UC3M coordinates an EU-funded network to promote research on radical polarisation

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The European Union (EU) is funding a network of international collaborative research projects (a COST action) to address the growing phenomenon of radical polarisation and, at the same time, to strengthen democratic values and civil discourse in Europe. This initiative, DepolarisingEU, is chaired by a researcher at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M), María Luengo, Associate Professor in the University’s Communication Department.

Polarisation has become increasingly widespread in liberal democratic societies, posing significant challenges to tolerance, openness and civil discourse. In fact, the term was chosen as word of the year 2023 by the Fundación del Español Urgente (Foundation of Urgent Spanish) (FundéuRAE, in its Spanish acronym). Its meaning and scope, however, is being highly debated, according to researchers. "Political confrontation or, in Chantal Mouffe’s terms, democratic "agonism" can have very positive dynamic effects for debate in democracy. But it can also be very harmful when the discussion is increasingly in the form of opposition between two opposing sides", explains María Luengo.

The DepolarisingEU network seeks to address this problem by promoting interdisciplinary collaboration and developing effective interventions to mitigate undemocratic partisanship. "This initiative represents a crucial step in countering the divisive forces of radical polarisation and strengthening European civil spheres," says Professor Maria Luengo. "By collaborating with civil and media organisations, we aim to promote pluralism and enhance democratic values in the digital age," she adds.

DepolarisingEU will use a multifaceted approach, drawing on cultural sociology and civil sphere theory to provide a regulatory framework for understanding and addressing radical polarisation. Through collaborative research, the network seeks to identify best practices and develop practical tools to effectively counter, redress and prevent radical polarisation.

"Our goal is to equip people and communities with the necessary skills and knowledge to engage in civil and constructive dialogue," explains Nadya Jaworsky, a lecturer at Masaryk University (in the Czech Republic) and vice president of this action. "By promoting communication interventions and improving media literacy, we can mitigate the negative impact of digital media on polarisation and promote a more inclusive public discourse".

Redressing Radical Polarisation: Strengthening European Civil Spheres facing Illiberal Digital Media (DepolarisingEU) is an initiative that started in November 2023 with 23 researchers from 12 countries, although it currently already has over 100 researchers from 34 countries. The project will run for four years, until 2027, when they hope to have made significant contributions to the field of sociology and communication studies.