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SPECIAL ISSUE ON POLITICAL VIOLENCE
Research on Social Movements and Political Violence
Donatella della Porta
Published on...
protest cycles; political
opportunity and the state in escalation processes; resource
mobilization and violent
organizatio...
D. della Porta (*)
Department of Political and Social Sciences, European
University Institute,
Badia Fiesolana, Via dei Ro...
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SPECIAL ISSUE ON POLITICAL VIOLENCE

Research on Social Movements and Political Violence

Donatella della Porta

Published online: 15 July 2008
# Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract Attention to extreme forms of political violence in the social sciences has been
episodic, and studies of different forms of political violence have followed different
approaches, with “breakdown” theories mostly used for the analysis of right-wing radicalism,
social movement theories sometimes adapted to research on left-wing radical groups, and
area study specialists focusing on ethnic and religious forms. Some of the studies on extreme
forms of political violence that have emerged within the social movement tradition have
nevertheless been able to trace processes of conflict escalation through the detailed exam-
ination of historical cases. This article assesses some of the knowledge acquired in previous
research approaching issues of political violence from the social movement perspective, as
well as the challenges coming from new waves of debate on terrorist and counterterrorist
action and discourses. In doing this, the article reviews contributions coming from research
looking at violence as escalation of action repertoires within protest cycles; political
opportunity and the state in escalation processes; resource mobilization and violent
organizations; narratives of violence; and militant constructions of external reality.

Keywords Political violence . Social movements

Attention to extreme forms of political violence in the social sciences has been episodic, with
some peaks in periods of high visibility of terrorist attacks, but little accumulation of results.
There are several reasons for this. First, some of the research has been considered to be more
oriented towards developing antiterrorist policies than to a social science understanding of the
phenomenon. In fact, “many who have written about terrorism have been directly or indirectly
involved in the business of counterterrorism, and their vision has been narrowed and distorted
by the search for effective responses to terrorism…. [S]ocial movement scholars, with very few
exceptions, have said little about terrorism” (Goodwin 2004, p. 259). Second, studies of
different forms of political violence have followed different approaches, with “breakdown”
theories mostly used for the analysis of right-wing radicalism, social movement theories
sometimes adapted to research on left-wing radical groups, and area study specialists focusing
on ethnic and religious forms. Third, and most fundamentally, there has been a tendency to reify

Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230
DOI 10.1007/s11133-008-9109-x

D. della Porta (*)
Department of Political and Social Sciences, European University Institute,
Badia Fiesolana, Via dei Roccettini 9, 50016 San Domenico di Fiesole Firenze, Italy
e-mail: [email protected]



definitions of terrorism on the basis of political actors’ decisions to use violence (Tilly 200.

SPECIAL ISSUE ON POLITICAL VIOLENCE

Research on Social Movements and Political Violence

Donatella della Porta

Published online: 15 July 2008
# Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract Attention to extreme forms of political violence in the social sciences has been
episodic, and studies of different forms of political violence have followed different
approaches, with “breakdown” theories mostly used for the analysis of right-wing radicalism,
social movement theories sometimes adapted to research on left-wing radical groups, and
area study specialists focusing on ethnic and religious forms. Some of the studies on extreme
forms of political violence that have emerged within the social movement tradition have
nevertheless been able to trace processes of conflict escalation through the detailed exam-
ination of historical cases. This article assesses some of the knowledge acquired in previous
research approaching issues of political violence from the social movement perspective, as
well as the challenges coming from new waves of debate on terrorist and counterterrorist
action and discourses. In doing this, the article reviews contributions coming from research
looking at violence as escalation of action repertoires within protest cycles; political
opportunity and the state in escalation processes; resource mobilization and violent
organizations; narratives of violence; and militant constructions of external reality.

