Course ObjectiveAfter this class, you will…
1. Know and be able to evaluate theories from communication science,
psychology, political science, and sociology on democratic functioning
and polarization –a central trend challenging societal resilience– with
an emphasis on mass and computer-mediated communication.
2. Have attained the skills to describe research questions that are
embedded in and emanate from relevant theories on polarization,
particularly in the domain of mass communication, so that they are an
appropriate starting point for a research proposal.
3. Be able to describe the societal relevance of a research question,
also by using empirical analysis of data.
4. Have enhanced your basic skills to apply computational research
techniques and qualitative and quantitative methods which are used to
collect, edit and analyze large or unstructured datasets.
5. Be able to reflect critically on polarization research conducted in
the ISR and to identify strengths and weaknesses of both quantitative
and qualitative research methods.
6. Have improved your skills to conduct a literature search by using
feasible and relevant search terms, evaluate the quality of your
research question and theories, and add proper references.
7. Be able to present the scientific and societal relevance of a
research question and relevant theories on polarization in a clear
manner so that they are understandable for stakeholders outside
8. Be able to value the disciplinary and intercultural input of other
group members about your re-search questions and underlying assumptions
of these questions and to benefit from them to enrich your research
questions and add original perspectives.
9. Be able to interpret and position polarization in the context of
societal resilience research.
Course ContentThe resilience of Western democracies is currently challenged due to
ever more fragmented political landscapes (e.g. the Netherlands), the
rise of populist movements (e.g. Germany, the Netherlands, Austria), and
an increasing polarized electorate (e.g. the US). Mass media play an
essential role in modern societies, and are considered an important
pillar of democracy. The Internet fosters specific ways how people
communicate and receive information about the world. These patterns of
networking and communication foster a dynamically interconnected
society, based on which potentially also forces (e.g., societal
polarization, populist movements, science skepticism, rise of a
post-truth era) that currently challenge democracies arise.
The Internet differs from traditional channels like television, radio,
or newspapers. Not only does the psychology of online communication
differ from traditional mass communication and face-to-face
communication (e.g., due to role of anonymity). But in contrast to
traditional media, on the Internet ‘everybody can be a journalist’, the
veracity and quality of provided information strongly varies, the
veracity of information is often hard to judge (and usually barely
scrutinized), and selective exposure to like-minded content or echo
chambers is easier. These differences raise concerns that particularly
in already segregated and politically polarized environments (including
the US political landscape of liberals vs. conservatives, and populist
movements in Europe) online communication might further threaten social
stability and coherence in society rather than induce deliberation and
mutual understanding among citizens. Concrete examples include effects
of echo chambers and filter bubbles, but also the spreading of
intentionally false disinformation and ‘fake news’, as well as
accidentally false information that is perceived as credible and
massively shared online.
The ultimate goal of this class is to understand if and how the new
dynamics of interconnectedness fostered by online communication may
threaten democratic functioning by contesting rather than fostering
deliberation, mutual understanding, and eventual social stability. More
specifically, the present course has three main goals. First, it aims to
provide a thorough understanding of societal polarization, and
particularly the role of mass and computer-mediated online communication
(e.g., via the Internet) in fostering societal polarization. Second, it
aims to guide you towards a convincing research question on mass media
and societal polarization that could be the starting point in your
development of a full research proposal in P5. Third, the class aims to
improve your skills in science communication, so that you are able to
present and discuss your research idea with external stakeholders.
In summary, the aims of this course are:
// To provide a better understanding of the role of online communication
within the context of the democratic function of mass media;
// To understand the scientific state-of-the-art regarding the interplay
of online communication and societal polarization from an
interdisciplinary perspective, combining insights from communication
science, sociology, and political science;
// To understand how research on polarization can be embedded in a
societal resilience perspective.
// To learn how qualitative and/or quantitative methods are applied to
study or document societal polarization;
// To develop and convincingly defend (also before external
stakeholders) a sound research question about polarization that moves
beyond the state of the art;
// To conduct and report a small empirical analysis on polarization to
further substantiate this re-search question.
