The Violence and Extremism Programme looks at extreme and violent movements in the UK, Europe, and North America: al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, far-right and white supremacism, religious and political extremism, cults and gangs. It focuses on the uncomfortable reality that many people join them because they are a cool, exciting form of counter-culture, that offers a sense of identity and meaning. Understanding that aspect of their appeal is essential to tackle them. 


The last decade has seen a growth in a range of extremist and violent behaviours. At the top end of this spectrum there is a growing incidence of gang membership, gun and knife crime, religious and political radicalism, and violence motivated by intolerance of others. Understanding what drives such behaviour is a core mission of many experts and government initiatives, but there is still little agreement and as a result numerous costly initiatives have failed to make an impact.  Groups like this are usually impervious to traditional social policy, because peer pressure and internal ‘codes of honour’ are more powerful. They are inherently anti-establishment, which makes them difficult for the establishment to crack.  The branding of Islamic extremists as 'terrorists' increased the glamour and mystery of such groups to impressionable youngsters. 


The programme aims to deepen our understanding of how these groups operate in practice, how they market themselves, recruit members, what their internal subcultures and incentives are, the role of peer pressure and group dynamics, and how and why certain members tip to violence. To do this, the team is generating new qualitative and quantitative research, spending time embedded in extremist groups, producing new polling data and undertaking psychological scenario testing.


Based on this understanding, the programme will propose and test practical and effective ways for government and civil society to respond, specifically looking at how to make extremist and violent groups less appealing, and non-violent alternatives more so. The team is currently developing approaches which aim to: 


  • Strip the glamour from terrorist organizations, including al-Qaeda, by highlighting their hypocrisy, in-fighting and incompetence 

  • Break up peer pressure that can lead to violence, by introducing alternative voices through covert and overt means 

  • Create micro-narratives can undermine the arguments of extremist groups

  • Examine what alternatives can draw people away from extremism, as part of the new government’s Big Society



If you would like to be involved, please contact Jamie Bartlett.