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Identity and Framing Theory, Precursor Activity, and the Radicalization Process

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 2015
24 pages
Based theoretically and empirically on two of the most widely cited perspectives on social movements and the process of radicalization - "role identity theory" and "framing theory" (Snow and Machalek, 1983) - this study develops the contention that radicalization toward violent objectives and behavior is an evolution in a person's identity and expressive goal-setting and implementation.
This process of identity formation based in thinking and priorities sufficiently powerful to energize radical and violent objectives and actions seeks change perceived as unattainable through legitimate modes of action that seek non-violent change. Five key concepts associated with the identity and framing perspectives are central to this analysis and conclusions. One key concept, "identity salience," is based in the observation that identities are arrayed in a hierarchy, with the top priority being most likely to motivate behavior. A second key concept, "identity pervasiveness," extends identity salience to multiple situations or encounters, occupying an increasing number of mental and physical activities. A third concept, "identity work," encompasses involvement in a range of activities, relationships, and group activities that reinforce an identity compatible with like-minded individuals and groups. The fourth and fifth concepts addressed in this analysis are "diagnostic framing" and "prognostic framing." This involves a diagnosis of the root causes of impediments to the realization of one's goals and perceived identity fulfillment. This leads to the attribution of blame and the identification of enemies of one's principal identity goals. Identity becomes radicalized when prognostic framing of how to challenge perceived enemies/obstructions settles on targeted violence as the pathway to identity expression and fulfillment. Data from the American Terrorism Study (Smith, 2006) provided the bulk of both quantitative and qualitative data used in this analysis. 4 tables, 1 figure, and 37 references and additional readings

Date Published: September 1, 2015