Session on Terrorism: Against Radicalization

Monday, 11 July 2016: 16:00
Location: Hörsaal 50 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Jeffrey GOODWIN, New York University, USA
This paper argues that scholars of political violence have misunderstood and
misappropriated the concept of “radicalization.” As a result, the radicalization perspective on
violence and terrorism—by states as well as oppositional movements—is problematic and
misguided in a number of ways. First, there is no consistent definition of “radicalization” in the
literature on the topic, and the word “radical” is often used simply as a synonym for terrorist,
producing tautological claims. Furthermore, the perspective’s core assumption—namely, that
only radicals engage in political violence or terrorism—is empirically wrong, as is, accordingly,
the claim that radicalization is a necessary cause of political violence and terrorism. In addition,
the factors and mechanisms that allegedly cause radicalization (and thus violence and terrorism)
which are discussed in the literature do not actually explain why a political group, state, or
individual would employ violence in general or terrorism in particular. Finally, there is a
consistent conflation in this literature of terrorist tactics with political violence generally. After
presenting this critique, the paper shows how the radicalization perspective fails to explain an
important empirical case, namely, Al Qaeda’s use of terrorism against U.S. citizens.