According to the Science Talk, “What holds society together?” on January 24, organized by the Ministry of Science in Vienna, experts do not see the cohesion of society in danger. The event featured CEU Rector and President Shalini Randeria in conversation with Tobias Greitemeyer, Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Innsbruck, and Regina Polak, Professor of Practical Theology and Head of the Institute for Practical Theology at the Faculty of Catholic Theology of the University of Vienna, moderated by Christian Zillner, Editor-In-Chief of Falter Corporate Publishing.
As the pandemic progresses, there is increasing talk of a split or even a breakdown in society. This is currently not to be feared, speakers explained during an online discussion. The event did, however highlight that the current trend is being driven by increasing economic inequality, a lack of tolerance for contradictions and a retreat into "bubbles."
"We are integrated in political, economic and educational systems, that is not on the verge of collapse," commented Randeria, adding that the fear, however, of a split in society is being heavily instrumentalized. "The question is, who problematizes this divide? Which groups are defined as threatening?" asked Randeria, referring to the migration debate, among other issues. What is important, she further noted, is living with difference, not fear. "Liberal democracies thrive on a diversity of opinion, distinguished by the art of compromise."
"We also need to talk about economics. The question of recognizing diversity and the distribution of resources are interrelated," explained Polak. The resentment of many people has to do with "the fact that they feel disconnected and do not see themselves represented in the political system. They are reclaiming their space through identity issues. This is food for mostly right-wing populist and nationalist parties. That's where you have to wrestle for alternatives." Noting that assigning people to a group makes tolerance more difficult, Polak adds, "It takes the cognitive ability to form an opinion and to be able to comprehend from the perspective of others, that is, to perceive the world through the eyes and ears of others."
Common ground could also be achieved through a shared identity, said Greitemeyer. If one does not focus on affinity to a certain party, for example, but defines "Austrian" as a common identity, this promotes cohesion. Cooperative media, in turn, would strengthen togetherness by pointing out commonalities in addition to differing views in cases of conflict. "In any case, togetherness is well developed in Austrian society."
To hear the full conversation, listen here.