Radicalization and Counter-Radicalization: Volume 25

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Table of contents

(18 chapters)


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Part I: Theoretical and Conceptual Advances


Purpose – Drawing on the currently available research, the authors explore the effectiveness of programs aimed at reducing re-engagement into terrorism, otherwise known as “deradicalization.”

Methodology/Approach – Our approach is descriptive. The authors support their argument with findings from a wide range of studies on these phenomena for the purposes of stimulating discussion.

Findings – Though scientific research on deradicalization remains nascent, there is sufficient promise in emerging findings to support a case for the effectiveness of deradicalization – in short, deradicalization programs can be effective, but just not for everyone.

Originality/Value – Popular accounts characterize deradicalization in a simplistic, binary fashion – they are judged to be either effective or ineffective. The current reality is consistent with some of the earliest conceptual discussion – that is, deradicalization programs do not offer a one-size fits all solution, they cannot work for everyone, and they are of immense practical benefit in some cases. The authors’ fundamental argument is that deradicalization initiatives warrant continued investment.


Purpose – To examine how John Stuart Mill’s harm principle can guide debates surrounding definitions of radicalization, extremism, and deradicalization.

Methodology/Approach – This chapter begins by surveying definitional debates in terrorism studies according to three identified binaries: (1) cognitive versus behavioral radicalization; (2) violent extremism versus non-violent extremism; and (3) deradicalization versus disengagement. The author then interprets Mill’s harm principle and assesses which interpretation researchers and policy-makers should favor.

Findings – Applying the harm principle suggests that researchers and policy-makers should prefer behavioral over cognitive radicalization, violent over non-violent extremism, and disengagement over deradicalization. This is because government intervention in people’s lives can be justified to prevent direct risks of harm, but not to change beliefs that diverge from mainstream society.

Originality/Value – This chapter extends previous work that applied the harm principle to coercive preventive measures in counter-terrorism. It makes an original contribution by applying the principle to definitional debates surrounding radicalization and counter-radicalization. The harm principle provides researchers and policy-makers with a compass to navigate these debates. It offers an analytical method for resolving conceptual confusion.


Purpose – Drawing on Transformative Learning (TL) theory, the authors suggest a new and novel way to approach the study of violent radicalization.

Methodology/Approach – First, their argument is supported by the development of a Transformative Radicalization (TR) framework that borrows and adapts the core tenets of TL theory. Second, they provide a preliminary illustrative exploration of TR using two autobiographical accounts of militant radicalization (Islamist and Anarchist) from the UK and Canada.

Findings – Radicalization is a cognitive and emotional process of change that prepares and motivates an individual to pursue violent behavior. That process of change is incremental; individuals learn and adopt novel political, social, ideological, and/or religious ideals that justify and legitimize indiscriminate violence. The TR framework provides a more nuanced appreciation for the cognitive aspects involved in this process. The authors’ empirical illustrations provide guidance on how subsequent research might use original interview data on individual radicalization processes to develop more in-depth, cross-case comparisons.

Originality/Value – This theory builds a cross-disciplinary understanding of violent radicalization that highlights the way adults learn, alter their meaning perspectives, and change their behavior.


Purpose – This chapter provides a roadmap for future research and evaluation on violent extremist risk analysis.

Methodology/Approach – The authors synthesize the lessons learned from process evaluations of general violence risk assessment, bias research, survey designs, linguistic analyses, and spatial analyses, and apply them to the problem of violent extremist risk assessment and management.

Findings – The next generation of violent extremist risk assessment research will necessitate a focus upon process, barriers to effective implementation and taking the human element of decision-making into account. Furthermore, the development of putative risk factors for violent extremist attitudes and behaviors necessitates a movement toward more survey-based research designs. Future risk assessment processes may additionally take language and spatial components into account for a more holistic understanding.

Originality/Value – Based on existing literature, there is a paucity of research conducting process evaluations, survey designs, linguistic analyses, and spatial analyses in this area. The authors provide several roadmaps, assessments of respective strengths and weaknesses, and highlight some initial promising results.

