Head of Research Group

Carolin Görzig
Carolin Görzig
Head of Research Group
Phone: +49 (0) 345 29 27 379


Silke Schmidt
Department Secretary
Phone: +49 (0) 345 29 27 380

News from the Research Group

21.11.2019 09:00 - 22.11.2019 17:00
Is Terrorist Learning Different?
Carolin Görzig, Imad Alsoos, Florian Köhler (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Main Seminar Room
Call for Papers

Latest Thinking

How Do Terrorist Groups Learn and Unlearn Violence?

Author: Carolin Görzig
Length: 12 minutes
Camera operator / Photographer: Florian Wehking

Carolin Görzig explains her current research project in a science video by the open access video journal "Latest Thinking" (www.lt.org)

Ways out of violence – interview with Carolin Görzig on Deutschlandfunk

July 29, 2018

Carolin Görzig, head of the research group "How 'Terrorists' Learn - Re-considering the tactical and strategic transformation of violent movements and organisations" talked with Florian Felix Weyh on 29 July 2018 about the learning capacity of terrorist groups, to the problems with using the term "terrorism", and the ethical questions raised by contact with terrorists. The interview also considers ways out of violence, negotiating with "terrorists" and how members of such groups achieve new self-knowledge and unlearn violence.

Click here to listen to the 30-minute broadcast (in German)

Lecture Series - Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Political Violence
Carolin Görzig, Michael Fürstenberg (Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology)
Main Seminar Room

"Can Aid Help Counter Violent Extremism and Terrorism?"

Participation of Almakan Orozobekova in a debate at the University of London


Organised by the London International Development Centre & The Guardian

13.10.2016 09:00 - 14.10.2016 17:00
Ist der neue Terrorismus von gestern? Ergebnisse und Perspektiven der Terrorismusforschung in Deutschland
Christopher Daase (Hessische Stiftung Friedens- und Konfliktforschung), Carolin Görzig (Max-Planck-Institut für ethnologische Forschung)
Main Seminar Room
Call for Papers

"Wie lernen Terroristen", Forschung am Max-Planck-Institut

MDR Sachsen / MDR Info,
Interview with Carolin Görzig, by Theo M. Lies

Wie lernen Terrorgruppen?

Interview with Carolin Görzig, by Mike Sattler

Cooperation with the Neues Theater Halle

The research group provides scientific support for the theatre play "Djihad Paradise" presented by the Neues Theater in Halle.

Link to the website of the play Djihad Paradise

Flyer Djihad Paradise - Neues Theater

Max Planck Research Group - How 'Terrorists' Learn

Max Planck Research Group - How 'Terrorists' Learn

How 'Terrorists' Learn – Re-considering the tactical and strategic transformation of violent movements and organisations

Framework | Projects | Events

From the decision to organise in pursuit of a political goal, the learning of specific operational procedures and tactics to the development or renunciation of certain strategies of violence, violent groups are engaged in manifold processes of transformation. Facing a constant threat of repression, violent non-state actors have to continuously improve and adapt in order to be successful, stay relevant, and simply to survive.

The research group seeks to understand these organisational dynamics of violence of so-called "terrorist" groups. Specifically, while existing research in this regard has so far predominantly focused on factors influencing whether organisations are able to learn and innovate, we argue that this has distracted from the more pertinent question of how they learn. In order to systematically study different aspects of learning, the project utilises a framework structured along three interrelated dimensions, covering the context (from whom do they learn?), mechanisms (how do they learn?), and outcomes (what do they learn?) of the learning process. Hence, learning does not occur in a vacuum. Instead we ask, from what or from whom terrorist groups learn and distinguish three contextual levels, ranging from the micro, to the meso and macro level. The learning process can be described as driven mainly by mechanisms of emulation and competition and learning outcomes are changes in tactics, operational procedures, and overall strategies.

Individual projects in the group consider various processes of transformation of actors using violent tactics. Group members have conducted field work in sites like Niger, Palestine, Turkey, Kyrgyztan, and Northern Ireland. This is supplemented with an analysis as well as a reflection of the limitations of (large-N) quantitative datasets on political violence. The three context levels of learning (micro, meso, macro) are taken up in the individual as well as collaborative projects of the Research Group in different ways. While the quantitative research by Michael Fürstenberg especially addresses the meso level, looking at learning among affiliating and merging groups, the PhD projects predominantly focus both on the micro level with a focus on organisational structures, decision-making, and recruitment strategies, and going beyond that level as well. The challenge in theory building is to integrate the different levels by, for example, differentiating between followers and leaders as in Almakan Orozobekova's project, by capturing the different levels of cooperation and conflict influencing organisational dynamics within and between rebel groups, as in Regine Schwab's project, or asking, as does Katharina Siebert's project, how more and less cohesive groups perceive their environment and change strategies – a connection between the micro, meso, and macro levels. With a focus on social interaction between the different stakeholders involved, Florian Köhler's project on Boko Haram analyses the conflict in Eastern Niger in a broad systemic perspective and Imad Alsoos investigates Hamas and an-Nahda's forms of internal and external mobilisation while they were in opposition and while in office/power.

Besides problematising different context levels of learning, each project develops an individual conceptual approach that will be integrated into the wider framework in a subsequent step. Change, adaptation, and innovation are all processes that are different from but yet relate to learning. Benefiting from the conceptual wealth will inform our knowledge on learning processes and answer questions such as: When can we speak of learning and when of change, when does learning lead to adaptation, and how is learning related to innovation?


Schwab, Regine. 2018. Insurgent courts in civil wars: the three pathways of (trans)formation in today's Syria (2012-2017). Small Wars & Insurgencies 29(4): 801-826. DOI: 10.1080/09592318.2018.1497290.

Alsoos, Imad. 2018. Why Hamas is protesting in Gaza - and why it will continue. The Washington Post, April 8, 2018.

Orozobekova, Almakan. 2017. Recruitment of foreign fighters to violent islamist groups: the cases of the Kyrgyz Republic and the United Kingdom. Zentralasien-Seminar, Institut für Asien- und Afrikawissenschaften, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Berlin.

Goerzig, Carolin and Claudia Hofmann. 2016. The hurting way out: group cohesion and the mitigating potential of private actors in conflict negotiation. Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, Working Paper No. 177.

Orozobekova, Almakan. 2016. The mobilization and recruitment of foreign fighters: the case of Islamic State, 2012-2014. Connections: The Quarterly Journal 15(3): 83-100. DOI: 10.11610/Connections.15.3.07.

Hofmann, Claudia and Carolin Goerzig. 2016. Influencing negotiation willingness in the Middle East: the potential contributions of private actors. Negotiation Journal 32(2): 151-163.

Goerzig, Carolin and Khaled Al-Hashimi. 2015. Radicalization in Western Europe: Integration and loss of identity among Muslim communities. London, New York: Routledge.

Goerzig, Carolin and Claudia Hofmann. 2015. The dark side of recognition: mutual exclusiveness of active and passive recognition in the Middle East. In: Christopher Daase, Anna Geis et al. (eds.). Recognition in International Relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

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