Keywords Political violence . Social movements

Attention to extreme forms of political violence in the social sciences has been episodic, with
some peaks in periods of high visibility of terrorist attacks, but little accumulation of results.
There are several reasons for this. First, some of the research has been considered to be more
oriented towards developing antiterrorist policies than to a social science understanding of the
phenomenon. In fact, “many who have written about terrorism have been directly or indirectly
involved in the business of counterterrorism, and their vision has been narrowed and distorted
by the search for effective responses to terrorism…. [S]ocial movement scholars, with very few
exceptions, have said little about terrorism” (Goodwin 2004, p. 259). Second, studies of
different forms of political violence have followed different approaches, with “breakdown”
theories mostly used for the analysis of right-wing radicalism, social movement theories
sometimes adapted to research on left-wing radical groups, and area study specialists focusing
on ethnic and religious forms. Third, and most fundamentally, there has been a tendency to reify

Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230
DOI 10.1007/s11133-008-9109-x

D. della Porta (*)
Department of Political and Social Sciences, European University Institute,
Badia Fiesolana, Via dei Roccettini 9, 50016 San Domenico di Fiesole Firenze, Italy
e-mail: [email protected]



definitions of terrorism on the basis of political actors’ decisions to use violence (Tilly 200.

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SPECIAL ISSUE ON POLITICAL VIOLENCEResearch on Social Move.docx