Part II: State and Civil Society


Purpose – The chapter explores the UK’s evolving counter-radicalization program – Prevent – and its increasing alignment with a broader Counter Extremism agenda, which it argues exemplifies not merely a concern with countering radicalization or terrorism, but a broader “civic turn” toward a narrow and restrictive conception of integration and citizenship.

Methodology/Approach – The chapter draws on a range of studies of Prevent and the governance of British Muslims, to examine the traces and impact of Prevent and Counter Extremism agendas across a range of governance domains, including urban governance, schooling, and public sector institutions and integration.

Findings – Prevent has undergone substantial conceptual and operational expansion that has meant that its purpose and efficacy as a counter terrorism strategy has become ambivalent. Its evolution into an element of a broader integration policy places limits on the terms of particularly Muslims’ citizenship. It also brings it into tension with other public sector duties and legal norms.

Originality/Value – The chapter extends existing studies of the permeation of security concerns across governance and public life, and the securitization of citizenship, to examine how these have been expressed in particular domains of governance and their implications for the inclusion and accommodation of Muslims. It also offers a caveat to the tendency in much of the literature to see such securitization as exemplifying a highly cohesive governing project.


Purpose – Research on terrorism has demonstrated the importance of state violence as a factor in the adoption of terrorism. This chapter seeks to clarify this previous research by examining the process through which state violence contributes to violence through groups’ narratives and appeals for action.

Methodology – To study how state violence contributes to terrorism this chapter uses qualitative methods that are ideal for clarifying social processes across cases. This chapter uses a mixed-methods approach, first using a comparative-historical analysis of groups involved in the anarchist, anti-colonial, and New Left waves of terrorism. Examining this diverse set of groups highlights the common role and process through which state violence contributes to terrorism. This study is combined with an in-depth analysis of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria’s online propaganda, which provides a detailed picture of how state violence is featured in terrorist texts.

Findings – This chapter reaffirms the previous research on the role of state violence as a grievance and indication that alternative methods are unavailable. In addition to this, this chapter demonstrates the symbolic importance of state violence, which provides a moral justification for terrorism and martyrs to aspire to and avenge.

Value – This chapter clarifies the role of state violence in the development of terrorism by describing how it is integrated in the narratives of terrorist groups to justify and inspire violence.


Purpose – This chapter highlights how counter-radicalization, as a manifestation of diffuse securitizing, impacts the work of Muslim civil society organizations (CSOs) in Canada.

Methodology – The author presents how Muslim communities and their civil society representatives experience and adapt to the pressures from counter-radicalization policies. Data for the analysis are drawn from 16 semi-structured, anonymized interviews with managers and board members of prominent Muslim CSOs that are based in urban centers in Canada with high density of Muslim populations.

Findings – Though counter-radicalization policies are advanced under the rubric of community-orientedness and risk governance, security discourse and practice constructs radicalization as a problem within Muslim communities treating them as suspects who are “potentially radical.” Despite this framing, Muslim CSOs are cooperating with state security agencies in counter-radicalization efforts but are doing so cognizant of the immense power the state exerts over them in such “partnerships.” CSOs are raising questions about the selective nature of security practice which views Muslims as dangerous and violent but fails to fully acknowledge their reality as victims of Islamophobic violence. CSOs are using anti-racism, anti-oppression, and rights-based frames to call out the discriminatory treatment of Muslims under national security.

Originality/Value – The author’s study contributes to a community perspective in counterterrorism and counter-radicalization research that is dominated by analyses from “above.” By sharing the experiences of Canadian Muslim CSOs under counter-radicalization, the author illustrates the practice of “diffuse securitizing” and how it limits the work of civil society in liberal democracies.


Purpose – UK laws surrounding the duty to prevent individuals being drawn into terrorism often focus on the need to safeguard the populace from exploitation by terrorist or extremist groups. It is within this context that countering violent extremism (CVE) work often takes place. This chapter explores how this legal duty shapes CVE projects in the UK, drawing on practitioner’s perspectives.

