Extremism, Polarization, and the Future of Democracy

Hosted by the Centre for Constitutional Studies, Extremism, Polarization, and the Future of Democracy is a podcast mini-series focused on the changing dynamic of public discourse and its implications for democratic politics. The series is based on a third-year undergraduate course in the Department of Political Studies at Queen's University that offered an intimate look at the twin phenomena of political extremism and polarization. The series connects with a range of academics, advocates, filmmakers, and journalists to tackle extremism and polarization from different vantage points. Listeners will learn about contemporary extremist movements and how they're rebranding themselves in the digital era, the problems of regulating online expression, how to address polarization and engage with potentially dangerous ideas, and much more.


Episode 1: What’s happening to our public discourse?
September 3, 2023

In this introductory episode, Dax and Kaitie explain the genesis of the series, survey the state of contemporary public discourse, and explore why extremism and polarization are important for the future of democracy.

Episode 2: What does contemporary extremism look like?
September 11, 2023

In this episode, we speak with Daniel Lombroso, journalist and filmmaker at The New Yorker. We discuss the dramatic emergence of the 'alt-right' as documented in his critically acclaimed 2020 debut film, White Noise: Inside the Racist Right. Topics include the entrepreneurial nature of contemporary extremism, the ethical dilemmas of covering extremist movements, and the gendered dimensions of extremism experienced by Lauren Southern, the Canadian protagonist of his film.

Episode 3: Do we need to regulate social media?
September 18, 2023

In this episode, we speak with Carissima Mathen, Professor of Law at the University of Ottawa. We discuss some of the practical difficulties of regulating expression on digital platforms, the importance of striking the right balance between free expression and mitigating online harms, and Carissima’s recent book chapter on digital regulations and free expression. Topics include the possible backlash against greater online regulations, the dual-sided nature of digital technology, and the problem of relying on algorithms for content moderation.

Episode 4: Why is pluralistic dialogue important?
September 25, 2023

In this episode, we speak with Vivek Venkatesh, Professor and Chair in the Department of Art Education at Concordia University and UNESCO Co-Chair in Prevention of Radicalisation and Violent Extremism. We discuss the importance of pluralism in combating extremism and some of Vivek's projects that foster such dialogue. Topics include a public education platform that combats hate and radicalization, the power of disagreement and non-judgment, and the impact of the pandemic on contemporary extremism.

Episode 5: How should we deal with dangerous ideas?
October 2, 2023

In this episode, we speak with Ronald Beiner, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Toronto and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. We discuss the philosophical roots of anti-democratic and anti-egalitarian movements and his 2018 book, Dangerous Minds: Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the Return of the Far Right. Topics include the academic controversy that inspired the book, the conflicting uses of Friedrich Nietzsche's ideas, and the challenges of engaging with dangerous ideas without giving them undue legitimacy in the classroom and the public sphere.

Episode 6: Has the internet supercharged extremism
October 9, 2023

In this episode, we speak with Amarnath Amarasingam, Assistant Professor in the School of Religion and Department of Political Studies at Queen’s University. We discuss the changing contours of extremism in the digital age, the role of technology in moving the fringe into the mainstream, and his co-authored journal article about far-right extremism on Facebook from 2020. Topics include the contemporary state of political extremism in Canada and abroad, how comedy and satire fit into extremist messaging, and how extremist movements are rebranding and taking advantage of new digital platforms.

Episode 7: Are you willing to meet your enemy?
October 16, 2023

In this episode, we speak with Deeyah Khan, multi-award-winning documentary filmmaker and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Artistic Freedom and Creativity. We discuss the importance of compassion, empathy, and non-judgment in her 2017 Emmy award-winning film, White Right: Meeting the Enemy. Topics include the promises and perils of engaging across differences, the importance of discomfort and challenging yourself, and the role of trauma and vulnerability in drawing individuals to extremist movements.

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Centre for Constitutional Studies
448D Law Centre
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB T6G 2H5
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