System Map
Polarization is broad and complex, but towards the end of the semester I had a sufficient amount of research to characterize it in a meaningful way. To do this, I wrote down all of the words and phrases associated with the system that were most salient from my research, then grouped those words and drew connections between them. 
It had already become apparent that the political side of polarization could not exist without the social side. What surprised me, however, was that although “media” was not a type of polarization, it was such a salient and important factor in the landscape that it needed to be on the map.
The political side of polarization focuses on the government, and the forces driving it fall into two main categories: action/institution and representation. Action/institution encompasses what the government is and does. Historic and increasing distrust between those in Executive offices and those in the Legislative branch had led to a warping of checks and balances, contributing to stagnation in a government that is already singularly suited to maintaining the status quo.
The representation side of political polarization may be more familiar, in some ways. There are winners and losers, and it feels uncomfortably personal to win or lose. Codified representation problems like gerrymandering, citizenship, voting rights, and the Electoral College will continue to polarize us for a long time to come. America was founded as a representative democracy; though we still promote that image of ourselves to the world, it is no longer what we would see if we stopped to look in the mirror.
The four big categories on the social side represent the four primary forces acting on society that result in social cleavages. This set of forces aims to be a mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive characterization of the space, and each sub-item offers an opportunity for intervention.
Finally, I mapped some of the most problematic and salient issues in the media storm. The grey arrow indicates items that come into the fray directly from the political side of the map, and are in many ways the most important elements in how the media drives political polarization. However, the problem is undeniably exacerbated by social media and its fallout, as well as the cyclical phenomenon of Identity-Protective Cognition.
Original polarization mapping. It took a lot of post-its!
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