Book tip: Polarisation, understanding the dynamics of us versus them by Bart Brandsma


Voorkant boek Bart Brandsma Polarisatie

Book tip by Han Verhoeven 

The book ‘Polarisation, understanding the dynamics of us versus them’ by Bart Brandsma is an insightful boek about the dynamics of conflict and polarisation, about how they interrelate and about how you can effectively deal with polarisation dynamics.

Part 1 start with dissecting the workings of polarisation. Through a combination of five roles (the Pusher, the Joiner, the Silent, the Bridge builder and the Scapegoat) polarisation gets its own dynamics. Polarisation is characterised by powerlessness. Us versus them thinking is omnipresent.

After this, part 2 provides insights into conflict (polarisation’s little brother) and the interplay between polarisation and conflict. In part 3, you are given practical tools to deal with polarisation. What is necessary for depolarisation? What are the possibilities in the prevention phase, the intervention phase, the mediation phase and the reconciliation phase of polarisation and conflict? How and when do we conduct dialogue? What are the pitfalls? Finally, the questions about how radicalisation goes together with polarisation and the role of journalism are discussed.

My insights after reading the book are as follows:

  1. Polarisation is often a larger problem than the conflict that manifested above the water line. Make sure you consider the polarisation below the surface of the people around the conflict.
  2. We have conflicts because we want the same, not because we differ. This offers a workable starting point to achieve progress with conflict partners.
  3. Pushers aim at the polar opposite and put it in a bad light, they put pressure on the people in the middle to speak out and take sides and become a Joiner.
  4. If you act as a bridge builder who is above both parties, you strengthen the polarisation dynamics. Change happens because of the quiet middle, the silent majority. By being vulnerable and listening to what is happening in the middle, you can break through the polarisation dynamics.
  5. A dialogue about the identity of the other provides fuel for polarisation.
  6. A dialogue aimed at exchanging knowledge and building understanding for the other works in the prevention phase of conflict and polarisatie. In the intervention phase, when both parties are still interested in investing in the battle, dialogue does not work. Effective dialogue in the mediation phase considers the conflict and the participants themselves and their skills to deal with conflict as the topic of the dialogue. What can these sources contribute to dealing with conflict?

Curious? Check out these movies about polarisation dynamics, different actors and what to do. And read the book!