Professor Hilary Pilkington

Radical and extremist groups have embodied a broad range of cultural and political forms in Europe since World War II. While some groups have remained on the political fringes, others have become known through spectacular acts of public violence – such as bombings by left-wing and right-wing radical groups in Germany or the killing of a British soldier by Islamists on a London street in May 2013. Youth engagement is one of the most pressing concerns for researchers and policymakers who work on radicalism and violence (Mudde, 2014). Young people are easier to recruit and to radicalise than older individuals; they are also disproportionately responsible for violent attacks. In this Seminar Series, we explore comparative trends in youth engagement in radical and extremist movements and subcultures across national, religious, and ideological contexts.

On the heels of significant electoral successes and several instances of extraordinary extremist violence, there has been renewed political, media, and scholarly attention to extremist and radical growth in Europe and, in particular, to the role of youth in domestic and foreign extremist movements and violence. There have been few sustained comparative discussions across or between European countries, however, and almost no empirical comparative research on the many dimensions of radicalism and violence. We need more cross-disciplinary conversation as well as more discussion across ideological or substantive areas of focus. Scholars of the far left do not often compare their work to scholars of religious extremism or vice versa; so too historians and political scientists tend to present and publish their findings within their core disciplines rather than in cross-disciplinary venues. The vast majority of research scholars do not find ways to connect their empirical findings with policymakers. We need opportunities to compare and contrast issues such as radicalist engagement, propensity to violence or the influence of transnational networks and new media platforms on extremist and radical recruitment and radicalisation of youth across these various disciplinary, national, and ideological spheres. We need also structured venues to better connect policymakers with researchers and to share research findings in ways that are accessible to the broader public.

The proposed Seminar Series focuses on youth engagement in radicalism and extremism across ideological and religious contexts. It consists of six thematically focused one-day seminars exploring: paths to radicalism and extremism; global and local horizons of action; social media and corporate responsibilities; terrorism; gender dimensions of extremism; and deradicalisation and education.

Seminar One: Paths to radicalism and extremism: Contexts and turning points

This seminar considers the relative importance of contextual (structural, discursive) and personal (‘turning points’) factors in trajectories into extremism reflecting a more general move away from trying to detect offender ‘profiles’ and the ‘roots’ of extremism towards a more profitable exploration of the ‘pathways’ and ‘routes’ into extremist activity (Horgan, 2008). It draws on psychological (Billig, 1978) as well as sociological and anthropological (Blee, 2002; Ezekiel, 2002) and life history (Linden and Klandermans, 2007) approaches to ask how critical cross-disciplinary approaches can move us beyond the search for personality ‘types’ to a more nuanced understanding of the interaction of structural, discursive and peer and family contexts (Atran, 2011; Futrell and Simi, 2004; Möller, 2000) in marking paths to radicalism and extremism across ideological and religious contexts. Importantly, this seminar explores whether, and what kind of, academic research can help us anticipate rather than understand post-hoc potentially key moments.

Seminar Two: Global and local horizons of action

This seminar focuses on the dual powers of transnational networks and local agencies in facilitating people’s recruitment or pathways into extremism. This draws on evidence that extremism is first and foremost facilitated by peers, local activists or authority figures (such as local Imams) from within the 2 micro context (Neumann and Rogers, 2007; Blee, 2002) and may be ‘cumulative’ in nature as groups engage one another (Bartlett and Birdwell, 2013). At the same time, it is evident that transnational networks and social media engagements are increasingly crucial to radicalisation (Bartlett and Littler, 2011; Hoyle, Bradford and Frennet, 2015: 38; Gable, 2011). Thus, this seminar will consider the nature and importance of transnational activism across a range of political and religious positions in order to gain a greater understanding of the commonalities and differences in how groups and individuals organise across borders in pursuit of local agendas and the how local agencies (community figures, families, prisons) can be best mobilised in pursuit of de-radicalisation (Deutsche Welle, 2015).

Seminar Three: Social media and corporate responsibilities

This seminar focuses upon how violent (and non-violent) extremist groups from across the political and religious spectrum – not simply jihadist groups – use a plethora of social media platforms (Caiani and Parenti, 2013; National Coordinator for Counterterrorism, 2009). It will explore what impact the consumption of violent extremist material has for the development and outreach of extremist subcultures in the ‘off-line’ world and thus its broader societal impact (Edwards and Gribbon, 2013). Drawing upon expertise from a range of academic disciplines the seminar explores the ethics of on-line monitoring for the academic community. It will also address the role and responsibility that Internet companies and social media platform providers have in combatting on-line extremism, (especially given criticism of such firms in the wake of the murder of Lee Rigby (Dominiczak et al.)), a task that simultaneously intersects with broader civil society concerns regarding surveillance, freedom of expression and definitions of ‘extremism’.

