In our ever more diverse societies, polarisation is becoming increasingly prominent. Surprisingly, however, the social sciences lag behind when it comes to answering basic questions such as what polarisation is exactly and how we can measure it. In this expertise lab we therefore aim to conceptualize and operationalize the concept of polarisation. Our working definition of polarisation will be the increase of opposition between groups in society that, in its most pernicious form, may result in conflict, increased intergroup tensions and growing segregation (along ethnic, religious and class lines). Our research departs from four basic questions:
- What is polarisation? As various disciplines are involved in studying polarisation, definitions and approaches are manifold. By exchanging different perspectives we opt for an integrative approach to polarisation;
- How do processes of polarisation occur? An analysis of polarisation processes benefits from observation of psychological, sociological, technological and political factors that stir polarisation.
- What are the constructive and destructive consequences of polarisation? Polarisation might not only impair trust and cohesion in a society but enhance democratic processes by emphasizing differences as well. Processes of polarisation are regarded as balancing acts; researching ‘tipping points’ that affect this balance, enables us to better understand underlying processes and formulate action perspectives / interventions to both address the destructive effects of polarisation, while stimulating the constructive effects.
- What are resilient action perspectives in times of polarisation? Using an action based research approach enables polarisation lab experts to cooperate with different stakeholders (security professionals, aid workers, journalists) to increase their potential for finding resilient solutions.
The polarisation lab aims at exchanging academic reflection, professional expertise and practical knowledge among researchers, policy makers and professionals, in order to better understand polarisation and providing for action perspectives that both mitigate destructive and enable constructive effects of polarisation in society.