Methods – Writing from the perspective of practitioners from ConnectFutures, an organization that has been operating since 2013 in the UK and internationally, who advocate for a contextual safeguarding approach to provide a more holistic attitude to the prevention of violent extremism and exploitation.

Findings – Exploring the intersections between multiple forms of criminal exploitation, as well as engaging in the spaces and places young people experience harm, allows practitioners working in the CVE space to contribute to the protection of individuals from terrorist and extremist radicalization.

Originality/Value – Applying the new developed contextual safeguarding framework to CVE projects provides a contemporary and alternative ways to conduct CVE work. The chapter provides overviews of three CVE projects running with young people today in the UK, exploring how the new frameworks are adopted within these programs, all designed to address the complex causes of violent extremism.

Part III: The Online Space and Radicalization


Purpose – Attitudinal inoculation has a long history of success in communication studies. A wealth of literature has shown it to be an effective strategy for preventing the assimilation of beliefs and attitudes in several domains, including healthcare, politics, and advertising. Despite its demonstrated efficacy, its utility as a means of preventing the adoption of beliefs and attitudes consistent with strategic messaging distributed by malicious actors has yet to be sufficiently evaluated. This chapter introduces attitudinal inoculation as a viable strategy for challenging online disinformation produced by violent extremist groups.

Methods – Through a systematic review of the literature on attitudinal inoculation and disinformation, this chapter represents an attempt to link broad themes of narrative persuasion with the field of counter-terrorism.

Findings – This chapter will offer specific guidance on the development of inoculation messages intended to mitigate the persuasive efficacy of online disinformation produced and distributed by violent extremist organizations.

Originality/Value – As one of the first attempts to demonstrate the utility of attitudinal inoculation in the field of terrorism and radicalization studies, this chapter presents a novel approach to understanding contemporary issues of political extremism.


Purpose – This chapter investigates if Ronald Aker’s Social Structure Social Learning (SSSL) theory can help explain who is involved with the production of online materials considered hateful or extremist.

Methodology/Approach – After discussing how SSSL can account for becoming exposed to online extremism and then becoming involved in its production, the authors conduct a logistic regression on data from 1,008 American adults that predicts if they produced online hate materials with variables derived from SSSL.

Findings – Results strongly support SSSL. While structural factors such as the respondents’ differential social organization, differential social location, and differential location in the social structure predict production of online hate materials, the effect of these factors is largely mediated once social learning variables are included in the model. Specifically, the respondents’ general definitions related to violence, specific definitions related to hate speech, and differential association accounts for variation in the production of online hate materials.

Originality/Value – This research contributes to the literature in two primary ways: (1) the authors investigate a critical, yet understudied, factor involved in the radicalization process; and (2) the authors demonstrate that a leading criminological theory applies to this form of deviance. This research also suggests key variables for creating strategies for countering violent extremism.


Purpose – In order to explore how gender and sexual politics are played out in everyday practice within both the extreme right and jihadi-Salafist movements online, this chapter analyzes the content of two women’s only forums: The Women’s Forum on Stormfront.org and Women Dawah, a Turkish language pro-IS group chat on Telegram.

Methodology – The Women’s Forum and the Women Dawah data sets were analyzed using structural topic modeling to uncover the differences and similarities in salient topics between White Nationalist and Islamic State women-only forums.

Findings – The cross-ideological and multi-linguistic thematic analysis suggests that the safety of online spaces enables women to be more active, and serves digital support network for like-minding individuals. It also highlights that religion and ideology, whilst interwoven throughout posts on both platforms, they were more explicitly discussed within Women Dawah data.

Originality/Value – This research uses a unique data set which was collected over one year to conduct a cross-ideological and multi-linguistic thematic analysis, a relatively uncommon approach.

