Ideological and political radicalisation in contemporary western democracies: Cross-theoretical and empirical perspectives

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Political radicalism and extremism no longer constitute marginal phenomena in European societies and politics. The consecutive financial crises, the Eurozone crisis, the refugee crisis, religious terrorism and geopolitical uncertainties create a multifaceted setting that exacerbates insecurity, anxiety and fears among European citizens. Distrust towards institutions and political elites gives rise to opportunities for radical actors to consolidate their position in the party systems, enhance their electoral appeal, influence policy making procedures and disseminate their extremist views in the mass and social media. Old and new forms of radicalization constitute essential chains in this process potentially leading to violent extremism. Over the last two decades, different expressions of radicalisation have made their presence felt in European democracies, constituting an issue of particular concern for European governments and EU institutions. Lawful manifestations of existing and emerging social movements have, in some countries, burst into violent protest and acts, whereas terrorist attacks now reach extended and increasing dimensions.

This workshop aims at a deeper understanding of radicalization as a complex and dynamic process, by focusing on the behavioral manifestations of both right-wing and left-wing radicalism in today’s European democracies. It seeks to shed light on the particular mechanisms that lead to political violence and escalation, based on theoretical discussions and empirical findings. It will touch upon key academic approaches and aspects of the phenomenon, such as ideological foundations, emotional expressions and psychological parameters, organizational aspects and socialization in radical milieux, the withering of old political divisions, the role of mass media and communication in social media. It will try to elucidate causes, patterns and pathways from radicalization to violence. More specifically, the workshop will disentangle the particular weight of the micro level (individual), the meso level (social surroundings and group dynamics) and the macro level (the broader societal and political environment). Contributions will assess the role of personal relationships and group loyalty in violent political involvement. Special attention will be attributed to the boundaries between non-violent and violent radicalization, as well as to the in-between zones of conscious – direct aid or abet extremism – and unconscious acceptance of violence as a means of action, by individuals who do not personally undertake violence, but endorse or tolerate violence enacted by others.