The last 10 years has seen the increasing polarisation of societies across the world. While this polarisation is most evident in the rise of radical populists of both the right and the left, this phenomenon by no means covers either the breadth or the depth of the division.
We are divided across multiple axes including race, religion, identity, gender, public spending and climate change. And as public space declines and people increasingly seek out interaction online, we are increasingly unlikely to encounter people whose opinions differ from our own (Johnston et al. 2004; Pfetsch 2018).
Social media has proved a double-edged sword: encouraging people of all backgrounds to speak out, while encouraging passionate opinion over dispassionate discussion, and clustering us into networks of people who share our opinion.
In this fast-paced public sphere of passion, those with expert knowledge are routinely and publicly castigated: academics, politicians, policy makers, journalists, business leaders and activists. Many of these experts have long since realized that the old visions will no longer do. Yet with the addition of a new fear to rigorous academic training and good manners, those we need to hear from most are saying the least. We have increasing access to opinions that differ from our own, but an increasing fear to engage with those opinions.
Social scientists can be particularly self-censoring in this regard. And this itself is partly a normative decision: religion and ideology are such hot topics globally that it may seem what is most needed is quiet, dispassionate and rigorous research.
Yet academics are also uniquely placed to offer new insights. The experience of a moral vacuum, confronted with seemingly irreducible plurality can lead to confusion, anxiety and the retrenching in divisive myths of faith, race, nation, gender or economic status. Social scientists are uniquely placed to dispassionately observe the beliefs and practices we still hold in common, and to uphold, challenge or reconceive these as vehicles for social change. Scholars of the humanities are expert normative commentators, the forgers of critiques and ideologies.
Meanwhile, politicians, policy makers, journalists and activists are uniquely poised to offer prophetic interventions; communicate between the academy and the wider public; provide expert reporting on persistent injustice; and stand as witnesses of and fighters for radical alternatives and transformative action.
AltVisions aims to unite these forces for good amidst a climate of political division. Conceived as a network geared towards collectively exploring alternative visions of solidarity and justice in a religiously, ideologically and economically diverse public sphere, AltVisions will act as a vehicle for public interventions that straddle between academia and activism: conferences, publications and media interventions.
AltVisions.Org is conceived as a virtual home and salon: a place to gain new insights, discuss ideas and launch shared projects. Many alternative visions are already out there, not least amongst social scientists and the people they study; amongst activists and the people they fight alongside. AltVisions will facilitate collaborations across disciplinary, epistemological, professional and geographical boundaries. In so doing, it will demonstrate to purveyors and publics alike that these visions are not anomalies alive only in a distant corner of the world or a singular dusty mind, but have widespread supporters waiting to be connected. AltVisions hopes to connect ideas across geographical and disciplinary boundaries, not only on this website or in the bar, but in conference panels, op-eds, in academic and non-academic publications, and in shared action for social change.
On AltVisions.org,the central and occasional focal point for discussion will be the blog. It is a means of sharing your vision, and of getting to know each other’s work for potential collaborations across disciplines and geographical contexts. We ask social scientists to step across the “fourth wall of objectivity” and offer short, normative, publicly accessible contributions on an issue that concerns them.
In offering a contribution, we ask you to follow one of two scenarios.
- Pick a global issue of deep concern to you
- Use your expertise to offer an accessible analysis
- Offer a ‘call to action’ drawing on an alternative vision (whether to researchers, politicians, policy makers or the wider public)
- Bring forward an alternative vision that you have observed – this could be as small as an alternative take on one concept such as sociality or rights (using for instance ethnography)
- Explain how this alternative conceptualisation or practice could be transferred to, or set an example in, different contexts
- Offer suggestions for alternative solutions to specific local or global problems using this alternative vision (directed to researchers, politicians, policy makers or the wider public)
We particularly encourage contributors to collaborate with others across displines, geographies and sectors.
AltVisions.Org will launch formally with its first contributions in January 2018.