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The Origins of Extremism

When Feb 17, 2016
from 06:00 PM to 07:30 PM
Where Room B3, Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge
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There is a lot of speculation about the long-term and short-term
mechanisms leading to violent extremism and actual involvement in
terrorist acts. However, very few studies have examined empirically the individual, behavioural, family-related and contextual antecedents of violent extremism. The first presentation by Amy Nivette (University of Utrecht) will examine prospective developmental risk factors for violent extremist beliefs in a large ethnically mixed cohort study. Paul Gill (University College London) presents findings from his pathbreaking study on the motivations and antecedent behaviours of Lone Actor Terrorists. In conjunction, the two studies examine processes of radicalisation from initial susceptibility to extremists views to actual terrorist acts.

The event is chaired by Professor Manuel Eisner, Director of the Violence Research Centre at the University of Cambridge. 

The seminar is followed by a discussion and refreshments.

All welcome! 

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The presentations are available for download:



Dr Paul Gill


Paul Gill picDr Paul Gill is a senior lecturer in Security and Crime Science. Previous to joining UCL, Dr Gill was a postdoctoral research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Terrorism at Pennsylvania State University. He has conducted research funded by the Office for Naval Research, the Department of Homeland Security, DSTL, the European Union, and the National Institute of Justice. These projects focused on various aspects of terrorist behaviour including the IED development, creativity, terrorist network structures, and lone-actor terrorism. His doctoral research focused on the underlying individual and organisational motivations behind suicide bombing. This piece of research won the Jean Blondel Prize for the best PhD thesis in Political Science in Europe for 2010. His research examines terrorism: Its causes, patterns and the actors that perpetrate terrorist attacks. His currently published research demonstrates the heterogeneous profiles of terrorists, their developmental pathways into terrorism, the behaviours that precede and underpin a terrorist attack, how terrorists fit into a wider structure and how particular group influences condition individuals to engage in acts of violence. His book on lone-actor terrorism was recently published by Routledge.


Understanding Lone Actor Terrorists: A Focus on Behaviour

Based on a unique dataset of 111 lone actors that catalogues the life span of the individual's development, the talk contains important insights into what an analysis of their behaviours might imply for practical interventions aimed at disrupting or even preventing attacks. It adopts insights and methodologies from criminology and forensic psychology to provide a holistic analysis of the behavioural underpinnings of lone-actor terrorism. By focusing upon the behavioural aspects of each offender and by analysing a variety of case studies, including Anders Breivik, Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh and David Copeland, this work marks a pointed departure from previous research in the field. It seeks to answer the following key questions: Is there a lone-actor terrorist profile and how do they differ? What behaviours did the lone-actor terrorist engage in prior to his/her attack and is there a common behavioural trajectory into lone-actor terrorism? How 'lone' do lone-actor terrorists tend to be? What role, if any, does the internet play? What role, if any, does mental illness play?

Download Paul Gill's presentation here

Dr Amy Nivette


Amy Nivette photoDr Amy Nivette is an Assistant Professor at the University of Utrecht. Previously, she was a Postdoctoral Prize Research Fellow in Sociology at Nuffield College, University of Oxford. Dr Nivette earned her Mphil and PhD from the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge in 2012. Her research interests broadly concern the cross-national and cross-cultural study of violence, particularly in relation to the legitimacy of political and social institutions. Currently, she is working on projects concerning sex differences in physical aggression among adolescents; legitimacy and informal social control in Accra, Ghana; cross-national patterns of political assassinations; and support for vigilante homicide in Latin America. She has published on the topics of legitimacy, aggression, and homicide in international journals such as Aggressive Behavior, Homicide Studies, British Journal of Criminology, and Theoretical Criminology. Dr Nivette is also an Associate Member of the Violence Research Centre at the Institute of Criminology, University of Cambridge.


The Effect of Strain on Adolescent Support for Violent Extremism

This research tests an integrated social and developmental model of support for violent extremism. Specifically, this study draws from previous research on the role of strain in affecting attitudes and justifications for political violence to explain support for violent extremism. Strains, such as experiences of injustice, negative life events, and victimisation are hypothesised to lead to negative coping mechanisms and 'drift' towards delinquency, including associating with delinquent peers, deviance, as well as support for violent extremism. In this sense, support for violent extremism is not distinct, but part of a latent construct of offending and violent attitudes. Furthermore, exposure to strain is a distal cause, and can be mediated by an individual's conventional social bonds and attachments, which act as a 'safety net' preventing 'drift' into delinquency and likewise violent extremism. This study uses the Zurich Project on the Social Development of Children and Youth (z-proso) to investigate these theoretical mechanisms.

Download Amy Nivette's presentation here

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