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Depolarizing Public Debates: Developing Tools for Transformative Communication

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

Depolarizing Public Debates: Developing Tools for Transformative Communication

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

ABOUT

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).

event

Journalism and Community Moderation in Polarized Debates

How can we contribute to constructive public debates? To answer this question, we convened a workshop with key figures from communication studies, journalism, activism, and politics.

PROGRAM CHAIR
PROGRAM CHAIR

Michael Brüggemann
University of Hamburg


Michael is Professor of Communication Research, Climate and Science Communication at University of Hamburg. He co-chairs the project Social Constructions of Climate Futures at the cluster of excellence Climate, Climatic Change and Society (CLICCS). In his current research, he focuses on climate communication and the communicative dimension of socio-ecological transformations: exploring how journalism, digital media networks and different social actors coproduce and shape public debates about global ecological challenges. Recently, he has explored both the neglect of climate coverage in the news as well as emerging practices of transformative journalism and tendencies towards discursive polarization.

Program Affiliates

  • Anamaria Dutceac Segesten

    stayed: 20-23.06.2023

    Anamaria Dutceac Segesten is a researcher at the Department of Strategic Communication at Lund University, focusing in her work on questions of democracy, digitalization and participation.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Anamaria, together with Mike Farjam, lend her expertise as part of a workshop on the role of European Journalism in polarizing debates. This conceptual kick-off workshop laid the groundwork for a collaboration between THE NEW INSTITUTE, the University of Hamburg, and Lund University, promising valuable insights into the role of European journalism in perceived polarization.

  • Cornelius Puschmann

    stayed: 4-8.09.2023

    Cornelius Puschmann is Professor of Communication and Media Studies at the Center for Media, Communication, and Information Research in Bremen. His research focuses on digital media usage, using computer-aided analysis methods, for example to research hate speech and the role of algorithmic personalization in news usage.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Cornelius lend his expertise on the potential of AI and Large Language Models as part of a workshop led by him and Axel Bruns. The workshop centered on the conception and validation of automated identification of stances in discussions on climate change-related societal transformation, both on digital media platforms and in journalism.

  • Axel Bruns

    stayed: 1-14.09.2023

    Axel Bruns is an Australian Research Council Future Fellow and Professor in the Digital Media Research Centre at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia. His current research focuses on user activity on social media such as Twitter and its significance for our understanding of contemporary media publics, building particularly on innovative methods for analyzing big social data.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Axel, together with Cornelius Puschmann, led a workshop centered on the conception and validation of automated identification of stances in discussions on climate change-related societal transformation, both on digital media platforms and in journalism.

  • Christel van Eck

    stayed: 7.10 -14.11.2023

    Christel van Eck is an Assistant Professor at the Amsterdam School of Communication Research. Her research, among other things, focuses on polarization and climate change communication, where she also investigates the role of online media in climate change polarization processes.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE Christel led a workshop on exploring the evidence base of academic scholarship in depolarizing public debates.

  • Lisa Argyle

    stayed: 29.10-4.11.2023

    Lisa Argyle is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Brigham Young University. Part of her research agenda focuses on computational social science aspects located around questions of political participation and polarization.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE Lisa highlighted the crucial role of artificial intelligence in addressing societal polarization as part of a workshop titled "The Role of AI in Depolarization Measures”. Lisa’s expertise also informed the discussion on LLMs (Large Language Models), and how they can be utilized to improve the quality of debates in a depolarizing matter.

  • Marc Ziegele

    stayed: 13-17.11.2023

    Marc Ziegele is Professor of Media and Communication Studies at the Institute of Social Sciences at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. His current research, among other things, focuses on Online journalism and community management as well as discussion culture, incivility and hate speech online.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Marc, together with Anke Stoll, lend his thematic expertise as part of a workshop on online moderation, where participants discussed examples of successful online moderation practices and the potential of automation and AI support for implementing such moderation practices on digital platforms. Both Marc and Anke will return to THE NEW INSTITUTE in 2024 for a follow-up workshop.