  1. 1. SPECIAL ISSUE ON POLITICAL VIOLENCE Research on Social Movements and Political Violence Donatella della Porta Published online: 15 July 2008 # Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008 Abstract Attention to extreme forms of political violence in the social sciences has been episodic, and studies of different forms of political violence have followed different approaches, with “breakdown” theories mostly used for the analysis of right-wing radicalism, social movement theories sometimes adapted to research on left- wing radical groups, and area study specialists focusing on ethnic and religious forms. Some of the studies on extreme forms of political violence that have emerged within the social movement tradition have nevertheless been able to trace processes of conflict escalation through the detailed exam- ination of historical cases. This article assesses some of the knowledge acquired in previous research approaching issues of political violence from the social movement perspective, as well as the challenges coming from new waves of debate on terrorist and counterterrorist action and discourses. In doing this, the article reviews contributions coming from research looking at violence as escalation of action repertoires within
  2. 2. protest cycles; political opportunity and the state in escalation processes; resource mobilization and violent organizations; narratives of violence; and militant constructions of external reality. Keywords Political violence . Social movements Attention to extreme forms of political violence in the social sciences has been episodic, with some peaks in periods of high visibility of terrorist attacks, but little accumulation of results. There are several reasons for this. First, some of the research has been considered to be more oriented towards developing antiterrorist policies than to a social science understanding of the phenomenon. In fact, “many who have written about terrorism have been directly or indirectly involved in the business of counterterrorism, and their vision has been narrowed and distorted by the search for effective responses to terrorism…. [S]ocial movement scholars, with very few exceptions, have said little about terrorism” (Goodwin 2004, p. 259). Second, studies of different forms of political violence have followed different approaches, with “breakdown” theories mostly used for the analysis of right-wing radicalism, social movement theories sometimes adapted to research on left-wing radical groups, and area study specialists focusing on ethnic and religious forms. Third, and most fundamentally, there has been a tendency to reify Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 DOI 10.1007/s11133-008-9109-x
  3. 3. D. della Porta (*) Department of Political and Social Sciences, European University Institute, Badia Fiesolana, Via dei Roccettini 9, 50016 San Domenico di Fiesole Firenze, Italy e-mail: [email protected] definitions of terrorism on the basis of political actors’ decisions to use violence (Tilly 2004). In fact, there is uneasiness in using a term which is not only politically highly contested, but also of doubtful heuristic value. Fourth, explanations tend to focus on either macro-level systemic causes, meso-level organizational characteristics or micro-level individual motivations, with little communication between different levels of analysis (della Porta 1995). Some of the studies on extreme forms of political violence that have emerged within the social movement tradition have nevertheless been able to trace processes of conflict escalation through the detailed examination of historical cases. In what follows, I briefly assess some of the knowledge acquired in previous research as well as the challenges coming from new waves of debate on terrorist and counterterrorist action and discourses. Violence as escalation of action repertoires within protest cycles Prior research Social movements research places political violence in the
  4. 4. context of other forms of protest by using Tilly’s concept of repertoires of action. A repertoire of action describes a limited set of forms of protest that are commonly used in a particular time and place. Typically, the repertoire was learned from previous waves of protest in one country, but forms of action were also adopted and adapted cross-nationally. The choice of action repertoires has been considered as a relational dynamic, developing from the interactions between challengers and élites (Tilly 1978). Societies occasionally experience periods of increased protest activity involving one or more issues and many protesting groups. These clusters of protest activity, called protest cycles, typically develop a sharp peak and then decline, which can be seen when the number of protest events is plotted over time. The repertoire of action develops and changes during the intense interaction within a protest cycle. The analysis of protest cycles is particularly useful for an understanding of the development of political violence, as violence is frequently one of the outcomes of a cycle of protest, though not the only nor the most important one. Research on such different cases as the Italian and German left- libertarian movement families in the late 1960s and early 1970s, or the ethno- nationalist conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Basque countries, showed that violence escalated in much the same forms and according to much the same timing, during cycles of protest that developed in all those cases. This was true despite the fact that the cases involved different
  5. 5. political and social actors. The forms of action were initially disruptive because they were unconventional, but they were peaceful and had moderate aims, mainly claims for reform of the existing institutions. Although remaining mainly non-violent, the protest repertoires radicalized at the margins, especially during street battles with adversaries and the police (della Porta and Tarrow 1987; Tarrow 1989). During cycles of protest, the development of the forms of protest actions follows a reciprocal process of innovation and adaptation, with each side responding to the other. As their adversaries adapted their tactics to counter those of the movement, the social movements changed their tactics in order to continue to mobilize (McAdam 1983). In the course of experimentation with different tactics, both dissidents and social control agents in the Italian and German cases tested “hard” techniques, thus creating resources for violence (della Porta 1995). The same happened in Northern Ireland and the Basque countries, where mainly peaceful social movements met not only state repression but also the paramilitary activities of death squads. This pattern also occurred to an even larger extent in weak democracies in Latin America (Waldmann 1993; White 1993; Wieviorka 1988). 222 Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 However, after the 1970s, social movements within the left-