Part IV: Former Extremists, Prevention, and Punishment


Purpose – This chapter examines how those who study issues related to radicalization and counter-radicalization have recently drawn from the experiences of former extremists to inform our understanding of complex issues in terrorism and extremism studies.

Approach – The authors synthesize the empirical research on radicalization and counter-radicalization that incorporates formers in the research designs. In doing so, the authors trace these research trends as they unfold throughout the life-course: (1) extremist precursors; (2) radicalization toward extremist violence; (3) leaving violent extremism; and (4) combating violent extremism.

Findings – While formers have informed our understanding of an array of issues related to radicalization and counter-radicalization, empirical research in this space is in its infancy and requires ongoing analyses.

Value – This chapter provides researchers, practitioners, and policymakers with an in-depth account of how formers have informed radicalization and counter-radicalization research in recent years as well as an overview of some of the key gaps in the empirical literature.


Purpose – The author investigates how those who have engaged in political violence in the UK understand Prevent’s preemptive rationality, and how Prevent conceptualizes the trajectory toward “terrorism” in relation to the testimony of those who have engaged in “terrorist” violence and were convicted of terrorism offences.

Methodology/Approach – The author takes the assumptions that Prevent makes about risk (from the Prevent Strategy and other documents), and tests these against the testimony of former combatants from “the Troubles.”

Findings – Despite the trajectory toward violence not being considered to differ fundamentally nor demonstrated through evidence to operate differently from one era to the next, the premise of Prevent’s assumptions of the movement into violence and former combatant testimony are entirely foreign to each other.

Originality/Value – Although militants from “the Troubles” (a conflict ending in 1998) and Prevent (established in 2003) are speaking about the same country and narrating their “truth” within five years of each other, the differences in how former combatants and Prevent understand the trajectory toward violence have not been considered. This has remained a significant omission of terrorism scholarship.


Purpose – This chapter examines the process of radicalization, deradicalization, and support for intelligence agencies in a few well-known cases of terrorists who turned into informants.

Methodology/Approach – Five cases studies are utilized to demonstrate the process of engagement in, disengagement from, and revolt against terrorist groups. Existing literature on radicalization and deradicalization is set against the context of these case studies.

Findings – By drawing upon the experiences of terrorists who turned into informants, it is possible to prove theories on radicalization and deradicalization. In particular, the process of cognitive radicalization presumes that extremist beliefs can also be rejected (deradicalization), while the process of behavioral radicalization presumes that terrorists can distance themselves from extremist behaviors (disengagement).

Originality/Value – Scholarship has traditionally focused on “underdogs” of all kinds, with a less keen interest in elites or the actors operating on their behalf. The work of informants has often remained in a dimly lit corner of academic research. This chapter helps illuminate the path undertaken by terrorists who become informants for Western security apparatus.


Purpose – This chapter explores the question of whether provincial prisons in Western Canada might serve as a breeding ground for radical extremism.

Methodology/Approach – A large team of researchers from the University of Alberta Prison Project conducted semi-structured qualitative interviews with 587 incarcerated men and women, as well as 131 correctional officers (COs) located in four provincial prisons in Western Canada. Interviews involved a series of wide-ranging questions about prison life, but also prodded on topics relating to radicalized messaging or recruitment in the prisons where the participants lived or worked.

Findings – The authors learned that unlike other jurisdictions, radicalization was not common in the institutions they studied. The authors identified several factors that appear to inhibit the emergence of extremist radicalization in this research setting: (a) the existing prisoner subculture; (b) prisoners’ beliefs in Canadian multiculturalism and understandings of Canadian race relations; and (c) COs’ efforts to single out and isolate ostensible extremists.

Originality/Value – There is no empirical research on prison radicalization in Canada, and little independent research conducted inside of Canadian prisons more generally. The findings of this study contributes to an ongoing discussion about radicalization in prison and identify factors that appear to limit the prospect that prisons might become breeding grounds for radical extremism.


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Cover of Radicalization and Counter-Radicalization
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Sociology of Crime, Law and Deviance
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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