  • Anke Stoll

    stayed: 13-17.11.2023

    Anke Stoll works at the Institute for Media and Communication Studies at the Technical University Ilmenau. Her research focuses on the use of AI in media contexts and social media, as well as machine learning methods for communication science.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Anke, together with Marc Ziegele, was part of a workshop on online moderation, where participants discussed examples of successful online moderation practices and the potential of automation and AI support for implementing such moderation practices on digital platforms. Both Marc and Anke will return to THE NEW INSTITUTE in 2024 for a follow-up workshop.

  • Lone Sorensen

    stayed: 19.02.-1.03.2024

    Lone Sorensen is Associate Professor of Political Communication at the University of Leeds. In her research, she explores communicative pathologies within liberal representative democracies, focusing on the intersection of political communication, social media, and political epistemology.

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Lone supported the Depolarization group with her expertise on interpersonal communication, especially in the UK context.

  • Mary Scudder

    Mary Scudder is Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science at Purdue University. She is an expert on empathy and listening in political communication and, amongst other publications, author of the two books “The Two Faces of Democracy: Decentering Agonism and Deliberation” and “Beyond Empathy and Inclusion: The Challenge of Listening in Democratic Deliberation.”

    At THE NEW INSTITUTE, Mary will support the Depolarization team with her expertise on “Democratic Listening” and how this concept can be utilized to foster productive debates in potentially polarizing social discourses.

GET INVOLVED
Curatorial Note
Curatorial Note

Robert Heinecken, "Untitled Newswomen (Joan Lunden, Connie Chung, Jane Pauley, Diane Sawyer)" (1987). Inkjet on paper.

Robert Heinecken's art challenges conventional notions of photography and visual representation. He was a pioneer of postmodernism and employed innovative techniques such as photograms, collage, and appropriation to deconstruct the language of mass media and consumer culture. He taped photographic paper to a television set in a dark room, resulting in a pixelated and blurred image that critiques the predictable conventions of television news. In his portrayal of newscaster Connie Chung, Heinecken used unconventional techniques such as photograms and appropriation to deconstruct mass media and consumer culture. Through playful experimentation and provocative imagery, Heinecken prompts viewers to reconsider the authenticity of photographic representation and the influence of media on perception.

Art

PROGRAMS 2023/24

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    How are the planetary commons to be governed in an ecologically responsible, just, democratic, and resilient way?
    The program "Governing the Planetary Commons: a Focus on the Amazon" examines how to responsibly and sustainably govern crucial Earth systems, using the Amazon Rainforest as an example, and explores different governance models that could work in an ecologically sound, democratic, and resilient way.

    Learn more about the Program

  • Conceptions of Human Flourishing

    How does a non-materialist conception of human flourishing inform the reformulation of the SDGs in 2030?
    The program „Conceptions of Human Flourishing” explores how different cultures conceive of human flourishing, how the current materialist approach may limit it, and how to redesign the SDGs with a broader, more inclusive view of what human flourishing means.

    Learn more about the Program

  • Black Feminism and the Polycrisis

    How can we use the unique insights and intersectional methods of Black feminism to respond to the complexities of the contemporary polycrisis?
    The program "Black Feminism and the Polycrisis" aims to offer a novel solution space to interlocking global crises by drawing on intersectional theory and praxis, developing critical arguments about its relationship to Europatriarchal systems of domination, and offering imaginative visions for a better future.

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  • Reclaiming Common Wealth

    What are pathways, processes and institutional designs for the generation and governance of land commons?
    The program "Reclaiming Common Wealth" explores pathways, processes, and institutional designs for the generation and governance of land commons, aiming to address discontents arising from institutional investments in land, assess theories and concepts of property and value, and establish a repository of the law and institutional design of land commons, with a focus on Commons Public Partnerships.

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