  6. 6. libertarian culture underwent a learning process that primarily produced widespread support for nonviolence. A learning process on the part of both movement activists and the police defused the forms of conflict that had characterized the 1970s. In the 1980s, despite moments of sometimes severe tension, particularly during direct action such as the blocking of gates at military bases, peace activists and police were experienced in avoiding escalation into violence (Rochon 1988, pp. 186–7). More recently, although violence escalated in Seattle, and then in Prague, Gothenburg and Genoa, the large majority of activists of the global justice movement kept violence under control through tactical innovation: they created “violence-free zones”; they divided marches into blocks, according to the tactics and location; and deployed protest marshals “armed” with video cameras in order to ensure a stricter implementation of nonviolent tactics (della Porta and Reiter 2004). New challenges This does not mean, though, that the use of violence as a political means has declined overall. For social movement scholars with an interest in research on political violence, the larger world picture points toward the need to address types of social movements they are not usually familiar with, such as right-wing groups and religious fundamentalists. As Charles Tilly (2003, p. 58) sadly summarized, since 1945 “the world as a whole has taken decisive, frightening steps away from its painfully achieved segregation between
  7. 7. armies and civilian populations, between war and peace, between international and civil war, between lethal and non-lethal applications of force. It has moved toward armed struggle within existing states and towards state-sponsored killing, deprivation, or expulsion of whole population categories.” Clearly more research is needed on these forms of primarily state violence that have until now have received little attention from social movement scholars. Violence in context: Political opportunity and the state Prior research In social movement studies, repertoires for protest have traditionally been seen as influenced by a political opportunity structure, consisting of both a formal, institutional aspect and an informal, cultural one (Kriesi 1989, p. 295). A major breakthrough in social movement research came when researchers found that social movements develop and succeed not because they emerge to address new grievances, but rather because something in the larger political context allows existing grievances to be heard. These contextual dimensions, called political opportunities, include regime shifts, periods of political instability, or changes in the composition of elites that may provide an opening for social movements. Conversely, a political environment that was initially more open to social movements may close as the state tries to reassert control over protest, or as new groups come to power that are more hostile to the demands of social movements.
  8. 8. In general, research has shown that exclusive political systems and unstable democracies produce more radical opposition and violent escalation. Closing political opportunities shaped mobilization in Northern Ireland, as the inclusive and reformist mobilizing messages of the 1960s Irish civil rights movement lost ground face to police repression, lack of political responsiveness, and counter-mobilizations, bringing about an exclusivist nationalist frame in the 1970s (Bosi 2006). Moreover, right-wing political violence appears develop more when Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 223 political opportunities are closed off by the state than by sustained grievances related to the presence of migrants, or economic strains (Koopmans 2005). Research in the new social movements (NSM) perspective has in particular reflected on how political and social conditions facilitate the implosion of social actors into violence (Melucci 1982; Wieviorka 1988). In Italy as well as in the Basque countries, the use of violence has been interpreted as signal of a closure of the collective actors on themselves, and their inability to develop into a social movement or to revitalize a social movement that has begun to decline. Particularly relevant in determining the evolution of radicalization processes are the tactics
  9. 9. of policing protest and more generally the conditions under which public order and security are maintained (for a definition of protest policing, see della Porta and Reiter 1998, 2004). The development of political violence in the 1970s interacted with paramilitary policing of social unrest that triggered processes of radicalization among social movements. In Italy, the police were more prepared for “communist-led riots” than well- organized small group violence (Reiter 1998). Interactions on the street and other forms of repression took particularly dramatic forms in the Basque country between the end of Francoist regime and the early phases of transition to democracy. Even after transition to democracy had been completed, the Spanish local authorities lacked popular legitimacy in the Basque countries. Similarly in Northern Ireland, the traditional colonial approach taken by the Royal Ulster Constabulary impacted on movement strategies, as well as on the character of organizations and the ways in which they perceived state responses (Ellison and Smyth 2000). Encounters between the movements and the state apparatuses produced radicalization in a wide variety of movement cases. The very conditions that favored the escalation of violence in the left-libertarian movements often stimulated radical counter- movements as well, and thus national “radical sectors” composed of left-wing as well as right-wing radical groups, violent movements and violent counter-movements. This development was characteristic especially of Italy, where from the very beginning of the protest cycle, the