Teaching MethodsIn the course, different teaching formats are used:
Each session last for 2 hours (with a 15 minute break). Most sessions of
this the class will offer interactive meetings that provide a mixture of
interactive lectures and hands-on workgroup activities We believe in a
flipped classroom principle, in which you present the learning mate-rial
studied at home so that there is time for interactive discussion and
hands-on working activities in the actual session (usually in pairs,
i.e., together with another student). These activities result in certain
products or deliverables (like your research question draft or final
proposal, or extended abstract and poster presentation, and research
log, see below). In addition, most sessions will also feature standard
lecture-elements like 15-minute kick-off presentations or concluding
presentations by the course coordinators on the session’s topic.
Throughout the course, you will keep track of your learning process in a
research log. In this reflection assignment, you describe your learning
trajectory: what you learned in relation to the theme, how you
experienced the group-work, and your individual role within the group
and contribution to the research process. This is an individual
In addition, the class features two practicals, the jigsaw sessions in
week 5 and the pressure cooker empirical study in week 6.
Method of Assessment1. The midterm exam consists of five open ended questions (20% of the
2. Final assignment (75% of the final grade). You can choose between two
different types of final assignments: writing a theoretical paper or
designing and presenting a poster (including extended abstract).
3. Research log and reflection assignment (5% of the final grade).
Literature// Anderson, A. A., Brossard, D., Scheufele, D. A., Xenos, M. A. &
Ladwig, P. (2014). The "Nasty Effect:" Online incivility and risk
perceptions of emerging technologies. Journal of Computer-Mediated
Communication, 19, 373– 387.
// Bosancianu, C.M. (2017). A growing rift in values? Income and
educational inequality and their impact on mass attitude polarization.
Social Science Quarterly, 98(5): 1587-1602.
// Coe, L., Kenski, K., & Rains, S.A. (2014). Online and uncivil?
Patterns and determinants of incivility in newspaper website comments.
Journal of Communication, 64(4), 658–679.
// DiMaggio, P., Evans, J., & Bryson, B. (1996). Have American's Social
Attitudes Become More Polarized? The American Journal of Sociology, 102(
// Flaxman, S., Goel, S. & Rao, J.M., (2016). Filter bubbles, echo
chambers, and online news consumption. Public Opinion Quarterly, 80,
// Fletcher, R., Cornia, A., Nielsen, R.K. (2018). How is online news
consumption changing news audience polarization? A comparative analysis
of eight countries. Paper presented at ICA 2018, Prague.
// Hamnett, C. (2001). Social segregation and social polarization.
Handbook of urban studies, 162-176.
// Iyengar, S. & Westwood, S.J. (2015). Fear and loathing across party
lines: New evidence on group polarization. American Journal of Political
Science, 59(3): 690-707.
// Jung, J., Grim, P., Singer, D. J., Bramson, A., Berger, W. J.,
Holman, B., & Kovaka, K. (2019). A multidisciplinary understanding of
polarization. American Psychologist, 74(3), 301-314.
// Lazar, D., Baum, M., Benkler, J., Berinski, A., Greenhill, K.,
Menczer, F., Metzger, M., Nyhan, B., Pennycook, G., Rothchild, D.,
Schudson, M., Sloman, S., Sunstein, C., Thorson, E., Watts, D., &
Zittrain, J. (2018). The science of fake news. Science, 359, 1094-1096.
// Lelkes, Y., Sood, G., & Iyengar, S. (2017). The hostile audience: The
effect of access to broadband internet on partisan affect. American
Journal of Political Science, 61(1), 5-20.
// Lewandowsky, S., Ecker, U.K.H., & Cook, J. (2018). Beyond
misinformation: Understanding and coping with the “Post-Truth” era.
Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 6, 353-369.
// Lozada, M (2014). "Us or them? Social representations and imaginaries
of the other in Venezuela." Papers on Social Representations, 23,
// Mancini, P. (2013). Media Fragmentation, Party System, and Democracy.
