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Why conventional wisdom on radicalization fails: the persistence of a failed discourse

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Politicians, the media, and some academics are getting it wrong about radicalization. Relying on simple narratives to explain how an individual departs from point a (‘a good Muslim boy’) to point b (‘a suicide bomber’), too many recent contributions to academia rely on assumptions and ‘conventional wisdom’ rather than testable and falsifiable empirical research and methods. Through specific cases, this article seeks to demonstrate how the over-simplification of ‘conventional wisdom’ privileges convenient political narratives over the complex realities of such situations. In light of this failure to account for reality, this article seeks to challenge current thinking on radicalization by exposing its limitations, as currently being used, as a meaningful basis and departure point for rigorous social science research. The article concludes by showing how the current persistence of this ‘conventional wisdom’ approach to radicalization ultimately betrays the normative political assumptions of those who insist on using this term, and how this adherence to ‘conventional wisdom’ now deprives radicalization from being a relevant and useful academic or policy discourse. This is because radicalization as an area for study has been corrupted by its instrumental political application.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Co-Director of the European Muslim Research Centre (EMRC) in the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter.

Publication date: July 1, 2010

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