  10. 10. student activists clashed with neo-Fascists and, throughout the seventies, brutal conflicts escalated among young members of right-wing and left-wing non-underground groups who fired at each other right in front of high schools (della Porta 1995). Racist groups, Unionists, and Loyalists used terror against civil rights activists as well as ethno-nationalists in the US, Northern Ireland and Spain, respectively. The policing of protest derives from several characteristics of the police forces themselves: their military versus civil organizational structures, the police culture, the type of training, and the degree of professionalization and specialization. These elements influence police strategies as well as the police knowledge about their own role and their own environment, affecting their assessment of the rights of demonstrators. National structures such as police organization, characteristics of the judiciary, codes of laws, and constitutional rights set constraints on protest policing and, more broadly, institutional reactions to social movements. But police strategies also and even primarily depend upon political choices. They must be studied in relation to the changing political opportunity structure. New challenges A new challenge for research on the contextual opportunities for violence arises from the global dimensions of contemporary forms of political violence, and from the discourse that develops around them. In the field of political violence as well as in social movement studies more
  11. 11. generally, research focuses on the nation-state as the central unit of analysis. This is no longer tenable, as both terrorism and counterterrorism go global, and geopolitical issues as well as wars, diasporas and the like acquire more and more explanatory power. The effects of 224 Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 radicalization linked to repression at the national level are increasingly global ones. For instance political repression played an important role in the radicalization of Islamic fundamentalist militancy, as the suppression by the Nasser regime radicalized elements of the Muslim Brotherhood and led individuals to transform the ideology of modernist Islamists into a Jihadist frame and a call to arms’ (Esposito 2002). In line with the shift of attention to the supranational dynamics of radicalization, there is the need to extend the analysis to geographical areas other than the ones traditionally addressed by social movement studies. To date most of the cases of radicalization studied by social movement scholars took place in democracies. However, it is becoming more and more relevant to examine the dynamics of repression in non- democratic states. Weak states with governments that are unable to control their territory and/or populations are particularly prone to internal escalations, but also to the “export” of radical frames and practices (Crenshaw 2005). While state response and violent radicalization have
  12. 12. traditionally fed each other, greater levels of democracy do tend to curtail violations of human rights. State responses within authoritarian regimes are particularly brutal (e.g. Boudreau 2004; Davenport and Armstrong 2004; Pruitt and Kim 2004; Francisco 2000; Davenport 2005). Yet more research is also needed to address evolving repressive strategies in democratic regimes, as the new millennium opened with at least a partial inversion of some trends that had previously appeared in the police control of protest. First, although the control of protest was never totally taken away from private police in factories or on campuses, the privatization of public spaces such as shopping malls, as well as the outsourcing of police functions to private bodies, has increasingly challenged the state monopoly of force. Second, if in the past control of protest tended to be centralized at the national level, the control of transnational protests has brought about an increasing collaboration between different national police bodies, with declining transparency. This process seems more widespread in Europe, linked to an increasing intervention of the European Union. In this process, not only are the rights of social movements limited, but militarization of the police is facilitated through tough escalation strategies, including upgrades of police equipment, specialized counterterrorism training, and innovative tactics. Finally, strategies of police control, especially but not only at transnational counter-summits at which demonstrators from many countries gather to protest an international summit meeting, has often deviated
  13. 13. from the previously established protest policing policies of negotiation and de-escalation, thus constraining the freedom of demonstrators (della Porta et al. 2006). Resource mobilization and violent organizations Prior research The development of political violence up to the descent into the underground cannot be understood just in terms of environmental or macro-level preconditions such as political opportunities and protest policing styles. Drawing on organizational approaches to social movements, research in the resource mobilization perspective has addressed the characteristics of the organizations that went underground as well as competition among and within organizations within the social movement sector. At the meso- level, organizational dynamics play an important role. Underground organizations evolved within and then broke away from larger, non-violent, social movement organizations. In both Italy and Germany in the late 1960s, the decline of the student mobilization and reduction in available resources increased competition among the several networks that constituted the left-libertarian social movement Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 225 families. In Italy, the large New Left organization Potere Operaio and Lotta Continua split on
