Radicalization of groups

Radical groups not only pose a serious challenge for state security authorities, but likewise for society in general. Considering that the social interactions that take place within groups often drive processes of radicalization and individuals – who may ultimately act alone – also begin by interacting with people, networks and groups, some of the crucial elements for studying radicalization are factors such as group dynamics, collective identities and ideologies.

Processes of radicalization, especially among young people, are often associated with a search for purpose, identity and orientation. From the point of view of these individuals, groups offer a sense of meaning by providing clear life objectives and support in an increasingly complex world. The radicalization of existing groups is often reinforced when certain groups interpret subjective feelings of injustice such as discrimination, marginalization and deprivation to be part of a greater political (or religious) battle. The dynamics arising out of interactions can also accelerate the radicalization spiral, including conflicts with state authorities, repression, violence from confrontations and criminalization.

It is evident that various radical groups share particular ideological elements, so-called narratives, that tend to follow similar patterns: we term these ideological commonalities as “bridging narratives”. Though these bridging narratives are adopted and adapted in different ways, they are similar in terms of their content, structure and function. Based on the concept of bridging narratives, we are able to highlight the fact that co-radicalization is intensified by factors that extend beyond mutual animosity. Various groups are also likely to co-radicalize when they draw fuel from the same pool of narratives.

Some of the most relevant bridging narratives in the context of Germany include anti-imperialism, anti-modernism, anti-universalism (sharing an anchor in anti-semitism) and anti-feminism. Another bridging narrative, the opposition dispoistif, creates the belief that one is acting for the (legitimate) sake of opposition, which is used to justify acts of violence. This bridging narrative holds the greatest potential for radicalization and it should be studied in further depth. Prevention work also offers us a useful point of departure for identifying and counteracting such bridging narratives.

The report (in German)

PRIF Report 7/2018
Brücken-Narrative: Verbindende Elemente für die Radikalisierung von Gruppen
David Meiering // Aziz Dziri // Naika Foroutan (mit Simon Teune // Esther Lehnert // Marwan Abou-Taam)


[Download PRIF Report 7/2018]

The film (German w/ English subtitles)

Film "Bridging Narratives" |  Length 9"20' |  Realisation Philipp Offermann with Manuel Steinert // Lilli Kannegießer |  Subtitles Manuel Steinert |  Translation Nick Gemmell|  HSFK 2018

Policy Recommendations

  1. Avoid stigmatization. Prevention work should not merely target a single group but instead address cross-group bridging narratives in order to avoid potentially stigmatizing a particular group and also to appeal to a broader target group.
  2. Direct approaches at new target audiences. Research and prevention work should adjust their approaches in line with new target audiences (older, more educated and wealthier) andtools.
  3. Take radical critiques seriously. Radical critiques are not problematic per se: they are expressions of existing social contradictions. Many of our most fundamental social advances have confronted radical critiques in the past. Applying the approach of repression will only lead to escalation spirals and to co-radicalization.
  4. Incorporate actors in a more differentiated manner. While religious “authorities” can exert a moderating influence on Salafist communities, the normalization and trivialization of radical content poses a threat at the right end of the spectrum.
  5. Do not treat prevention work as a special sphere. Prevention work must be incorporated within existing control structures. Findings from sector-funded programs such as Demokratie Leben (Live Democracy) must find their way into the work of institutional civil society agencies and government bodies.

Project members


  • Naika Foroutan
    Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations-und Migrationsforschung (BIM), HU Berlin


  • Marwan Abou-Taam
    LKA Rheinland-Pfalz
  • Aziz Dziri
    Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations-und Migrationsforschung (BIM), HU Berlin
  • Esther Lehnert
    Alice Salomon Hochschule, Berlin
  • David Meiering
    Berliner Institut für empirische Integrations-und Migrationsforschung (BIM), HU Berlin
  • Simon Teune
    Institut für Protest- und Bewegungsforschung (ipb) & TU Berlin