Studying Violent Radicalization in Europe I. The Potential Contribution of Social Movement Theory

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Series Details No.2, January 2008
Publication Date January 2008
ISBN 978-87-7605-251-5
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Why do some apparently well-integrated youth in Europe become attracted to Islamist militancy? Why and when do people cross from violent talk to violent action? What prevents others, exposed to the same political, ideological, and socioeconomic influences, from crossing? When and how might people de-radicalize and draw back from violent action? What policy initiatives would be called for to limit the spread of radical ideas, counter the factors that spur violent radicalization, and strengthen those, which pull in the other direction? In sum: When, why, and how do people living in a democracy become radicalized to the point of being willing to use or directly support the use of terrorist violence against civilians, and what can be done about it?

These questions have been at the center of both academic and public debate over the past years. Yet, there is still a scarcity of empirically based knowledge and no consensus with regard to which theories and approaches to apply to the study of violent radicalization and mobilization.

This working paper explores the potential contribution of Social Movement Theory to throw light on the question of violent radicalization in Europe. The paper first provides an overview of the main schools and major scholars, who have applied Social Movement Theory to terrorism studies. It identifies three main schools: Strain Theory, Resource Mobilization Theory, and Framing Theory and discusses their respective strengths and weaknesses. Finally, it points to the most promising avenue for further research into violent radicalization in Europe – Framing Theory – and to the specific issues and questions highlighted by this approach.

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