  14. 14. the issue of violence, after having created semi-clandestine militant subgroups. A similar dynamic developed in Germany. In the US, the Weather Underground developed as a fraction of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) when they split over the issue of the use of violence, among other things, and similar dynamics were found in Japan (Zwerman, Steinhoff and della Porta 2000; Steinhofff 1991). Similarly, militant nationalist movements developed through a process of interactions, competition and coalition- building among different streams of Irish and Basque nationalists (Irvin 1999; Maney 2007). Exploiting environmental conditions conductive to militancy, these splinter groups underwent further radicalization and eventually created new resources and occasions for violence. New challenges If in this earlier context underground organizations developed mainly into compartmentalized hierarchical structures, contemporary extreme forms of political violence seem instead to follow a different model, which new technology has made possible and new norms have legitimized. A challenge for those studying political violence within a social movement ap- proach nowadays is the strongly networked structures of the groups that are labeled as terrorist today. While the traditional image of underground organizations has been extremely hierar- chical, new technologies as well as new configurations of conflict have produced different organizational forms (Mayntz 2004). In particular, Jihadi groups have been said to move from
  15. 15. a hierarchical organizational model towards a more horizontal model. Culture, frames, and narratives of violence Prior research Political violence is mainly symbolic: the cultural and emotional effects that it produces are more important than the material damage. Social movement research has stressed the role of cultural processes in the development of political violence, looking both inside and outside radical organizations. Governmental policies and politics are influenced by the symbolic struggles that evolved, in different public arenas, between a “law-and-order” and a “civil rights” coalition (della Porta 1996). In Italy and Germany as well as in Northern Ireland and the Basque Country in the 1970s, different political and social actors coalesced to form two opposing coalitions: a law and order coalition asking for tough measures against protestors, and a civil rights coalition asking for more democracy. Both used the media to address and sway public opinion about legitimate forms of protest and acceptable forms of policing, thus ultimately affecting both movement and state strategies. Generally, the emergence of protest increased public concern for law and order, prompting the more conservative elites to choose hard-line tactics, but, at the same time, demands for a more liberal understanding of citizen rights also spread in the society. The development of political violence then may be seen as a force that polarizes the debate on democratization, often
  16. 16. resulting in a weakening of the civil rights coalition. The ideas that different groups use to characterize their positions and justify their actions are often analyzed by social movements scholars as “frames” that define the problem, identify protagonists and antagonists, and point to particular lines of action. Various frames may be constructed by both elites and social movements, in order to mobilize support for their chosen course of action. They derive their explanatory consistency and emotional power through 226 Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 narratives or stories that connect the group’s collective past to their present situation. The clash of these cultural frames is an important aspect of the analysis of how violence escalates. In cases where a consolidated democracy was absent, the frames that political elites used to define the “dangers” of protest, and that activists used to define their rights harkened back to “older” national traditions and conflicts. When the student movements emerged in the 1960s, the governing elites of the young Italian and German democracies felt particularly endangered. In Germany, recollections of the end of the Weimar Republic were often quoted in the press, and the students’ “breaking of the rules” was compared to the political violence that preceded the rise of Nazism. In Italy, the state justified its repression of
  17. 17. the student movement by appealing to “anti-fascist” sentiments. A similar dynamic was at play in the Japanese case (Zwerman et al. 2000). Cultural effects have also been analyzed within social movement organizations themselves. Feeling excluded from the political system, social movements in these same historical cases escalated their demands, with both the elaboration of radical frames of meaning and a revolutionary rhetoric, and the development of a meta-conflict about the very nature of democracy. The evolution of the conflict from the social to the political sphere offered social movements the possibility of building larger alliances. However it also threatened their adversaries, who read the demands for expanded democracy as attacks against “democracy” itself. The hard-liners therefore gained momentum and pushed for a style of policing that increasingly alienated the activists from the state (della Porta 1995). The Italian activists claimed they had to carry on their fathers’ Partisan movement against a “fascist state,” a movement that according to them the Old Left had abandoned. The German activists asserted that they had to resist with all means the new “Nazi” state to avoid repeating their fathers’ mistakes and redeem their shame. In Ireland and the Basque countries, the ethno- nationalists resorted to the long-standing narrative of oppression of minorities: the Catholic religious minority in Ireland or the ethnic Basque people in Spain. The transition agreement
  18. 18. was not sufficient to legitimize a Spanish State in the Basque country, which accused it of following the Fascist tradition established during the long- lasting Francoist regime of resorting to torture against Basque patriots. Similar memories of colonial rule fed the conflict in Northern Ireland. Specific narratives are used to legitimize violent action during the process of organizational competition within social movements as well as within the overall protest cycle. In Northern Ireland as well as in the Basque countries the narrative of previous waves of armed insurrection against the English and Spanish occupants re-emerged in the 1970s. Nationalist narratives are also used to justify other forms of nationalist violence, being “certified” by powerful actors (Demetrious 2007). Violent organizations of the extreme right motivate individuals to action through discourses that provide followers and potential followers with rationales for parti- cipating in their organization (Bjorgo 2004). In the rhetoric of the extreme right, the super- iority of one race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation over others (O’Boyle 2002 p. 28), religious fundamentalism, or ‘blood’ and ‘honor,’ are some main justifications of violence (della Porta and Wagemann 2005). This does not mean that political violence derives directly from the presence of ideologies that justify violence (Snow and Byrd 2007). In Italy and Germany, radical ideologies engendered radical violent repertoires only when political opportunities triggered escalation
