Communities as defeating and/or endorsing extreme violence: how do communities support and/or defeat extreme violence over time?

Lead Research Organisation: University of Birmingham
Department Name: English Drama American and Canadian Stu


Communities, their connections and associated complexities, have been the subject of considerable conversation and debate in the UK, particularly since the terrorist attacks of 7 July 2005 and the English riots of 2011. Much of the conversation has centred on the position of communities as impediments to and assistors of radicalisation and/or intra-communal violence. This discourse has percolated between academe, the media, and government and has been fuelled by government policies and pronouncements, terrorism arrests and general chatter. Most recently, in February 2011, in a speech in Munich, Prime Minister David Cameron signalled a new stage by broadening the focus of government counter-terrorism policy away from violent extremism and toward more general extremism/radicalisation with an underlying suggestion that this might require a greater engagement with some communities or elements within communities. The riots of August 2011 only further emphasized the role of community and `connectors', both negatively and positively, in such outbursts.

There is, however, a much longer history around communities, radicalisation and intra-communal violence that requires examination in order to generate historically literate policy in the 21st century. It is remarkable how little past historical examples where these elements are present have been examined despite the relevance to current debates. In the interwar period, for instance, thousands of British citizens across a number of different communities, including in the West Midlands, were "radicalised" and found themselves involved with entities on the far right or far left. In the 1930s, for ideological reasons, nearly 2000 young British men, against the wishes of their government, left their communities to fight, and in some cases die, in the Spanish Civil War. In the same period, five young men (later known as the "Cambridge Five") would be radicalised while at university and, as a result, turn against their country, revealing secrets to the Soviet Union that led to the deaths. Others joined far right organizations, including thousands who belong to the British Union of Fascists, and engaged in intra-communal violence in the 1930s.

In previous centuries, other movements, such as the Luddites, have developed in Great Britain which today would be seen as involving elements of radicalisation and violence. Even more relevant to the present have been past radicalised movements associated with religious extremism that included the use of terrorism. Elements within Catholic communities, including in the Midlands, became engaged in a terrorism plot that sought to blow up Parliament in 1605, decapitating the political leadership. The Gunpowder Plot revealed the complexities of the interconnection between communities and radicalisation as key individuals served as "connectors" across boundaries.

A scoping study to look at the literature around historical case studies of radicalisation and intra-communal violence and its interaction with communities, including "connectors" within these communities in which both are fleshed out in a three dimensional matter and problematized accordingly is long overdue. Radicalisation and its intersection with community is not a modern phenomenon and it is crucial that its roots be explored so as to inform current policy and debate.

Planned Impact

Who will benefit from this research?

This proposed project will have an impact on a wide variety of stakeholders. These include community groups currently running counter violent radicalisation programmes and those working towards reducing gang violence: for example, REWIND, STREET, Active Change Foundation, and The Centre for Conflict Transformation, which is also a direct partner in this project. Police units involved in such work will also benefit: the West Midlands Police and the West Midlands Counter Terrorist Unit. Detective Chief Inspector Paul Marriott, Deputy Head of Intelligence for the WMCTU, has already agreed that he and/or a colleague will attend the dissemination workshop for this project. Wider policing and security bodies will also benefit, including the International Association of Chief Police and the Association of Chief Police Officers, both of which the CoI has contacts with and whose work has had an impact with in the past.

Policy makers, locally, nationally and internationally, will also benefit. The focus of this project represents crucial areas for policy makers. As researchers we have good access to policy makers, including those within Birmingham City Council, the Home Office, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and the Research and Information Communication Unit.

Then there are the think tanks, such as the Royal United Services Institute, Demos, Institute for Public Policy Research, Chatham House and others, which are examining issues of security that interconnect with our proposed work. As a result of their focus and its trajectory with our effort to historicise these present issues, they too will be beneficiaries from our work.
Finally, there is the wider public. Press releases with the key findings of the project will go to local and national media creating the possibility of interviews in which a much needed wider historical context to these contentious current issues around communities and violence will be provided. Both the PI and the CoI have experience disseminating their ideas to a wider audience through media work.

How will they benefit from this research?

This is an important project that addresses key areas in terms of current public policy and contentious debate around the interconnection between communities and radicalisation, violent radicalisation, and intra and inter-communal conflict in the form of gang violence. It does so by providing a much needed missing historical dimension to a great deal of current debate, discussion, policy and scholarship. Through the dissemination of key findings from this projected, stakeholders will relate and link these results to the work they do. More significantly, this project will produce a set of recommendations for best practice that community groups, policing bodies and others can incorporate into the work they do. The consultation activities will help ensure that any recommendations we make are indicative of the everyday lived realities that community groups, police and others experience in relation to defeating extreme violence.


10 25 50
Description A scoping study that pointed out the historical roots to current problems around violence and alienation and that more research was needed on role of key individuals who might be able to bridge divide between communities and the state.
Exploitation Route Explore the historical context and look at role of individuals as "connectors."
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

Description CI on Connected Communities Grant 
Organisation Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I was a CI on a subsequent Connected Communities grant that still is underway. I did a piece on historical connectors.
Collaborator Contribution Others were PI and CIs with different roles to play.
Impact Project is still under way. A piece was written by me and this and other presentations were made at a workshop that included attendees from government.
Start Year 2014