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Education University of Groningen Summer Schools


Transdisciplinary Approaches to Societal Polarisation
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Around the world, political and societal discourse is suffering from an increasingly polarised public sphere. Polarisation occurs when the ‘middle’ is lost, and society divides into largely separate and non-interacting groups, with no sense of common ground and loss of mutual understanding and cooperation. Polarisation dynamics play out within specific ‘issues’ (think of climate change, vaccination policies, social justice topics), as well as more generally in the public sphere, with distrust, lack of interaction, and distaste, anger or even loathing resulting between members of opposing ‘camps’. 

The polarisation of the public sphere diminishes the space for constructive and collaborative processes, and in this way it undermines democracy, as well as our ability to collectively address the enormous challenges of our time, such as the climate crisis and societal inequality. There is thus an urgent need to understand the dynamics of polarisation and how they play out in our societies, so that we can work to counteract them.            

In this summer school students will have the opportunity to work together with researchers from the University of Groningen and Stellenbosch University, in the disciplines of (social) psychology, philosophy, political science, sociology, and other relevant disciplines, in an innovative hybrid and transdisciplinary programme addressing polarisation from multiple perspectives. Students will learn about and engage with current debates and emerging research insights which address and analyse our polarised times, and will work together in mixed groups (both in terms of discipline and country of study) on developing an intervention to mitigate against processes of polarisation in a specific context, brought in as a challenge by external societal partners.

Practical information

1 - 5 July 2024
Groningen, the Netherlands
Please note that there will be online sessions before and after.

BA/MA/(PhD if places available)


€ 100 for students of University of Groningen, Stellenbosch University and ENLIGHT, possibility of a waiver.
€ 250 for PhD students and students from external universities.

Travel and accommodation are not included in the above fees and are at the participants' own expenses.

Academic coordinators

Marian Counihan, UCG
Alette Arendshorst, GMW


Alette Arendshorst LLM
External collaboration coordinator Faculty Behavioural and Social Sciences

The summer school is offered to advanced bachelor and masters students at both the University of Groningen and Stellenbosch University, and taught by staff from both universities. It will also be open to external students and PhD students if numbers allow. In this way, both students and staff will learn about topical polarisation dynamics in other country contexts in the global South / North, and gain valuable additional perspectives on their own contexts.

Required background knowledge

The course is designed for advanced bachelor / honours / master students with backgrounds in relevant disciplines from the social sciences or humanities including (social) psychology, philosophy, political science, sociology, linguistics, history, law etc.

It is expected that the participants have a sufficient command of the English language to actively participate in the discussions and to present their own work in English.

Course schedule

The summer school has an innovative blended and transdisciplinary format. The educational programme will consist of a combination of preparatory self-study sessions, (online) lectures, workshops, discussion groups, case studies, as well as a group project conducted after the week together online. Besides lectures by multidisciplinary staff from both universities, an important component of this school will be the use of interactive learning methods in a dynamic hybrid environment, with active discussion and critical reflection by participants.

Topics addressed in the summer school will include:

●  Conceptual framework of polarisation: different definitions, indicators of polarisation

●  Political polarisation: populism, loss of trust, loss of political ‘middle’

●  Polarisation dynamics in social groups, both online and offline.

●  Transitional justice: addressing past wrongs, present polarisation.

●  Polarisation in the media – including algorithmic bias in social media, science reporting

●  Epistemic polarisation: echo chambers, epistemic vice

● Polarisation in relation to the environment, climate, etc.

● Polarisation relating to language: language nationalism, polarisation in a multilingual society/institutions, polarising rhetoric

●  Polarisation around religion and gender in international politics that affect international development

●  Reduction of polarisation: interventions, working mechanisms

Learning outcomes

Upon completion of this summer school, students will gain the following.


Students will be able to:

  • Articulate definitions of polarisation.

  • Understand different indicators for polarisation, as described by different fields of research (e.g., affective polarisation, network homogeneity, etc).

  • Describe the key factors and processes that contribute to societal polarisation.


Students will be able to:

  • Analyse polarisation through different lenses (social psychological, philosophical, sociological, linguistic).

  • Critically evaluate interventions aimed at reducing polarisation.

  • Integrate different perspectives on polarisation, and apply them to a specific case.

  • Develop practical advice to reduce polarisation in an applied context.

  • Communicate this advice to policy partners in a report and/or presentation.


Students will be able to:

  • Be aware of the different forms polarisation may take in different societal contexts in the global North and global South (with a specific focus on the NL and SA).

  • Understand, respect, and reflect on the diversity of perspective of students from different societal contexts and disciplines.

  • Understand and reflect on the experiences of people living in a highly polarised context, and how this may alter their cognitions, emotions, and behavior.





Preparatory reading and assignment


Online sessions and self-study over three weeks beforehand

Summer school week

50 (25 contact hours)

Fully on-site

Group project


Group research, online meetings, and writing




Upon successful completion of the programme, the Summer School offers a Certificate of Attendance that mentions the workload of 140 hours (28 hours corresponds to 1 ECTS). Students can apply for recognition of these credits to the relevant authorities in their home institutions, therefore the final decision on awarding credits is at the discretion of their home institutions. We will be happy to provide any necessary information that might be requested in addition to the certificate of attendance.

Application procedure

To apply, kindly fill out the online application form. Please note that you will be asked to upload the following documents:

  • Updated Curriculum Vitae (max. 2 pages)
  • Motivation letter, clearly stating why you want to join this summer school, what you will bring to the school and what you hope to learn (max. 1 page)

The deadline for application is 15 April 2024. Selected applicants will be informed by 22 April 2024.

Last modified:21 March 2024 3.17 p.m.