The International Journal of Press/Politics, 18(1), 43-60.
// Marsh, E. J., & Yang, B. W. (2018). Believing things that are not
true: A cognitive science perspective on misinformation. In B. Southwell
(Ed.) Misinformation and Mass Audiences (pp. 15-34). University of Texas
// Mason, L. (2015). "I Disrespectfully Agree": The Differential Effects
of Partisan Sorting on Social and Issue Polarization. American Journal
of Political Science, 59(1), 128-145.
// McCoy, J., Rahman, T., & Somer, M. (2018). Polarization and the
global crisis of democracy: Com-mon patterns, dynamics, and pernicious
consequences for democratic polities. American Behavioral Scientist,
// McGarty, C., Turner, J. C., Hogg, M. A., David, B., & Wetherell, M.
S. (1992). Group polarization as conformity to the prototypical group
member. British Journal of Social Psychology, 31, 1-20.
// McQuail, D. (2010). McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory (6th
edition). London: Thousand Oaks. [chapter 4: Theory of media and
society; pp. 79-111 and chapter 7: Normative theory of media and
society; pp. 161-189].
// Metzger, M. J., & Flanagin, A. J. (2015). Psychological approaches
to credibility assessment online. In S. Sundar (Ed.). Handbook of the
Psychology of Communication Technology (pp. 445-466). Hoboken, NJ:
// Onwuegbuzie, A.J. & Leech, N.L. (2005). On becoming a pragmatic
researcher: The importance of combining quantitative and qualitative
research methodologies. International Journal of Social Research
Methodology, 8(5), 375-387.
// Prior, M. (2013). Media and political polarization. Annual Review of
Political Science, 16, 101-127.
// Somer, M., & McCoy, J. (2018). Déjà vu? Polarization and endangered
democracies in the 21st Century. American Behavioral Scientist, 62(1),
// Spears, R. Lea, M. & Postmes, T. (2007). CMC and social identity. In
A. Joinson, K. McKenna, T. Postmes, & U Reips (Eds.) Oxford handbook of
Internet psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (pp. 253-272).
// Walther, J. B. (2011). Theories of computer-mediated communication
and interpersonal relations. In M. L. Knapp & J. A. Daly (Eds.). The
Sage handbook of interpersonal communication (4th ed., pp. 443-479).
Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
// Wojcieszak, M. (2015). Polarization, political. In G. Mazzoleni, K.
G. Barnhurst, K. Ikeda, R. C. M. Maia, & H. Wessler (Eds.). The
international encyclopedia of political communication. Volume 2. (pp.
968-973). New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Target AudienceResearch master Societal Resilience students
Additional InformationWe really value feedback on the courses and consider evaluation as a
mutual process of giving and receiving feedback back and forward between
course coordinators and students. This course will be evaluated based
// Introducing a note of conduct for both course coordinators and
students at the start of the course
// Regular feedback by course coordinators about their impression of the
performance of the students and vice versa
// An evaluation meeting in session 15
// Regular student evaluation forms of the VU administered at the end of
Recommended background knowledgeThis course focuses on how the new dynamics of interconnectedness
fostered by online communication may threaten democratic functioning by
contesting rather than fostering deliberation, mutual understanding, and
eventual social stability. Before you start, you should make sure that
you have knowledge about basic concepts and theories of wicked problems
and societal resilience and that you feel comfortable in applying both
quantitative and/or qualitative methods, and feel confident about
academic writing. The course also requires that you apply your skills
gained in P3 about collecting and analyzing Big Data and Small Data
(P3). Next to the P1-P3 classes, you can prepare for this course by
getting acquainted with political communication research and the
computer-mediated communication literature.
|Language of Tuition||English|
|Faculty||Faculty of Social Sciences|
|Course Coordinator||prof. dr. T. Hartmann|
|Examiner||prof. dr. T. Hartmann|
prof. dr. T. Hartmann
prof. dr. J. van Stekelenburg
You need to register for this course yourself
|Teaching Methods||Study Group, Reading|