  19. 19. (della Porta 1995). In Ireland, as mentioned earlier, changing political opportunities affected the shift from a civil-rights to an ethno-nationalist discourse (Bosi 2006). For this reason, social movement research focuses less on very broad ideologies and more on the specific frames and narratives that arise in a particular situation, and how changing political opportunities affect their appeal. Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 227 New challenges The research on recent waves of political violence can build upon this knowledge, addressing some emerging narratives. While in the past the discourses were more classically political (left– right or even ethno-nationalist), and therefore easier to address within the traditional categories of research on social movements, nowadays the use of the “clash of civilizations” metaphors used in different forms by different actors require some new reflections. Various religious narratives have been used to justify violence (Juergensmeyer 2000). With reference to religious fundamentalism and its radicalization, it has been remarked that culture provides a “tool kit” of concepts, myths, and symbols from which militant organizations could selectively draw to construct strategies of action (Hafez 2003). Although differences in religions per se are hardly a genuine source of political conflict, their content can shape conflict behavior in the direction
  20. 20. of either escalation or de-escalation of violence (Hasenclever and Rittberger 2000). Micro-dynamics: Militant constructions of external reality Prior research Research has demonstrated that organized violence and the groups that specialized in violent repertoires developed gradually. It was during the fights with right-wing radicals and/or the police that a number of radical organizations such as Lotta continua in Italy and the “blues” in Germany constructed semi-clandestine structures, established specifically to plan and carry out violent actions. The research within the tradition of symbolic interaction, later revisited within the cultural turn in social movement studies (Johnston and Klandermans 1995; Jaspers et al. 2001), has helped to single out some micro-dynamics of escalation, focusing especially on the ways social movement activists perceive and construct their social reality. State repression as well as internal competition affected social movement activists through cognitive, affective and relational mechanisms. First, state “repression” created martyrs and myths: for example, the killing of Benno Ohnesorg by police during a protest against the shah of Iran’s visit to Berlin; or Bloody Sunday in Northern Ireland; or the “battle” with the police in Valle Giulia in Rome, which took on a legendary quality for Italian activists. Police actions of this sort delegitimized the state in the eyes of the activists by creating “injustice frames”
  21. 21. (Gamson et al. 1982). Moreover, state repression encouraged secondary deviance, the individual’s even stronger commitment to his or her deviant behavior—which brought about a radicalization both of people who are directly hit by repression, but also the activation and radicalization of supporters. Cognitive, affective and relational mechanisms accompanied the activists’ descent into the underground, but parallel mechanisms also affected de- radicalization (della Porta forthcoming). New challenges Reflection on this dimension in the social movement tradition is certainly helpful for future research, but new waves of political violence nevertheless bring some challenges to the ways in which processes of individual radicalization have been addressed. Research should address, in particular, individual paths of protest escalation in non-democratic countries as well as in development of religious types of commitments— fields that are rarely analyzed within a social movement perspective. Additionally, while past research focused on “vicious circles” of radicalization, empirical analysis is needed on the contributions of social 228 Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 movement activists to processes of de-radicalization and mobilization of groups in civil society such as unions and local organizations in pushing
  22. 22. political parties to find peaceful solutions. In conclusion, even though social movement attention to political violence has been discontinuous, there are nevertheless some interesting contributions that could help shed light on emerging waves of political violence. At the same time, however, more reflection is needed in order to adapt existing tools to address some new characteristics of recent processes of radicalization, and for the filling of gaps in the social science literature. References Bjørgo, T. (2004). Justifying violence: Extreme nationalist and racist discourses in Scandinavia. In A. Fenner, & E. D. Weitz (Eds.), Fascism and Neofascism (pp. 207–218). Houndsmills, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Bosi, L. (2006). The dynamics of social movement development: Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement in the 1960s. Mobilization, 11, 81–100. Boudreau, V. (2004). Resisting dictatorship: Repression and protest in Southeast Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Crenshaw, M. (2005). Political explanations. In Addressing the causes of terrorism, Report of the working group at the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security, 8 –11 March, Madrid, The Club de Madrid Series on Democracy and Terrorism, Vol. 1, 13–18.
