Clarifying the Explanatory Context for Developing Theories of Radicalization: Five Basic Considerations

Lorne Dawson


We know a great deal more about the process of radicalization leading to violence than when the term entered the popular lexicon a few years after 9/11. Yet fundamentally, it remains difficult to specify who will turn to political violence, how, or why. Progress on this key issue depends on many developments. This article reviews and analyses five basic meta-methodological insights, on which there is growing consensus, which set the parameters for the ongoing study and modeling of radicalization: (1) the specificity problem; (2) the shift from profiles to process; (3) the necessity of a multi-factorial approach; (4) the heterogeneity problem; and (5) the primary data problem. The objective is to create a stronger understanding of the nature and collective relevance of these accepted insights, and point to two related emergent issues on which more systematic research still needs to be done in the context of combatting terrorism: the relationship of attitudes and behavior, and the problem of accounts (i.e., the critical and contextual study of how people justify or excuse socially undesirable or problematic behavior and occurrences).


Radicalization; Theories of Radicalization; Violent Extremism; Methodological Issues; Talking to Terrorists

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