Projects of the Research Group

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Projects within the Research Group focus on different aspects of terrorist organisations’ learning and cover different levels of the framework-dimensions accordingly. Find below short descriptions as well as illustrations delineating the scope of the various projects.

Internal and External Mobilisation in Opposition and in Office: Comparing the Strategies of Hamas in Gaza and an-Nahda Movement in Tunisia

This research project focuses on mobilisation strategies of the Palestinian Hamas and al-Nahda party in Tunisia. Central questions are how the two Muslim Brotherhood movements mobilise, educate and train their own activists, how these activists then go on to form their internal organisational structures, and how they mobilise the public within their own local communities. The project examines the peculiarities of this mobilisation process firstly during the period in which Hamas and an-Nahda were in opposition, and secondly during the years when they were in office, and emphasises how the transition to office affected their capacity to mobilise and the strategies they used to overcome problems of (de)mobilisation. more

The Boko Haram crisis and socio-political dynamics in eastern Niger

This project looks at the wider context of Nigeria's Boko Haram insurgency from the angle of Eastern Niger, a region severely affected by spill-over effects. Since its emergence in the early 2000s, Boko Haram established itself as a regional player by a process of integration on the regional social landscape – integration understood not in the sense of acculturation or assimilation, but as interaction in a wider systemic whole that can also be characterised by conflictual relations. This perspective implies a view of Boko Haram not as a player outside of society, but as one who is part of it and who takes part in social processes. The social embedding allows to analyse learning processes of Boko Haram in a broader systemic perspective, which avoids reducing them to tactical and strategic adaptations for survival. Instead, they are understood as the result of processes of social interaction between different groups. Social interaction, i.e., the dynamic interplay between persons or groups, results in modifications of the attitudes and behaviour of the persons and groups involved. An underlying assumption is that people have multiple and overlapping identifications, which dynamically change over time, and are simultaneously part of different categories which can situationally be appealed to. 'Terrorists' or their supporters are at the same time also members of local communities, which allows for multiple levels of interaction. more

Communities of hateful practice: right-wing terrorism and collective learning

This project focuses on the characteristics of collective learning of right-wing terrorists. The string of attacks and discoveries of far-right structures in recent years, from the lone actor terrorism of Oslo, Christchurch or Halle to the networks of “Atomwaffen Division”, “The Base” or the “Boogaloo Bois ”, provides growing empirical evidence that some long-standing assumptions about far-right violence are changing and we might confront a new global wave of right-wing terrorism. In contrast to jihadist terrorist structures, in which (at least as an ideal) a central authority of “soldiers” acting in the name of a Caliphate exists, this movement is characterized by a high degree of decentralisation and heterogeneity. Consequently, right-wing terrorism is for the most part not characterized by sophisticated organizations with centralized strategic decision-making, but seemingly random acts of violence emerging from a radicalized subculture in which conceptual distinctions between supporters, groups and perpetrators are blurring and “lone actors” are part of a “digital pack”. To understand the mechanisms of collective agency of far-right strategic violence, this project utilizes theoretical concepts of collective learning, considering the fragmented violent right-wing sphere as communities of practice engaged in complex processes of generating collective identities and knowledge, ultimately serving acts of death and destruction.

Understanding and Influencing Dynamics of Learning and Unlearning Violence

This project is concerned with understanding and influencing mechanisms of learning and unlearning of terrorist groups. One way of influencing learning mechanisms that is commonly employed when dealing with terrorism is exerting pressure on terrorist groups – for example, through violent counterterrorism measures. However, is it possible to learn under pressure? Researchers from various disciplines have observed that pressure only leads to changes in routine behaviour and that what is learnt is not internalised. Conflict mediators emphasise that in order to bring about moderation of terrorist groups, exerting pressure has to be combined with offering them a way out. Hence, this project also looks at providing a way out – for example, through recognition – as an additional possibility for inducing change. Can external recognition bring about self-recognition of violent groups? What is the result of recognition by allies or enemies? Pressure and recognition often serve as arguments or justifications that reinforce identity and hence support a certain course of action, rather than as inspiration for profound course corrections. The question then arises: how does a change in beliefs come about and under what conditions do organisations question the rules of the game of decision-making, for example by questioning conflict dynamics. These are the questions that this project shall help to find answers to by means of analysis of multiple case studies. more

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