Depolarizing Public Debates: Developing Tools for Transformative Communication


Depolarizing Public Debates: Developing Tools for Transformative Communication


How can we depolarize public debates on socio-ecological transformations?

In a nutshell

Radical socio-ecological transformations of our societies require an open and inclusive public debate. Such a debate will involve conflicts as part of the democratic process, but under certain conditions, controversies run the risk of falling victim to an untamed process of polarization. Polarization means the splitting of society into groups who disagree on the most basic questions and no longer regard each other as legitimate participants in a common debate. Polarization is neither a universal nor natural phenomenon, which raises questions about the factors that drive it. In this project, we focus on digital media networks and news coverage as key drivers of polarization by, among other things, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of polarizing societies.

The existential and normative question of how society should transform to tackle global ecological challenges is an utterly relevant case to study how polarization unfolds in communication. We will study polarization in the content of news media, in digital media networks and in unmediated political communication – looking at how these different arenas influence each other.

In phase one, we will develop a polarization barometer (Spring and Summer 2023), a combination of qualitative and automated tools to measure polarization through content and network analysis. With this in place, we will identify factors of depolarization (Fall 2023). In the third phase, we aim to develop a toolbox for depolarization, engaging both with the science of polarization and practitioners from the spheres of journalism, digital platforms and civil society (Winter and Spring 2024).


Michael Brüggemann
Michael is an expert in communication science, with a focus on climate change and media. He teaches at the University of Hamburg and has published numerous works on transnational communication and cross-media networking.

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  • Number of persons sought

    Three to five persons per call.

  • Funding period

    Either 1, 2, or 3 terms:

    • Fall term: 18 September – 15 December 2023
    • Winter term: 15 January – 29 March 2024
    • Spring term: 2 May – 28 June 2024

      Please indicate how many terms you wish to come.
  • Profile

    Scholars from the humanities and social sciences or practitioners in politics,
    business, art, media, or journalism with a commitment to the mission of THE NEW INSTITUTE, expertise in a field related to one of our projects, and
    interest in collaborating across our programs. Individuals with expertise in the
    empirical study of communication and media, e.g., with backgrounds in
    communication and digital media research, political science, psychology, and
    sociology or sustainability studies are especially encouraged to apply.
    Practitioners from different sectors (journalism, digital media, civil society,
    business, politics) who would like to contribute to developing the
    depolarization toolbox in the final phase (Winter and spring term 2024) are
    also invited to apply.

  • Tasks

    • Actively participating in the collaborative fellow work
    • Implementing the proposed project
  • Location

    Fellows are required to be present at THE NEW INSTITUTE in Hamburg at least four days a week during the respective term.

  • Stipend

    Individually negotiated, following the principle “no loss, no gain” (as a rule tax-exempt in Germany).

  • Housing

    Fully furnished and equipped apartments will be provided on the premises of TNI at the Warburg Ensemble. 80% subsidy for rent and utilities on top of stipend. Larger apartments for fellows with family members staying for longer than 3 months will be provided.

  • Meals

    Breakfasts and lunches will be provided on weekdays during the terms, dinners on Wednesdays. 400 Euro contributions will automatically be deducted from stipend. Subject to change.

  • Application materials

    • Letter of motivation (3 pages max)
    • CV, (including current address, nationality, gender ; statement of career level)
    • proposal for a project in accordance with the call (3-5 pages max.)
  • Application procedure

    Please send your application as a single pdf to

    • Depolarizing Public Debates: Developing Tools for Transformative Communication (download pdf)

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