2016 Symposium - September 28th & 29th

Polarization: A forum on extreme radical thought in our environment, society, and technology.

We live in an era in which ideologies often seem diametrically opposed and common ground is frequently elusive. Whether such apparent polarization is real or imagined is certainly open to debate, but our impression of polarization undoubtedly influences our mindsets and social discourse on scales ranging from the individual to the global. Environmental, social, and technological problems are especially liable to be viewed through a black-and-white lens, and the American political scene and social media are just two potential facilitators of such perspectives.

We have identified four subthemes as core focal areas:

The Positives and Negatives of Polarization

Polarization can arguably be considered as a positive or negative characteristic. While it may prevent compromise and exclude moderate voices, it also fosters innovative thought that might not emerge in a more moderate environment. What conditions make polarization constructive or deleterious? Can it be simultaneously helpful and harmful? 

Our impressions of polarization are not always accurate, and they may be simplifications of more complex realities. When are our characterizations of polarized entities true or false? What are the positive and negative consequences of applying polarized schemata to more complex scenarios?

The Emergence and Dissolution of Radical Movements

In environmental, social, and technological terms, entities often shift toward or retreat from polar extremes. An understanding of the drivers of such shifts is crucial to understanding the nature of polarization. What factors drive individuals, populations, communities, ecosystems, physical environments, and technologies toward or away from the poles?

Polarization within Academia

While claiming to promote independent thought, the influence of academic consensus often stifles extreme viewpoints. On the other hand, research is often driven forward by competing polar ideas. Does polarization or normalization dominate? What are the implications of each trend?

Academia’s professed objectivity discourages the expression of researchers’ biases and personal opinions that may not be fully substantiated. While this limitation promotes the integrity of the research process, it also distances academics from society in a way that may actually limit their societal contributions. What is the role of academics in society? How should biases be addressed in order to promote research integrity and societal benefit?

An Open Showcase for Extreme and/or Radical Ideas

One of the chief benefits of polarization is likely the fact that it creates a climate that is conducive to extreme and radical ideas. These ideas, whether in original or tempered form, often create, inspire, or lay groundwork for drastic environmental, social, and technological change. We hope to create a space where you can respectfully share your extreme and/or radical ideas to an open-minded, thoughtfully critical audience. This symposium intends to convey these messages both visually and orally to strengthen communication in a world where ideas are easily lost in a sea of information. How can we effectively and impactfully convey extreme and/or radical ideas? What are the impacts of revealing such ideas?

Through this symposium, we hope to promote discussion surrounding the relevance and implications of polarization regarding the interconnected domains of environment, society, and technology.

This event is FREE and OPEN to the public thanks to our sponsors. This event is September 28th - 29th and organized by Purdue University’s Ecological Sciences and Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Program. To get involved, please contact ese@purdue.edu. We look forward to seeing you there!


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