the above theoretical lenses.
To exchange knowledge on data from the different COST countries involved in the Action and on appropriate methodologies when researching de-escalation and the depolarisation of radical partisanship and appropriate interventions.
To provide training for young researchers and strengthen links between them and established experts in the field.
To engage actively with a range of stakeholders, including media practitioners, civil society organisations, and the digital media industry, in order to explore the implications of research outcomes for digital media affordances and community-based learning on how to tackle undemocratic radical partisanship.

02. Capacity Building

To develop a new joint research agenda on interventions to redress radical partisanship in digital settings in Europe.
To bring different disciplines from the humanities and social sciences to develop an interdisciplinary approach to radical polarisation. Currently, research in this area is distributed across disciplinary areas and this Action will facilitate the development of interdisciplinary knowledge.
To increase capacity to undertake collaborative research and address the diverse needs across COST countries in Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western Europe.
To contribute to the transnational coordination and defragmentation of related research across Europe, offering scientific benefits for researchers across a range of disciplines and cultures.
To build capacity in researching on polarisation and on redressing radical partisanship, ensuring a strong research network is established for future collaborative research.
To act as a trans-national platform of researchers and stakeholders across COST countries. Paper and outputs will include: a project website, pan-European, rigorous academic reviews of existing research evidence, recommendations for specific future research agendas, and summary recommendations for policy and media practice, all in relevant languages.

Main
Challenges

Since there is no evidence confirming that all forms of polarisation generate antidemocratic and uncivil outcomes, how can extreme politics be differentiated from the normal polarisation of civil society? How can this differentiation be theoretically analysed and empirically operationalised?
01.
When might polarising dynamics, which place citizens’ opinions within sharply delimited factions, spiral into situations where the general consensus around common ground of democratic codes is diminished and citizens cease to engage with people who hold views different to those of their own movement or party? Conversely, under what circumstances is the plurality of political views held by individuals reduced due to partisan and radical polarisation that threaten to grow into a social divide?
02.
How do radical polarised identities play out with regard to common civil ground in digital media across different European countries? How, for instance, can actors associated with a specific political camp extend their message to citizens belonging to opposite camps in a polarised digital setting? How does this affect political actors and citizens which do not fully identify with either of those camps? Are supporters of a political party or leader willing to abandon their commitment when they are presented with irrefutable proof of undemocratic practices in digital media?
03.
What is the role of morality and emotions in radically polarised digital media settings? How do established and alternative media interrelate and contest when it comes to moral values and emotions? What does this interrelation and contestation mean to the audiences and the dynamics in the digital sphere? What types of responses (practices, discourses, and depolarisation actions) to these radically polarising figures exist in civil society and its organisations within and outside Europe?
04.
What do the answers to the questions above imply about the possibility of redressing pernicious polarisation and restoring a vital centre of liberal democratic commitments through digital communicative interventions? How can digital media be used and redesigned to overcome conditions of harmful polarisation and foster integration, for example, by highlighting commonalities or promoting pluralisation? The need to address the issues identified above is becoming increasingly urgent as harmful radical polarisation and uncivil partisanship continue to challenge liberal democracies. Proponents of this Action consider it vital to develop a concerted and coherent research agenda across Europe to shed light on the ways in which European civil spheres can be strengthened and protected, while keeping them open to criticism and reform.
05.