Introducing OppAttune: CCDS’s Second EU-Funded Research Project


AUP’s Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS) has a history of working at the forefront of innovative research on contemporary democracy and the challenges raised by extremist influences on global democratic process. As part of this ongoing mission, CCDS recently received its second major grant in three years from the Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Grants, one of the European Union’s leading research initiatives for confronting contemporary global challenges.

The OppAttune grant will begin in April 2023 and aims to enhance social and political dialogue by examining and reducing the negative impact that can emerge from political extremism. OppAttune consists of over €3 million in funding for participating multidisciplinary research teams, spread across higher-learning institutions in 15 European countries. CCDS is the third largest recipient of funding, having been awarded over €270,000 euros.

Professor Stephen Sawyer is CCDS Director and Chair of AUP’s Department of History and Politics.  He explains that OppAttune has three main research aims: to track the evolution of political narratives by establishing the main drivers of extremism; to attune the capacity for public dialogue by modeling how these narratives evolve; and to prevent extreme narratives from generating violent disruption of democratic processes and social life. “We’re ultimately thinking about how we can prevent extremism from leading to civilian violence and undermining the opportunities for emancipation afforded by democratic social organization and political practices,” explains Sawyer. “The challenges of a lack of political tolerance are not lost on anyone in the world right now.”

CCDS’s contribution to these goals will be an examination of what the research team has titled “regulatory-rights pathways,” a concept they developed in response to rights-based conceptions of liberal democracy of the late and post-Cold War context of the late 20th century. “Since the middle of the 2010s, we’ve seen a weaponization of the right to free speech,” says Sawyer. “It’s a paradoxical situation in which some of the most violent and fanatical speech in our societies is coming from those claiming absolute free speech.” This new paradigm exerts that whoever has the most followers has the right to say what they want, which has put new pressures on rights-based approaches. CCDS’s research therefore aims to rethink regulatory frameworks alongside rights across different countries and contexts. “We’re going to be modeling how rights and regulations have come together in the past to help manage civil conflict and thus how they may help us to do so in the future,” says Sawyer.

The grant money will allow CCDS to hire a three-year postdoctorate researcher to join their community and work on the project. It will also fund events for the wider AUP community and opportunities for students to be involved in the Center’s research programming at AUP on questions of democracy as well as travel to engage directly with other multidisciplinary research groups involved in OppAttune. “To have the opportunity to work on a publicly minded project on the contemporary problems of democracy framed by an institution like the European Union is very exciting,” says Sawyer.

The OppAttune project will build on the success of CCDS’s existing European Horizon grant project, D.Rad, which focuses on diagnosing radicalization and developing evidence-based policy for questions of deradicalization. The two research projects will overlap until D.Rad’s conclusion in April 2024. For more information on D.Rad and CCDS’s wider work, visit the Center’s webpages by clicking the button below.