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The Center for Critical Democracy Studies

€3.16m EU research funding hopes to manage extremist views


An international team of academics led by The Open University and The American University of Paris has won £2.72m research funding, (€3.16m) to help people manage the development of extremist views at home and abroad in the run up to major political events.

Historians, Philosophers and Legal Scholars at AUP are working with colleagues at The Open University on developing tools for the project that has been funded by the European Commission’s Horizon Europe programme involving 17 partners across Europe and beyond its borders.

It will be used in the lead-up to events that are likely to become polarised, including elections or referenda as in the case of growing factionalism in French politics that, in extreme cases, split families.

The over-arching project is known as OppAttune and includes the development of a tool designed specifically for key target audiences to enable more productive democratic debate.

Yet it’s aiming to reach far beyond dinner-table discussions. The new ground-breaking tool is being developed by academics who hope it will limit the development of extreme narratives through showing people that their views might be considered extremist by others.

They plan to have the free self-test tool kit, known as I-Attune, available on the OU’s OpenLearn platform in 2025 to help citizens globally engage politically with each other without resorting to extremes. It will be available initially for three years but could be rolled out further.

Kesi Mahendran, Professor of Social and Political Psychology at the OU, is the scientific co-ordinator of OppAttune. The administrative co-ordinator is the Panteion University in Greece.

The project will allow citizens to assess three key aspects: their own susceptibility to extremism; their capacity to tune into other positions and their ability to sustain dialogue in highly polarized situations.

Kesi said: “Whether we sit around a dinner table discussing politics or in the echelons of power, democratic dialogue is crucial but there is huge capacity for ordinary people to either avoid politics or to become highly opinionated, partisan and entrenched.”

“The Center is thrilled to be able to participate in OppAttune,” said Dr. Stephen Sawyer, Director of the Center for Critical Democracy Studies at AUP. “The project, which seeks to track extreme political narratives and cultivate public capacity for dialogue, aligns directly with the Center’s ambition to foster the practice and study of democracy.”

Kesi continued: “Without the skills to navigate political situations, politicians and people in the media can easily mobilise others. The hope is OppAttune will give people the tools to maintain their political conversations without becoming so extreme that opposing parties or groups find them so threatening that they are removed.”

For more information contact Stephen Sawyer at The American University of Paris, at ssawyerataup.edu.


About the Center for Critical Democracy Studies

The Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS) promotes the practice, study and life of democracy both within and beyond the University. The Center builds on AUP’s mission to educate global citizens by exploring fundamental and practical questions of emancipatory political life through talks, conferences and lectures with international guests; sponsorship of courses and events across campus; and its publication of The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville.

Learn more about the Center.


About OppAttune

The OppAttune project brings together an ambitious multi-disciplinary team, it uses psychological, history, communication studies, anthropological and social science, as well as input from former government analysts, to study extremism and how politics and public opinion intersect.

It explores new methods for understanding public decision-making beyond charting social attitudes and public-opinion polling and it promises to have a strong scientific impact during and beyond its lifetime.

Critically, the project designs inclusive and open ways of sharing knowledge gained by academics and will find tools and mechanisms for future public engagement initiatives for NGOs working in the field. It aims to benchmark and begin discussions about everyday extremism.

Partners include: The Open University (OU) UK (Scientific Co-Ordinator); Panteion University (Panteion) Greece – (Administrative Co-Ordinator); Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) UK; The American University in Paris (AUP) France; Malmö University (MAU) Sweden; Cultures Interactive (CI) Germany; Oesterreichische Akademie Der Wissenschaften (OEAW) Austria; ); Universita Ta Malta (UoM) Malta; Özyeğin University (OzU) Turkey; Istanbul Bilgi Universitesi (Bilgi) Turkey; University of Cyprus (UCY) Cyprus; Institut Jozef Stefan (JSI) Slovenia; Universidade De Coimbra (UC) Portugal; International Security Affairs Centre (ISAC) Serbia; Kosovar Centre for Security Studies (KCSS) Kosovo; Hammurabi Human Rights Organization (HHRO) Iraq and the PRONI Center (PRONI) Bosnia and Herzegovina.