Social polarization is a very popular topic at the moment. The term social polarization or polarizzazione is a word borrowed from physics to explain a process that determines a concentration of normally opposing forces. The term social polarization was introduced by a British sociologist, Peter Townsend, according to whom “wealth and poverty are increasingly polarized”. In simple words, the gap between the rich and poor is widening more and more, creating profound social inequality. To be fair, this phenomenon is occurring throughout Europe, but Italy is particularly vulnerable because of its political and economic fragility.
|Roma, Italy – Downward – Michele Bitetto|
In 2016 a survey by Bankitalia showed that one out of four people is subject to poverty and social exclusion. By contrast, 5% of the population holds 30% of the total wealth. It would be logical to think that technological progress will lead us to a more equitable distribution of wealth, bringing enormous advantages for all of society. It’s true that technology has changed our way of living and made life easier. Since everyone more or less has access to new technologies: increasingly sophisticated cars, smarter phones, multifunctional appliances, it seems that everyone is better off now than in the past. But it is all an illusion: the official data, issued by a serious institution in the country, tell us another story, put simply: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
|Florence, Italy – Festival of Lights – Dan|
Extensive polarization has consequences for the social fabric, including high levels of unemployment, widespread crime and greater health problems among the population. A society in which this polarization is less profound is a more cohesive society, with a more dynamic population, a high level of trust and less violence, because all of society benefits from the fairest distribution of wealth. The principle is that if everyone is better, you live happily.
|Milan, Italy – On top of Duomo – Jilbert Ebrahimi|
In Italy, the concept of polarization has a long history and is rooted in society, between the wealthier and more dynamic north and the poorer and laissez-faire attitude in the south. It also persists in new generations. The negative remnants left by the economic crisis have affected income in sections of the population that were usually considered well off – the middle-income families. This development is to be found not only on the national level, but also between the individual regions and within the same region. The impoverishment of a large part of the Italian population is one of the causes of social polarization.
|Cannaregio, Italy – In the rain – Martino Pietropoli|
But the economic factor is not the only one. Italian society is in the midst of a full identity crisis. Capitalism is no longer the answer to the needs of the nation, and its foundations represented by labor, the welfare state and pensions, are weakening more and more. Faced with this crisis, political forces appear to be far from providing drastic and concrete solutions. The Italian political world is crumbling, historical parties are losing popularity because they are no longer able to identify with real and practical problems. The result is an extremely fragmented and therefore weaker political landscape. To the full advantage of populist and extremist movements. The elections in March 2018 rewarded two camps, completely different from each other, but able to find common ground and govern. They clearly reflect the polarization of society, divided between those who claim to be the true representatives of the people and declare that they want to change the way of governing in order to be closer to the folk on the one hand, and those who interpret the most radical needs of a part of society on the other. Rather than representing the citizens, what has come out of the elections is the desperate cry of a polarized society that no longer has confidence in its future.
|Venice, Italy – On the bank – Ashwin Vaswani|
Populists and extremist forces take advantage of the vulnerability caused by social divisions. A major divisive force in Italy is the issue of immigrants. It is one of the most urgent problems to be addressed. It has not been helped by the media coverage of immigrants arriving in the Bel Paese, which has encouraged a climate of nervousness. Although in reality their numbers have dropped compared to previous years, we have the perception that our borders are more fragile. The most extreme critics believe that the arrival of migrants increases crime rates, terrorism and disease in the country. The crimes committed by immigrants are amplified by the media, thus encouraging the binomial immigration-crime in Italian public opinion. The strategy adopted seems to be to target migrants, consolidating the juxtaposition/polarization between group membership and outsiders.
|Grossetto, Italy – Bathing – Melinda Nagy|
Today, the media amplify social polarization. Social media in particular have led to a change in the way we find information. At the moment, the most common way to get information is to search the internet. According to recent studies, users tend to look for information that is closer to their way of thinking, which supports their opinions. Meaning that, what pushes us to select some news is the so-called confirmation bias, which is not necessarily the search for the truth, but for the news that confirms our opinions of reality. In short, we look for news that tends to confirm our prejudices – the famous Echo Chambers by Cass R. Sunstein, according to whom the “internet is driving political fragmentation, polarization and even extremism”.1 These Echo Chambers are bubbles or comfort zones in which people hear over and over again versions of opinions they are already convinced of. The dangerous consequence of this is that you remain stuck to your position without being open to dialogue with those who think differently – a form of polarization that is detrimental to society.
1. Sunstein, Cass R. Republic, Divided Democracy in the Age of Social Media. 2017
Snapshot 1: Milan, Italy, Zeroing in – Frida Aguilar Estrada (Unsplash)
Snapshot 2: Roma, Italy – Downward – Michele Bitetto (Unsplash)
Snapshot 3: Florence, Italy – Festival of Lights – Dan (Shutterstock)
Snapshot 4: Milan, Italy – On top of Duomo – Jilbert Ebrahimi (Unsplash)
Snapshot 5: Cannaregio, Italy – In the rain – Martino Pietropoli (Unsplash)
Snapshot 6: Venice, Italy – On the bank – Ashwin Vaswani (Unsplash)
Snapshot 7: Grossetto, Italy – Bathing – Melinda Nagy (Shutterstock)
Cinemblem: Perypatetik youtube channel
The Syncretion of Polarization and Extremes
Alencar, Joana. Lack of Social Trust – Brazil. January 2019.
Baccino, Alejandra. Polarization within Ourselves – South America. January 2019.
Cordido, Veronica. Hanging by Extremes – Venezuela. January 2019.
Hernandez, Jonay Quintero. Extremism Is Now the New Hype? – Spain. February 2019
Montano, Osvaldo. Progress in the Face of Polarization – Bolivia. February 2019.
Romano, Mavi. Censorship and Cultural Survival in a World without Gods – Spain. January 2019.
Sariñana, Alejandra Gonzalez. Student Movements – Mexico. March 2019.
Sepi, Andreea. A World of Victims and Perpetrators? – Germany and Romania. February 2019.
Sevunts, Nane. The Era To Close – Armenia. March 2019.
Skobic, Alexandar. The Loss of Identity. April 2019.
Sitorus, Rina. Polarization in Politics: All a Cebong or Kampret – Indonesia. March 2019.
Spirito, Julieta. A Thought about Polarized Insecurity. April 2019.
Valenzuela, Monica. Adults and Children. April 2019.
Vuka. Extreme Immunity to Functional Tax and Judicial System – Serbia. March 2019
Wallis, Toni. Walls and Resettlement – South Africa and Angola. February 2019.
CW 17 – Lebanon – Ghadir Younes
CW 18 – Cuba – Marilin Guerrero Casas
CW 19 – Ukraine – Evgeny Bondarenko
CW 20 – Uruguay – Andrea da Silva Escandell
CW 21 – Spain – Jazz Williams
CW 22 – Armenia – Mania Israyelyan
CW 23 – Poland – Pawel Awdejuk
CW 24 – Balkans – Aleksandar Protic
CW 25 – Italy – Daniela Cannarella
CW 26 – Serbia – Jelena Sekulic
CW 27 – Tajikistan – Nigina Kanunova
CW 28 – Portugal – Nuno Rosalino
CW 29 – Uruguay – Lillian Julber
CW 30 – Argentina – Javier Gomez
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed