Radicalisation: What’s in a Word?

Radicalisation is one of those buzz words that gets thrown into almost any conversation around terrorism, counter terrorism, and militant extremism in various forms. But is most especially associated with terror associated with Islam. However, like many buzz words it seeks to explain more than it can deliver.

Saying somebody has been “radicalised” is indeed pretty much meaningless and is often a way that politicians or others absolve themselves from blame or media pundits bandy around as a catchall explanation. In this article, I take issue with this abuse of the term, but recognising that as it is so pervasive we cannot abandon it. As such, if used we should recognise that “radicalisation” does not actually refer to anything in and of itself (people are socialised into worldviews we see as “radical”) and names various pathways and trajectories that are far more complex than a single word can really convey.

I also cover some recent debates around pathways into radicalisation between Kepel and Roy (two leading French theorists in the area) and look at the links with various forms of Islam.

I intend to write further and in more depth on this topic in the not so distant future. It seems to me a lot needs to be said to help unpack the jargon and myths around concepts of “radicalisation”.

Anyway, a full copy of the paper can be found here:


This entry was posted in Interreligious Studies, Islam, Religion and Politics, Religion and Violence, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Radicalisation: What’s in a Word?

  1. Excellent article, Paul. I started to think about gangs and organized crime as I started to read your article and it was nice to see that you touched on the topic. In the criminal justice world, addressing crimonegenic needs is considered a means of helping people move away from criminal activity: address their cognition, personality, associates, and family to start with. Im starting to wonder if that would apply at all in the world of studying radicalisation.

    • paulhedges says:

      Thanks for the comments Fred. I am glad this made sense to you in terms of the crossover, and I think it is an area that can be explored further. I am not really familiar with the criminology literature and so can’t say how far crimogenic needs relates to “radicalisation”, but certainly many of the “de-radicalisation” or “counter-extremism” programmes globally do address communities and the wider context that can lead people to these pathways. As I take my research into this further it is certainly one area I might look at, so thanks for the suggestion. I guess one common factor may be that there is not simply one path into crime or terror-related activities and as such it won’t be a simple fix in either case, but rather understanding particular local and contextual issues as well.

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