Radicalization of individuals

Identifying the reasons why an individual radicalizes and the conditions under which he/she is willing to resort to violence is an issue that concerns researchers, policy-makers and society in equal measure. A wealth of international and domestic studies has shown that an individual’s inclination towards adopting extremist attitudes and joining extremist groups of similarly aged peers in one’s juvenile years often has to do with fulfilling a socio(biographical) function. They help individuals cope with critical life events or overcome a change of life status. This not only has to do with reducing insecurities and identify conflicts, it also serves to satisfy the basic human needs of belonging and recognition. Extremist groups, in particular, become appealing in this context due to their authoritarian leadership style as well as the hierarchy and role model structures that they offer, in addition to providing their members with an all-encompassingsocial identity. At the same time, ideologies offer individuals interpretive paradigms that the can subjectively comprehend as well as alternatives for individual action that address their personal difficulties.

Due to the complexity of this issue, a multi-factorial explanatory approach focusing on various levels of analyses proved to be useful for this study. These included: social actions undertaken by individuals or small groups in interaction with others (the micro-level), the interplay between the individual and social groups, organizations and institutions (meso-level), and the associated social, structural and cultural influences (macro-level).

The report (in German)

PRIF Report 6/2018
Radikalisierung von Individuen: Ein Überblick über mögliche Erklärungsansätze
Fabian Srowig // Viktoria Roth // Daniela Pisoiu // Katharina Seewald // Andreas Zick


[Download PRIF Report 6/2018]

The film (German w/ English subtitles)

Film "Radicalization of individuals" |  Length 8"00' |  Realisation Philipp Offermann with Manuel Steinert // Lilli Kannegießer |  Subtitles Manuel Steinert |  Translation Nick Gemmell |  HSFK 2018

Policy Recommendations

  1. Prevention, distancing and deradicalization measures should be developed on the basis of evidence early on during their initial conceptualization. This means that new prevention measures should not only be evaluated from an academic perspective, but they should also be developed with the support of research-based input from the outset.
  2. Local conditions, regional extremist milieus, actors and discourses ofconflict must all be taken into consideration when designing measures and research proposals. Adapting interculturally disparate approaches on a well-founded and reliable basis does, however, demand a high degree of methodological expertise, which is rarely shared with practitioners in the field.
  3. Prevention should utilize a broad and universal approach in order to avoid being perceived as stigmatizing. The social environments of extremist actors, similarly aged peer groups and radical milieus should also be taken into account when conducting prevention work. As such, regular, permanent institutions such as schools and youth welfare offices must be involved.

Project members


  • Andreas Zick
    Institut für interdisziplinäre Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung (IKG), Universität Bielefeld


  • Daniela Pisoiu
    Österreichisches Institut für Internationale Politik (OIIP)
  • Viktoria Roth
    Institut für interdisziplinäre Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung (IKG), Universität Bielefeld
  • Katharina Seewald
    Kriminologischer Dienst Berlin
  • Fabian Srowig
    Institut für interdisziplinäre Konflikt- und Gewaltforschung (IKG), Universität Bielefeld