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EASP – European Association of Social Psychology

Report on EASP Meeting: Polarization, Populism, Political Alienation: Causes and Consequences of Social Diversity and Inequality?

31.01.2019, by Tina Keil in meeting report

Consultation and Discussion Seminar with a Focus on PhD Students and Postdocs: 1st-4th November, 2018, Landau, Germany

Organizers: Melanie C. Steffens1, Susanne Bruckmüller2, Franziska Ehrke1, Julia Dupont1, Nadine Knab1, Nicole Methner1,2
1University of Koblenz-Landau, 2University of Erlangen-Nuremberg

Changes in the social and political sphere appear to happen ever faster: Social diversity in-creases in many “Western” societies. Also, many people feel disconnected from economic prosperity. Social inequality grows, and so does political alienation. Populist leaders, political parties, and movements have gained influence. In short, the political and social sphere chang-es, with challenging consequences for intergroup relations. This international EASP meeting brought together junior and senior researchers interested in two topics that have been typically targeted separately in the past: (a) Changes in the political sphere and (b) social diversity and inequality. We aimed to establish a knowledge base in social psychology that connects these phenomena as they have been studies mostly separately. Consequently, this meeting set a base to some of the most pressing questions of our time: How does social inequality influence political behavior? Last, but not least, we also asked: How can psychology influence challenges in the political sphere?

In total, 39 researchers participated in the meeting, among them 18 PhD students and 24 women. In light of our conference’s topic, the diversity of our participants didn’t stop there, we also welcomed additional guests, among them children and Felicia Pratto's dog Cleo. Overall, the attending scholars came from 14 different countries: Germany, Netherlands, the USA, Israel, Switzerland, Portugal, Italy, Turkey, France, Poland, Hungary, Greece, Belgium, and India.

From the very beginning participants could meet each other and discuss their research by conducting two blitz talk sessions with accompanying poster presentations. A highlight of this day was a keynote talk by Felicia Pratto drawing on intra- and international dynamics of power and political mistrust in a globalized world.

The following days were filled with interesting discussions and research presentations accumulating new insights into the relationship between social inequality and changing political spheres. Plenary sessions brought together questions of social injustice and the rise of (right-wing) populism, tackled the question how social identity processes are related to political polarization, and considered the role of (negative) emotions as predictors for political participation. In his keynote talk, Eran Halperin presented comprehensive research on the role of emotion and emotion regulation in intergroup conflicts. Further, he gave insights into methods to affect emotion regulation that may benefit intergroup relations, paving a way for positive social change. Also, other sessions focused on research regarding social change. Current research regarding the interplay between sexism and language exemplified how minor actions can increase conflict or provide opportunities for conflict reduction.
On base of a very specific policy issue, namely inequality through taxes, Anne Maass discussed various psychological underpinnings why people endorse tax reductions for the poor, but are reluctant to increase taxes for the rich, showing a seemingly irrational asymmetry in wealth redistribution.

A further highlight were the many consultation sessions in which especially junior scholars could meet senior researchers to discuss their research or future cooperations. Plenty of time was devoted to comprehensive and constructive discussions after and between the talks. Of course, several social gatherings provided also more informal opportunities for deeper and more detailed discussions: An exciting tour into the underground catacombs showed Landau’s importance for intergroup, or rather international, relations as well. Located at the border to France and part of it until 1815, King Louis XIV ordered to build a fortress around Landau, which nowadays still continues to exist, most astonishingly underground.

Participants’ feedback was extremely positive, as can be exemplified by the following quote from participants who emailed us after the meeting:

I had a great time! And beyond the intellectual stimulation, a nice sense of community sharing the same passion for political psychology and addressing important timely societal issues. This was quite a memorable experience :)

Taken together, we believe three elements were particularly stimulating: the blitz talk poster sessions, ample time planned for discussion after each presentation, and the consultation slots. If there is anything that we could still have improved, adding integrative panel discussions could have been useful to stimulate reflections on bigger meta-theoretical issues.

We are looking forward to seeing again all researchers attending our meeting at future conferences. Thank you for attending and enriching the discussions.

The meeting was co-founded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Research group “Communication, Media and Politics” (KoMePol), University of Koblenz-Landau and Freundeskreis of the University of Koblenz-Landau. We greatly thank the EASP and all co-funding institutions for their support that made this meeting possible.