Publication / Global Initiative on Polarization

First Principles: The Need for Greater Consensus on the Fundamentals of Polarisation

Written by IFIT Founder and Executive Director Mark Freeman, this publication draws on wide-ranging research, consultations and convenings conducted in the context of IFIT’s and the Ford Foundation’s Global Initiative on Polarization.

The first part of the publication focuses at the level of ideas, examining persistent ambiguities in our understanding of polarisation and offering a ‘hallmarks’ definition that might facilitate a more shared baseline among academics and practitioners alike. The second part draws on a global survey of de-polarisation practice, and on IFIT’s own fieldwork, to formulate an indicative solutions spectrum. The third part briefly explores the impact of the absence of any organised global network of scholars and practitioners working collaboratively on polarisation, and reflects on what it might mean for a ‘field’ of polarisation to emerge.

While there are worse evils in the world, polarisation is a problem ignored at one’s own peril. One might call it a ‘hyper-problem’: the special category of problem that makes the solution to every other problem harder. Inconspicuously and incrementally, polarisation can come to threaten everything – from the ideal of a tolerant society, to the practice of ordinary politics, to the prospects for peaceful coexistence and basic liberties. Achieving greater consensus on what polarisation is (and is not) is a critical step in avoiding this fate. 

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