NEWS & commentary
I've been presenting some of the research on disengagement from extremism this month.
I was in Warsaw with the International Society of Political Psychology talking on A strengths based approach to 'deradicalisation', in London for the Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Confernece, and in Leeds I spoke at a conference organised by the Terrorism and Political Violence Association. Here's an abstract of the talk:
In the face of violent political dissent governments have, along with repressive measures, tried ‘softer’ methods to facilitate disengagement from radical opposition groups. Most recently, this has been conceptualised as ‘deradicalisation’, a phenomenon that is poorly understood both empirically and theoretically. Based on extensive interviews and fieldwork with practitioners working with militant Islamists in the United Kingdom, this paper explores the practical, conceptual, and theoretical foundation of ‘deradicalisation’ efforts to present an alternative account of disengagement from radical settings. It does so by exploring the promise of two theoretical approaches to reintegrating prisoners: the ‘strengths based’ approach and the ‘risk’ model. Simply put, the first encourages the individual to conceive of ways to work towards a positive future, asking what constitutes a ‘good life’ for them, while the second tries to plug perceived deficits. Looking more carefully at the strengths based approach to supporting desistance from terrorism suggests a reframing of how we approach the concept of ‘deradicalisation’. Acknowledging the positive benefits people seek to achieve by engaging in illegal political activity is the first step in this, informing three ways of reframing efforts to engage with ‘extremists’. First, working to redirect rather than deconstruct the initial motivation to engage in illegal activism; second, improving resilience to negative influences through developing internal strengths and supporting agency, rather than the current emphasis on controlling risk; and third framing this as a process of reintegration into wider social structures, rather than ‘deradicalisation’ and its assumption of a somewhat passive, atomised subject of external intervention.