  23. 23. Davenport, C. (2005). Repression and mobilization: Insights from political science and sociology. In C. Davenport, H. Johnston, & C. Mueller (Eds.), Repression and mobilization: Social movements, protest, and contention. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Davenport, C., & Armstrong, D. A. (2004). Democracy and the violation of human rights: A statistical analysis from 1976 to 1996. American Journal of Political Science: 538ff. della Porta, D. (1995). Social movements, political violence and the state. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. della Porta, D. (1996). Protest, protesters and protest policing. In M. Giugni, D. McAdam, & C. Tilly (Eds.), How movements matter (pp. 66–96). Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press. della Porta, D., & Reiter, H. (Eds.). (1998). Policing protest: The control of mass demonstrations in Western Democracies. Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press. della Porta, D., & Reiter, H. (2004). Polizia e Protesta. Bologna: Il Mulino. della Porta, D., Peterson, A., & Reiter, H. (Eds.). (2006). The policing of transnational protest. Aldershot: Ashgate. della Porta, D., & Tarrow, S. (1987). Unwanted children: Political violence and the cycle of protest in Italy, 1966–1973. European Journal of Political Research, 14, 607– 632. Della Porta, D., & Wagemann, C. (2005). Patterns of
  24. 24. radicalization in political activism: Research design. Veto project Report, Florence EUI. Demetrious, C. (2007). Political violence and legitimation: The episode of colonial Cyprus. Qualitative Sociology, 30, 171–193. Ellison, G., & Smyth, J. (2000). The crowned harp: Policing Northern Ireland. London: Pluto Press. Esposito, J. L. (2002). Unholy war: Terror in the name of Islam. New York: Oxford University Press. Francisco, R. (2000). Why are collective conflicts stable? In C. Davenport (Ed.), Paths to state repression: Human rights violations and contentious politics. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefeld. Gamson, W. A., Fireman, B., & Rytina, S. (1982). Encounters with unjust authorities. Homewood, Ill.: Dorsey Press. Goodwin, J. (2004). Review essays: What must we explain to explain terrorism? Social Movement Studies, 3, 259–265. Hafez, M. (2003). Why do Muslims rebel? Boulder Co., Lynne Rienne Pub. Hasenclever, A., & Rittberger, V. (2000). Does religion make a difference? Theoretical approaches to the impact of faith on political conflict. Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 29, 641–674. Irvin, C. L. (1999). Militant nationalism: Between movement and party in Ireland and the Basque country. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Jaspers, J., Goodwin, J., & Polletta, F. (2001). Passionate
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  26. 26. McAdam, D. (1983). Tactical innovation and the pace of insurgency. American Sociological Review, 48, 735–754. Melucci, A. (1982). L’Invenzione del presente: Movimenti, identità, bisogni individuali. Bologna: il Mulino. O’Boyle, G. (2002). Theories of justification and political violence: Examples from four groups. Terrorism and Political Violence, 14, 23–46. Pruitt, D. G., & Kim, S. H. (2004). Social conflict: Escalation, stalemate, and settlement (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill. Reiter, H. (1998). Police and public order in Italy, 1944–1948: The case of Florence. In D. della Porta, & H. Reiter (Eds.), Policing protest: The control of mass demonstrations in Western Democracies (pp. 143– 165). Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota Press. Rochon, T. R. (1988). Between society and state: Mobilizing for peace in Western Europe. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Snow, D. A., & Byrd, S. C. (2007). Ideology, framing processes and Islamic terrorist movements. Mobilization, 12, 119–136. Steinhofff, P. (1991). Red Army faction: A sociological tale (in Japanese). Tokyo: Kabade Shobo Shinsha. Tarrow, S. (1989). Democracy and disorder: Protest and politics in Italy, 1965–1975. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tilly, C. (1978). From mobilization to revolution. Reading, MA:
  27. 27. Addison-Wesley. Tilly, C. (2003). The politics of collective violence. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Tilly, C. (2004). Terror, terrorism, terrorists. Sociological Theory, 22, 5–13. Waldmann, P. (Ed). (1993). Beruf: Terrorist. Munich: Becks. White, R. (1993). Provisional Irish Republicans: An oral and interpretative history. Westport: Greenwood Press. Wieviorka, M. (1988). Société et terrorisme. Paris: Fayard. Zwerman, G., Steinhoff, P. G., & della Porta, D. (2000). Disappearing social movements: Clandestinity in the cycle of new left protest in the US, Japan, Germany and Italy. Mobilization, 5, 83–100. Donatella della Porta is Professor of Sociology in the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute. Among her recent publications are Le Ragioni del No (with Gianni Piazza), Feltrinelli 2008; The Global Justice Movement, Paradigm, 2007; (with Massimiliano Andretta, Lorenzo Mosca and Herbert Reiter), Globalization from Below, The University of Minnesota Press, 2006; (with Abby Peterson and Herbert Reiter), The Policing Transnational Protest, Ashgate 2006; (with Mario Diani), Social Movements: An Introduction, 2nd edition, Blackwell, 2006; (with Sidney Tarrow), Transnational Protest and Global Activism, Rowman and Littlefield, 2005. 230 Qual Sociol (2008) 31:221–230 Research on Social Movements and Political ViolenceAbstractViolence as escalation of action repertoires within protest cyclesPrior researchNew challengesViolence in context: Political opportunity and the statePrior researchNew
  28. 28. challengesResource mobilization and violent organizationsPrior researchNew challengesCulture, frames, and narratives of violencePrior researchNew challengesMicro-dynamics: Militant constructions of external realityPrior researchNew challengesReferences << /ASCII85EncodePages false /AllowTransparency false /AutoPositionEPSFiles true /AutoRotatePages /None /Binding /Left /CalGrayProfile (None) /CalRGBProfile (sRGB IEC61966-2.1) /CalCMYKProfile (ISO Coated v2 300% 050ECI051) /sRGBProfile (sRGB IEC61966-2.1) /CannotEmbedFontPolicy /Error /CompatibilityLevel 1.3 /CompressObjects /Off /CompressPages true /ConvertImagesToIndexed true /PassThroughJPEGImages true /CreateJDFFile false /CreateJobTicket false /DefaultRenderingIntent /Perceptual /DetectBlends true /ColorConversionStrategy /sRGB /DoThumbnails true /EmbedAllFonts true /EmbedJobOptions true /DSCReportingLevel 0 /EmitDSCWarnings false /EndPage -1 /ImageMemory 524288 /LockDistillerParams true /MaxSubsetPct 100 /Optimize true
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