Seminar Four: Gender dimensions

This seminar interrogates the premise that gender is a protective factor (in the case of women) and a risk factor (in the case of men). It explores the evidence to date and the psychological and social reasons why gender propensities may be apparent (Ferber and Kimmel, 2008; Rippl and Seipel, 1999). However, it also challenges contemporary academic and public discourse that women ‘follow men’ into extremist movements (Blee, 2002; Fangen, 1997), currently expressed most notably in debates on ‘jihadi brides’. Early reports into the latter phenomenon suggest, in fact, that western women join Islamist movements (often assuming equally violent roles within them as their male counterparts, for instance as suicide bombers (Bloom, 2011)) for similar ideological and religious reasons to men and that they experience a similar sense of personal contribution and solidarity with ‘sisters’ as their male counterparts (Hoyle, Bradford and Frenett, 2015). In light of this, the seminar considers how prevention strategies can target those most vulnerable to receptivity without embedding unwarranted stereotypes and prejudices.

Seminar Five: Terrorism

This seminar explores the most extreme manifestation of political violence – terrorism – and how the key issues raised in the previous four seminars shape transitions towards such acts. It will provide a focus for comparing and contrasting the differences and similarities of the pathways and routes taken by a diverse range of religious and political groups and individuals towards terrorism, components of which have been the focus of the previous four seminars. With regard to recent Western European experience it will also focus upon the phenomenon of ‘solo-actor’ terrorists (Gill, 2015; Fangen and Carlsson, 2013) as well as the inter-face between violent and ‘non-violent’ extremism. Rather than limiting our focus to Islamist terrorism, the broad nature of the seminar will draw experts from a range of fields and disciplines together in order to generate greater insight into some of the commonalities that underpin violent contestation and escalation towards terrorism. In doing so the seminar extends our focus beyond single ideological/religious positions or fixed geographical/historical conflicts and adds to the evidence base for where interventions might be made within such ‘radicalisation’ processes. 3

Seminar Six: Deradicalisation and education

This seminar will bring together academics and practitioners working in the field of deradicalisation and education across all the forms of extremism explored to consider evidence to date about paths out of extremism and best practice in intervention strategies through formal and non-formal education and for out-of school youth and the prison and military population. Particular attention will be drawn here to the importance of sharing experiences internationally and across different forms of extremism (Bacher, 2001; Bovier and Boehnke, 1999; Miller-Idriss, 2005; Rommelspacher, 2006). The seminar will discuss not only the range of programmes in existence and what good practice might be transferred across ideological and religious contexts but consider how these programmes can be best evaluated and the future challenges in providing training and rolling out the most successful examples.

Composition and format of seminars

The proposed seminar series builds on the successful experience of the co-investigators in organising the ESRC Research Seminar Series on Right Wing Extremism in Europe (2014-2015). The proposed new series will draw extensively on the wide international academic and non-academic participant network developed in the course of those seminars but will be extended to include scholars and non-academic users working in other fields related to radicalisation and extremism. This will draw on the Council of European Studies (CES) network on Radicalism and Violence (co-ordinated by Cynthia Miller-Idriss and Fabian Virchow), the FP7 MYPLACE project consortium (co-ordinated by Hilary Pilkington), which included research into left-wing and religious activism among young people across Europe, and individual researchers in the Right Wing Extremism in Europe network who have research expertise in Islamist and other forms of extremism alongside right wing extremism. While the Right Wing Extremism in Europe Seminar Series involved the active participation of nonacademic users, the proposed new series goes beyond this by involving such organisations as co-hosts. Provisional agreement to co-host seminars has been established with: Demos (UK); Institute for Strategic Dialogue (UK); Aktion Gemeinwesen und Beratung (AGB, Düsseldorf); Global Education Forum/The Southern Poverty Law Centre (USA); and German Federal Agency for Civic Education, Extremism section (Bonn). Moreover, the format of each seminar will be structured to optimise the potential for constructive academic and non-academic organisational dialogue. In each seminar the experience of civil society actors, policy-makers, police, intelligence agencies and community agencies will be incorporated alongside academic research papers to ensure ongoing interface and dialogue. Each seminar will include three distinct elements: cutting edge academic research papers and presentations; contributions by policy, practitioner, media and NGO actors working in the area; and small group discussions feeding in to the production of an ‘evidence briefing’ related to each seminar theme. The sensitive and strategic nature of the seminar series proposed here means that the focus will be on quality of dialogue generated with policy-makers and other non-academic partners rather than numbers attending seminars. Notwithstanding this, we consider it an essential element of the Seminar Series to facilitate capacity building within all sectors engaged and thus, from the academic side, attention will be paid to drawing in postgraduate students and early career researchers and, from the non-academic partner side, to include both established and early career colleagues in the series. Seminars will be held in Manchester (2), London (2), Dusseldorf and Washington DC reflecting the European dimension of the seminar series in terms of both theme and participants as well as the commitment to bringing in wider international experience (e.g. from North America). For an indicative list of potential non-UK based individual participants and non-academic organisations, see the Je-S proposal (‘Classification’ section).

If you would like to receive more information about this case study, please contact:

Professor Hilary Pilkington
Department of Sociology
School of Social Sciences
Arthur Lewis Building
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
M13 9PL

Tel: 0161 275 0319