Open Societies

Societies are becoming increasingly complex. Part of this complexity is the rise of so-called superdiversity, namely an unprecedented variety of cultures, identities, faiths, values, languages, and immigration statuses. These superdiverse populations are constantly changing. These increased complexities and diversities create unparalleled opportunities but also challenges for society. Challenges are for example phenomena such as increased polarization, populism and even the return of authoritarian tendencies. They are all partly a reaction to the uncertainties, doubts and anxieties people experience with this superdiversity. These challenges stand against an ideal of an Open Society, namely a society that allows space for diversity, debate and individuality through supporting values such as tolerance, equality, and freedom of thought and speech – including open and accessible science.

Creating understanding of how to bring about an open society in a context of superdiversity is therefore one of the major societal challenges of our time. Moreover, a society without sufficient mutual understanding or with continuous harsh conflicts will not be able to realize the cooperation that is needed to deal with other major challenges such as climate change, pandemics and peaceful international relations. If one is setting up the conditions for long-term sustainable societies, one cannot but think about such issues.

Challenges include educating citizens, understanding tolerance and inclusion, managing diversity in organizations, setting up the proper legal frameworks and creating meeting spaces, both physical and virtual. An open society is one in which people can shape cooperatively their society of the future. This challenge aims to identify and examine the conditions and turning points to make this happen. The research focuses on overcoming boundaries, not only across disciplines but also across the variety of societal groups, such as different classes, cultures and languages.

Managing the increasing complexity often leads to parallel complex organizations and administrations, that do not operate openly and transparently, and that extensively monitor participants, thereby invading their privacy. How do we create open societies and organizations, without giving in to problems such as privacy, isolation, identity loss and excessive bureaucracy? Here, all kinds of questions about digital transformation are closely related.

Creating an open society also requires a public space where people can meet, discuss and give shape to future societies. This requires healthy, activating, safe and accessible environments in the public sphere, places that empower people to engage with each other, especially in an urban context. Open access to information and interaction with scientists can contribute to such empowerment.

Moreover, in an open society, citizens themselves play an active role in shaping these conditions, thereby also empowering people in vulnerable areas to gain control over their livelihood. As researchers, this may be reason to actively engage with citizens in the different stages of the research cycle, thereby allowing for citizen science and transdisciplinary approaches.