On less optimistic days, we might reflect that for some in society, the social fabric that binds us together is currently not only fraying but unravelling. This leads us to question what it would take to stitch the frayed edges of society back together? This detachment can lead people to turn off from critically engaging with more progressive ideas, developments and debate. Durkheim (1897/2002) used the term ‘anomie’ to represent a social situation where shared social values and norms have disappeared – a type of cultural malaise that sets in and people begin to disengage. Through the Ideas-Informed Society project, we’ve been researching ways to better understand how people engage with evidence to make decisions in their lives.
In a world besieged by political, social and environmental crises, the potential benefits of more knowledgeable and engaged individuals who are able to make good decisions – both for themselves and society – is desirable. This notion of a democratic ideas-informed society has its roots at least as far back as Plato’s Republic and can be described as a state where all citizens see value in staying up to date, and actively do so with an open and critical mindset.
‘In a world besieged by political, social and environmental crises, the potential benefits of more knowledgeable and engaged individuals who are able to make good decisions – both for themselves and society – is desirable.’
From our initial survey work (Brown et al., 2022), we identified a group we termed ‘ideas refusers’ – that is, those who do not see value in engaging with ideas – and proceeded through focus groups to explore why this is the case (Brown, Luzmore & Groß Ophoff, 2022a). The reasons cited overwhelmingly linked to the theme of anomie, and key themes included: avoiding staying up to date as it is depressing; a feeling of lack of control in relation to current events; belief that the news is fake; avoiding discussions to prevent potential conflict; and an inability to accept a plurality of perspectives.
So far, so depressing; but our findings also revealed three potential ways in which we can begin to facilitate the ideas-informed society.
First, by including more positive reporting of ideas in the media. The type of content which attracts those all-important clicks is often the negative, but there is evidence that positive news does lead to media consumers feeling good and spreading those stories within their social networks (Gable & Reis, 2010).
Second, by support for healthy face-to face engagement with ideas – after all, a democratic society is grounded in understanding that perceptions of the world differ. This is not a cry for ‘anything goes’, rather it is in the absence of critical engagement that we are more likely to accept populist and singular views of the world. It is rhetoric based on evidence-informed ideas that can move us to consensus.
And third, how we find ways to promote effective ideas engagement through social media platforms which – putting recent dramas with new owners aside – can be a place to widen and diversify our social network. What is needed is more civil online discussions to support behaviour change.
Our research has progressed with a systematic review to look for other ways in which ‘ideas refusers’ can be switched on (Brown, Luzmore & Groß Ophoff, 2022b) and a randomised controlled trial to explore approaches to stimulate ideas engagement in adults (Brown & Groß Ophoff, 2022). Ultimately though, we believe that it is the education system and educators themselves who have the most vital role to play here – by equipping future citizens with the skills, aptitudes and dispositions to separate fact from fiction, to see worth in honesty and accountability, and to value engagement in developments and progress, we are most likely to see the ideas-informed society come to fruition.
We invite those attending the BERA conference in 2023, to join the conversation at our symposium on Tuesday 12th September at 1.30pm.
Brown, C., Groß Ophoff, J., Chadwick, K., & Parkinson, S. (2022). Achieving the ‘ideas-informed’ society: Results from a Structural Equation Model using survey data from England. Emerald Open Research, 4(4). https://doi.org/10.35241/emeraldopenres.14487.1
Brown, C., Luzmore, R., & Groß Ophoff, J. (2022a). Anomie in the UK? Can cultural malaise threaten the fruition of the ideas-informed society? Emerald Open Research, 4(28). https://doi.org/10.35241/emeraldopenres.14786.2
Brown, C., Luzmore, R., & Groß Ophoff, J. (2022b). Facilitating the ideas-informed society: A systematic review. Emerald Open Research, 4(25). https://doi.org/10.35241/emeraldopenres.14729.1
Brown, C., & Groß Ophoff, J. (2022). Exploring effective approaches for stimulating ideas-engagement amongst adults in England: Results from a randomised control trial. Emerald Open Research, 4(39). https://doi.org/10.35241/emeraldopenres.14914.1
Durkheim, É. (1897/2002). Suicide: A study in sociology. Routledge.
Gable, S. L., & Reis, H. T. (2010). Good news! Capitalizing on positive events in an interpersonal context. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 42, 195–257. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0065-2601(10)42004-3