In their new paper „When debates break apart: discursive polarization as a multi-dimensional divergence emerging in and through communication“, Michael Brüggemann and Hendrik Meyer introduce a public sphere perspective on polarization.
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“Polarization” is a common diagnosis of the state of contemporary societies. Yet, few studies theorize or systematically analyze how polarization evolves in media content. To guide future empirical studies, the authors introduce a public sphere perspective on polarization. Discursive Polarization, defined as divergence emerging in public communication, may disrupt the public sphere if left untamed. Its analysis should combine the study of ideological polarization (increasing disagreement about issues) and affective polarization (growing disaffection between groups) as evolving in communication. Both processes may be measured in media content. The authors propose a framework combining the study of journalism and digital communication networks, investigating (1) content and (2) networked interactions regarding both political issues and social identity formation. The exploration of how the public sphere is disrupted in the process of Discursive Polarization may help to understand the wider social phenomenon of polarization: before societies break apart, debates break apart.
Michael Brüggemann and Hendrik Meyer are involved in the program Depolarizing Public Debates at THE NEW INSTITUTE.