Is our society as divided as it seems?


Generational, cultural, political and geographic divisions are all covered in the latest episode of WORLD: we have this podcast series.

In this episode, Professor Bobby Duffy, Policy Institute, Paula Surridge, UK in Changing Europe, and Dr Jack Brown, School of Politics & Economics, examine recent trends of division and polarization in the society.

In addition to looking at the causes of the divisions, they also explore whether society really is as divided as it is often described and share their thoughts on ways we can all become more cohesive and unified in the future.

In the episode, Professor Duffy talks about his recent work on generational differences that are often captured by the media.

A lot of the myths and stereotypes come from age and cohort effects where a lot of things that are attributed to millennials or Gen Z as a generation are just a feature of youth. There is absolutely no evidence that the gap between young and old on current cultural issues is greater than the gap between young and old on previous cultural issues. Our bonds from generation to generation through families are much stronger than our bonds between them. – Professor Bobby Duffy

It also explains how the identities developed during and after Brexit in the UK have now entered debates on cultural change. He shares research that has revealed how in the UK reporting of Culture Wars has dramatically increased in recent years. Yet surveys show that many Britons don’t know what imported US terms such as “awake” really mean.

He concludes that countries like the UK should not automatically assume that they will follow the same path as the US in this debate.

Paula Surridge points out how the referendum on Britain’s exit from the EU exploited sentiments that already existed in Britain.

But I think what we did then was we took that divide and kinda poured gasoline on it, really sped it up, gave people a sense of identity that they could then become on either side and so we really built it into a We still have that kind of Brexit hangover, in that people’s Brexit identifications still work as lenses through which they see the world. . – Paula Surridge

But she also believes that we need to understand society as fragmented rather than divided into two camps. Looking to the future, she also believes the effects of the pandemic mean that we are likely to see volatile and unpredictable behavior among the electorate.

In the episode, Dr Jack Brown explains how many have used stereotypes about London to fuel the divide between urban and rural or a sense of north versus south. And he explains how this does not always reflect the complex reality of where poverty exists or the politics of individuals in these areas.

I think a lot of stereotypes and myths are deliberately spread. A language of division is used by politicians on the left and on the right actually about the north-south divide, cities versus towns, London. People say London when they mean Westminster. They say Westminster when they mean national government. – Dr Jack Brown

He calls for a change in the national conversation and the tone of the debate, which he believes could really help create a greater sense of unity.

I think a lot of these divisions are really artificial. I think these are language divisions of ideas rather than actual policies. Most people want the same… We are a much more united country than our current national conversation suggests, and we can go back. I think we will. – Dr Jack Brown

Listen to the full episode and episodes from previous seasons on Acast or through your favorite podcast provider by searching “WORLD: We have this”.

Listen to the full episode and episodes from previous seasons on Acast or through your favorite podcast provider by searching for “WORLD: we got this”

This season of WORLD: we got this podcast is a partnership between the Faculty of Social Sciences and Public Policy and the School of Global Affairs and will feature both thematic episodes and “In Conversation” episodes.

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