Skip to main content

Call for Papers: Breaking the Dynamics of Political Polarization

Call for papers

DRD Annual Workshop, 6–7 June 2024

Breaking the Dynamics of Political Polarization
When Do Conciliatory Actors Fail or Succeed?

Convenors: Andreas Schedler (CEU Democracy Institute, Budapest), Jennifer McCoy (Georgia State University, Atlanta), and Murat Somer (Ozyegin University, Istanbul)

Submission deadline for paper proposals: 15 January 2024

Thematic Outline

A ubiquitous concern in current debates on the global crisis of democracy is political polarization. When trapped in “toxic” or “pernicious” polarization, political adversaries view each other, and reinforce each other’s perceptions with their actions, as threats to democratic coexistence and hence as enemies to be constricted, silenced, or expelled from democratic politics. This vicious cycle appears to be almost impossible to break. Yet, wherever polarization takes off, many actors see its dangers and seek to transcend confrontation, reconcile the camps, and restore reciprocal trust. This workshop invites systematic studies of both “success” and “failure” of such “conciliatory actors” within polarized democratic competition.

The Rarity of Democratic Depolarization

Extant scholarship has paid little attention to conciliatory actors. And where it has, it has focused on “negative” cases where polarization is either ongoing or reconciliatory efforts have failed. Recent research suggests two broad facts. First, historically, extreme polarization of democratic conflict has often been “resolved” in nondemocratic manner. That is, it has been suppressed through autocratic rule in the wake of democratic subversion or breakdown (“authoritarian depolarization”). Second, cases of “democratic depolarization,” which is, of successful transitions from extreme democratic polarization through democratic means, have been rare (McCoy, Press, Somer and Tuncel, 2022).

Their rarity makes it even more urgent to incorporate existing “positive” cases into comparative research. Unless we understand both successful and failed initiatives to transcend mutual perceptions of democratic enmity, we will remain helpless in the face of polarizing spirals.

Conciliatory Pathways

To understand the potential role of conciliatory actors in the face of political polarization, we first need to recognize the intricate complexity of polarizing conflicts. Roughly speaking, when group A describes group B as a threat to democratic coexistence, the problem may be behavioral (B is an actual threat to democracy), perceptual (A is mistaken), or discursive (A speaks in bad faith). In the first case, the responsible “polarizing actor” is B, in the latter two, it is A. As polarizing dynamics are reciprocal, these distinctions are endemically contested.

Within such contested contexts, democratic conciliatory actors may strive to achieve “depolarization” by

  1. Inducing changes in the behavior, perceptions, or discourse of polarizing agents.
  2. Inducing polarizing individuals to quit the political arena (withdrawal, term limits, criminal prosecution).
  3. Achieving victory in democratic elections.
  4. Deactivating underlying social cleavages and grievances (conflict resolution, shifting priorities).

We invite systematic thinking and research on such possible trajectories and facilitating structural, institutional, and political conditions and agentic choices.

Core questions

The workshop will seek to answer the following questions:

  • Which have been the strategies and trajectories of conciliatory actors by parties and candidates?
  • Which have been the strategies and trajectories of conciliatory actors in civil society?
  • Which have been the results of their efforts? Have they been counterproductive, nil, marginal, or transformative?
  • What counts as success or failure? Surviving in hostile terrain? Making a gesture? Preventing the worst?
  • What explains alternative outcomes? Which structures and actions appear to encourage or inhibit them?

Paper Profiles

Within these broad concerns, we seek papers on:

  • The persistence or emergence and performance of conciliatory “third actors” in both political and civil society.
  • The persistence or emergence, and performance of conciliatory actors within the antagonistic camps.
  • Analytic case studies, small-N and large-N research on their beliefs, narratives, choices, and trajectories.
  • Structural, institutional, and cultural conditions of their success or failure.
  • The organizational, electoral and discursive strategies of successful and failed reconciliatory actors.
  • The counterstrategies of polarizing agents and their conflictive interactions with conciliatory actors.
  • The cooperation or competition among and within conciliatory actors.

We welcome studies of depolarizing interventions at either macro- or meso-levels (rather than micro-studies limited to the level of individual citizens). Papers may analyze contemporary or historical cases. They may cover democratic regimes in any world region. Within the framework if the workshop, we exclude studies of “polarization” in authoritarian regimes. In the spirit of methodological pluralism, we are open to both qualitative and quantitative studies. Given the paucity of research on the topic, we expect that analytic case studies might prove particularly fruitful.


The workshop will take place on 6 and 7 June 2024 in Budapest. To ensure intense, focused discussion, the event will be small. We foresee a maximum of 12 paper givers. We will be able to fund travel and accommodation for a limited number of participants. Full paper drafts will be due 10 days before the workshop. We hope to publish selected, revised versions of workshop papers as an edited volume or thematic journal issue. We will discuss publication plans at the concluding session of the workshop.

Paper proposals

We ask paper proposals to include the following information:

  • A tentative paper title
  • A brief description of the planned paper (no more than 250 words)
  • Author details: name, institution, academic position, biographical note (no more than 100 words)
  • List of relevant publications (max. 10)
  • An indication whether you will need funding for travel and accommodation in case your paper is accepted for the workshop

Please, send submit your submission before 15 January 2024, 24:00 hrs. CET, via our submission form here.

If you have any questions, please contact Flóra Hevesi.

Research areas: