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Violence and subjectivity in a global movement: jihadi trajectories in the UK and Spain

Final Report Summary - JIHADI TRAJECTORIES (Violence and subjectivity in a global movement: jihadi trajectories in the UK and Spain)

Project context and objectives

This study involved a two-year exploration of paths into jihadi violence in Europe, focusing on the UK and Spain, exploring increasing evidence that the development of terrorist violence in Europe was less the product of structured organisations, as had largely been the case during the terrorism that developed in the 1970s, but instead involved personal paths into violence. Although personal, these paths involved forms of communication with others, in particular through communication media such as the internet. This means a change of focus in studies of violence, complementing the existing focus on states and organisations characterising the international relations paradigm by attempting to engage with personal experience, drawing on what has come to be known as the 'sociology of experience'. The study proceeded through three stages. The first involved a focus on internet-based communications and on the ways these communications allow us to understand personal transformations. The second analysed material in the public domain gathered in the course of investigations of planned or attempted terrorist actions, with a focus on the UK and Spain. The third phase aimed to interview people currently serving prison sentences following convictions for terrorism related offences. While the study focused on personal transformations and trajectories associated with jihadi violence, it aimed at producing knowledge that would assist in understanding the wider development of the 'personalisation' of paths into violence.

Project results

The first year of the study explored forms of public communication among people who were, to a certain degree, supportive of violence as a means to bring about desired change. This highlighted the relative absence of organisation and hierarchy amongst this group and offered insights into the ways individuals come to embrace 'leaderless' forms of violence, suggesting that the mediated experience associated with internet communication and its associated forms of imaginary is critical to understand paths that open out to supporting violence. This aspect of the study highlights the importance of images of extreme violence and the search for limited experiences in a wider culture, and in particular suggests a 'grammar of responsibility' associated with a transformation where an observer of violence becomes a 'witness'. While many attempts to explore the relationship between violence and globalisation construct this in terms of a search for purity and homogeneity (drawing on themes from community anthropology), this study highlighted the absence of community themes, underlining a particular form of responsibility associated with mediated forms of violence.

The second year moved from the analysis of internet communications to a more direct engagement with persons who had been or may become supporters of violence. Material in the public domain from legal proceedings in Spain and the UK was analysed. This was followed by a series of interviews. Issues around security protocols meant that the original proposal of interviews in prisons could not be arranged within the time frame of the study, but may happen in the future. Alternative interviews were undertaken with individuals connected with groups and networks that may have been supporters of violence, or people connected with persons who had been convicted. The project developed significant contact with a wide range of policy-related organisations, including government policymakers, civil society organisations together with university research departments, specialist research centers and international research networks, public interest groups, violence prevention organisations and local and national government service delivery agencies. Links were developed with public and research organisations in Australia, the country of origin of the International Fellow, laying the basis for new avenues of research and policy exchange.