Actors and Ideologies in Social Context
This Programme improves our understanding of where and how extremist ideologies are transmitted and learned, and why and how people engage and disengage from terrorist violence. Led by Professor Kim Knott at Lancaster University.
This programme examines the backcloth of economic, political, societal and global security perspectives that shape the perceptions and realities of security threats.
Through original research, knowledge synthesis and collaborative research with practitioners, the programme aims to improve understanding of the conditions under which extremist ideologies are passed on, individuals and groups are radicalised, and a minority make the move to violence.
Better knowledge of the process, locations, events and relationships involved in ideological transmission is vital for future development and targeting of interventions, disruption, and counter-narratives
Ideological learning in extremist contexts
There is little research on how, as learners, novice extremists set about acquiring in-depth ideological knowledge. Nor is there a good understanding of when and why the development of ideological expertise can deepen commitment to a cause or support disengagement. This research examines how learners access, internalise, and use ideological knowledge in different contexts, including both group- and lone-learning, and considers what factors shape these processes. It builds on a framework developed from an earlier interdisciplinary review of research on ideological transmission.
The research is intended to improve understanding of radicalisation and deradicalisation pathways, and to act as a source of guidance for security practitioners who need to develop in-depth understandings of extreme ideologies. Tracing the journey from novice to expert may help locate the points at which people may be receptive to altering ideological commitments. Understanding the value of different learning strategies and types of ideological material can inform policy and practice relating to proscription and counter-messaging.
- Kin and peer contexts, ideological transmission and the move to extremist involvement
This doctoral project enhances understanding of the ideological and social impact of family members and friends by connecting social network analysis of terrorist individuals and groups, psychological research on terrorist biographies, and studies of intergenerational and peer-to-peer transmission.
- Gender and violent extremism
This doctoral project examines the gendered roles, mechanisms and practices which support violent extremism. Can underlying structures, drivers and beliefs be identified, and how and when do they differ for men and women? How have women’s roles as enablers of terrorist engagement or obstacles to disengagement changed?
- Learning and communication in transnational militant groups
This doctoral project examines how transnational extremist networks tailor communications to their respective audiences. It problematises the traditional concept of ‘extremist groups/organisation’ by looking at how affect and inter-subjective meaning are co-created in wider extremist networks. The project compares these processes in jihadi and right-wing networks.
Completed research projects
- Grassroots counter-messaging online: building resistance in civil society
This project deepened understanding of counter-messaging and the types of content created by individuals outside officially recognised programmes. It looked at the motivations of activists who produce counter messages, and the effectiveness of their content. It considered the risks and rewards they face.
- Reciprocal radicalisation
This project tested theories of reciprocal radicalisation using a case study of extreme right web forums in the aftermath of four violent incidents in 2017, three inspired by violent Islamism, another with extreme right motivations. It examined how digital milieus react to violent attacks by ideological opponents and assessed the extent to which extreme-right adherents see themselves as coupled to militant Islamism. It asked how online rhetoric develops in response to militant Islamist violence. As part of the project, a workshop was held to co-ordinate current research on reciprocal radicalisation and to bring together security practitioners and academic researchers. A summary and papers were presented online.
An interdisciplinary review of social science and humanities research on ideological transmission produced three CREST reports, on the family, peers and religious and political organisations. This led to new research on ideological learning.
On ideological transmission in families: It has long been assumed that ideology is passed from parent to child, however empirical support for this is mixed. Our research review found that:
- Concrete principles, such as political and religious affiliation and preference, are more successfully transferred between generations than more abstract ones, such as values
- Family members exert different effects on transmission
- Family agreement on beliefs and values can boost transmission, as can the salience of issues
- Some methods (e.g., rote learning and regular ritual) are more effective than others
- Children are not passive agents in the process; they are actively involved
- Offspring sometimes defy parents and resist their influence
- The transmission of hatred differs across groups: social revolutionary terrorists are generally more likely to disagree with and defy parents; national-separatist terrorists more likely to feel they are righting the wrongs experienced by earlier generations.
Muslims and Islam in the UK
This annotated report synthesised open-source, humanities and social science research on British Muslims and Islam. It examined the history and demography of British Muslims and their communities, families, gender and generation, secular and cultural identities, mosques, and educational issues. Transnational connections, Islamic movements and networks, and civil society organisations and campaigning groups were also discussed. A series of short guides were produced to accompany the longer report. They were intended to inform and enrich discussions about Muslims in the UK, and to challenge assumptions.