Research Note: ‘If I said I trust you, I would be lying’. Reflections and recommendations for conducting interviews with (violent) extremist prisoners


  • Lana De Pelecijn Ghent University
  • Stef Decoene
  • Wim Hardyns Ghent University


(Violent) Extremism & Terrorism, (Violent) Extremist Prisoners, Qualitative Interviews, Reflections & Recommendations, Field Experiences


Over the past decade, the (violent) extremism, terrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) research field is witnessing an increasing number of studies based on primary data collection. Despite this evolution, however, conducting face-to-face interviews with former or active (violent) extremists and terrorists still appears to be the exception rather than the rule. In addition, most evidence-based research often lacks methodological transparency on the researchers’ experiences, good practices, and the challenges faced during the different research phases (e.g., making contact with the respondents, the process of creating trust, challenges linked to the prison context). Therefore, the aim of this article is to provide academic researchers with insight into the potential challenges they may encounter when contacting and interviewing former or active (violent) extremist prisoners, and how to overcome them. The results are based on field experiences of a PhD research on the process toward (violent) extremism and terrorism in which qualitative in-depth interviews are conducted with (violent) extremist prisoners in Belgium. By providing reflections and recommendations based on this fieldwork, this article can be used as a guideline to improve and increase future primary data collection and the methodological transparency and reliability within terrorism and CVE research.


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