A review and provocation: On polarization and platforms

Kreiss, Daniel; McGregor, Shannon C
New Media & Society

Scholars increasingly point to polarization as a central threat to democracy?and identify technology platforms as key contributors to polarization. In contrast, we argue that polarization can only be seen as a central threat to democracy if inequality is ignored. The central theoretical claim of this piece is that political identities map more or less onto social groups, and groups are, in turn, located in social structures. As such, scholars must analyze groups as they are embedded in relations of power to meaningfully evaluate the democratic consequences of polarization. Groups struggling for equality, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, often cause polarization because they threaten the extant power and status of dominant groups. To develop a shared theoretical lens around polarization and its relationship with inequality, we take up the case of research on the role of platforms in polarization, showing how scholarship routinely lacks analysis of inequality.