This report is part two of a three part series analysing the role of subcultural theory and the constraints and protections against violence that may be at work within extreme-right subcultures.


  • This report is part two of a three part series analysing the role of subcultural theory and the constraints and protections against violence that may be at work within extreme-right subcultures.
  • By looking at a specific right-wing subculture – Siege Culture – described more fully in the previous report, this report develops the concept of differential participation: the idea that participation in extremist subcultures is not uniform and provides opportunities to engage in a variety of roles.

Differential Participation

  • A key observation of this report is that participation in extreme-right subcultures takes many forms.
  • Terrorism studies has paid less attention to the different roles offered by terrorist groups. Where it has, the focus of much research has been behavioural, primarily concerned with what individuals do.
  • In contrast, the subcultural literature places greater emphasis on the social dimension and how individual roles mesh with the wider social environment created by subcultures.
  • The subcultural literature has also added a temporal aspect, recognising that roles vary over time, with transitions sometimes accompanied by elaborate rituals and rules.
  • There have also been several examples of differential participation set out explicitly within Siege Culture or adjacent spaces with different groups outlining their own roles and responsibilities.
  • Combining these perspectives gives an overarching framework for analysis that considers participation as roles defined by both behaviours and the social relationships that characterise them overtime.  

Differential Participation in Siege Culture

  • This report seeks to identify empirical evidence of the different roles on offer within Siege Culture.
  • The three key research questions that orient the analysis are:
    • What behaviours can be observed in the subcultural data?
    • What status do these roles attract?
    • How do these roles evolve over time?
  • The analysis identified four sets of roles available within the subcultural data primarily grouped by behaviour: organiser, ideologue, offender, and technician. These roles were further divided in some cases into sub-roles. The roles of women and girls is considered separately due to significantly different dynamics and the low number of cases available for analysis.
  • Where possible some judgement was made on the relative status of the individual undertaking the role and how this may have changed over time.
  • Despite the scattered evidence, roles within Siege Culture appear to be fluid and opportunistic. In some cases, individuals take on multiple roles as required.
  • There was also evidence of status changing overt time. In some cases this was inferred from the behaviours of participants, in other cases there were clear examples of participants receiving compliments, or (more often) criticism and insults.
  • Both and individual’s roles and an individual’s status were found to change over time.
  • Given the limited data means that the findings should be treated more as a proof of concept rather than a comprehensive typology of roles within Siege Culture.


  • Despite the limitations of the data, in particular the absence of internal perspectives from those directly engaged in Siege Culture, there is enough to strongly suggest that participation is differentiated in ways similar to other extreme and non-extreme subcultures.
  • Both research and practice within on extremism  will benefit from recognising that binary distinctions of extreme and non-extreme mask a wide range of behaviours, status, and trajectory, and that extremist participation reflects different levels of participation across a variety of roles.
  • This has several broader implications for understanding risk and when designing interventions:
    • If specific roles are linked to meeting individual needs, or providing individuals with specific benefits then this may limit the potential for violence because they may reward ongoing engagement in non-violent roles. Transitioning to offending roles, particularly terroristic ones, may have limited appeal for those who are well established within an extremist subculture and are satisfied with what they gain from this involvement.
    • Where trajectories are altered though external action, the threat of action, or internal changes, then offending roles and potentially serious violence may become more appealing. Those tasked with policing extremist subcultures will benefit from recognising the unintended second order effects of changes in individual trajectories.
    • For those tasked with working with individuals, either to pre-empt offending or to rehabilitate those who have offended, a granular understanding of subcultural participation and the meaning attached to it can be a potential indicator of the behaviours and needs a specific individual finds meaningful and necessary to their own version of a “good life”.
  • The final report examines these implications in greater depth through the lens of the Good Lives Model which is used to understand the potential constraints and protections that may be associated with engagement in extremist subcultures as a function of the ‘goods’ or needs and benefits they afford.

Download this report and two others from this series below:

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