Contesting Terms: Radicalisation and Extremism

  • Imran Awan
  • Keith Spiller
  • Andrew Whiting
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Risk, Crime and Society book series (PSRCS)


The challenge of extremism in recent decades to Western democracies and the resurgence of ‘extremist’ and ‘radical’ movements have led to growing concerns among academics, the public, and politicians (Eatwell and Goodwin, The new extremism in 21st century Britain. Routledge, London, 2010). While some, like Hussain (The Islamist. Penguin, London, 2007: 278), describe extremist rhetoric as the ‘preamble to terrorism’, for others the precise nature and extent of any association between concepts such as ‘extremism’, ‘violent extremism’, and ‘radicalisation’ remain less clear (Davies, Educating against extremism. Trentham Books, Stoke on Trent, 2008). The UK government has sought to define such terms (HM Government, Prevent Strategy. Available at:, 2011). However, a major problem with such terms is that they are value-laden. They are meaningful, and those meanings shift over time and place. Definitions shape how people interact in particular contexts, particularly at the levels of the personal, the group, and the social, and how they are dealt with (Hadley, J Soc Philos 40(3): 363–378, 2009; Hopkins and Kahani-Hopkins, Br J Soc Psychol 48: 99–113, 2009). Pantazis and Pemberton (Br J Criminol 49(5): 646–666, 2009) suggest, for example, that official political discourses and legislative measures in the context of the post-9/11 ‘war on terror’ have led to the construction of the UK’s Muslims as the ‘suspect community’. This chapter will focus on definitions around extremism and radicalisation and argue that the ambiguity of meanings and associations creates difficulties in how government shapes counter-terrorism policy. In particular, the wider empirical evidence we have gathered will be used in order to discuss the complexities surrounding these concepts and terms. Other extreme ideologies can also be identified, including animal rights extremism and anti-capitalist extremism. Each form of activism labelled ‘extremism’ is unique: it involves different individuals, groups, beliefs, motivations, values, and aspirations. Beyond this, extremism speaks to questions of ‘community cohesion’.


Extremism Radicalisation Education Terrorism British Values 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Imran Awan
    • 1
  • Keith Spiller
    • 2
  • Andrew Whiting
    • 2
  1. 1.Centre for Applied CriminologyBirmingham City UniversityBirminghamUK
  2. 2.Birmingham City UniversityBirminghamUK

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