Sustaining Dialogue in Polarised Political Contexts

Moving beyond Shared-Identity to Dialogical Position Exchanges




Dialogical, Polarisation, Sustaining Dialogue, I-Positions, Social Identity


The rise of populism is a prevalent issue on the political landscape both in Europe and the wider world. Such ideologies create defamatory political narratives and exacerbate already partisan social media spaces. This trend challenges psychologists interested in politics to consider what factors could influence dialogue sustainment in these polarised contexts. The current focus of social psychology research is towards identity-based theories to mediate such interactions. The purpose of this paper is to challenge the idea that identity-models are the only effective means of depolarising real-world, discursive political conflicts. This article critiques identity on the following: (1) Ontological assumptions of binary group oppositionality are limiting and unrepresentative of real-world interactions, and (2) Current identity-based models for mediating are ineffective in highly polarised, real-world contexts. We consider the issue of polarising political discourse from a dialogical perspective and propose the Dialogue Sustainment Theoretical Model as an alternative. The model considers: (1) Citizens as political actors with worldviews, (2) The role of the dynamic & relational positionality, and (3) The influence of chronotopic boundaries on political debate. Whilst we acknowledge identity can transcend polarisation in certain contexts, it does not possess such a capacity in politically polarised, real-world contexts. Instead, we argue for an alternative model which is dialogically-focused and offers a distinctive insight into sustaining dialogue.

Author Biographies

Anthony English, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Open University

Anthony English is a final-year PhD student who joined the OU in 2018 as recipient of the Rachael Webb Political Psychology Studentship. He is also a member of PDPC, the Public Dialogue Psychology Collaboratory. He entered higher education as a mature student in 2010, studying a BSc in Applied Psychology at Durham University. Since that time he has completed a PGCE in adult learning, and a MSc in Clinical & Forensic Psychology at Newcastle University. Anthony’s academic field is political psychology and is currently researching dialogical positionality with the aim of sustaining dialogue among politically polarised interlocuters. This ontological and epistemological assumptions of this research focus on the dialogical self; specifically, positional exchanges, social representations, and chronotopic framing. Other studies involve exploring the difference in populist and citizen representations of home (2021), the public’s dialogical creations of home (2021), and the predictive value of moral foundations theory on prosocial behaviour.

Dr. Kesi Mahendran, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, Open University

Kesi Mahendran is a Senior Lecturer in Social Psychology at the Open University. Her research programme aims to improve the dialogue between citizens and their governments on vexed political questions where consensus is not easily achieved –e.g. migration-mobility and citizenship. To this end she established the Public Dialogue Psychology Collaboratory (PDPC) in 2020. Taking a dialogical approach, she draws together social, political and cultural psychology with advances in feminist political science. She develops dialogical methods including interactive on-line mapping tools which work directly with the theoretical concepts of Mikhail Bakhtin such as outsideness (as dialogical capacity) and answerability – the act which calls upon the Other to respond. She is a founding member and Chair-Elect of the British Psychological Society’s Political Psychology Section (established 2019). She sits on the Board of the Standing Committee on Reflexivities in Migration Studies within IMISCOE (International Migration, Integration and Social Cohesion in Europe). Kesi Mahendran is published in journals including the Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, Political Psychology, Journal of Theoretical Social Psychology and the Journal of Social & Political Psychology. She is a Section Editor at Journal of Social and Political Psychology. She is co-editor of the book Discursive Governance in Politics, Policy and the Public Sphere (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).




How to Cite

English, A., & Mahendran, K. (2021). Sustaining Dialogue in Polarised Political Contexts: Moving beyond Shared-Identity to Dialogical Position Exchanges. International Review of Theoretical Psychologies, 1(2).



Social psychology - social representations, social positions and identity