One of the difficult tasks in the social sciences is integrative, interdisciplinary work. There are many commonalities across the social sciences in method, theory, and policy. The study of gangs has a tradition in the U.S. that dates back nearly 100 years, with an emerging focus in Europe and other parts of the world. This Research Note argues that there is considerable overlap between the study of gangs and that of radicalized groups. Both fields examine violence conducted largely in a group context. Group structure, demographics, marginalization, strength of membership bonds, leaving the group, and the role of prison in expanding membership are all issues the two have in common. There are lessons those who study radicalized groups can take from the long tradition of gang research. This Research Note identifies twelve lessons learned (mistakes and successes) from the study of gangs that have relevance to the study of radicalized and extremist groups.
Keywords: gangs; criminology; terrorist groups; organized crime; terrorism research.
How can the study of gangs, gang members, and gang crime provide insights and guidance for the study of radicalization, extremism and terrorism? It is our contention in this short Research Note that lessons learned in the study of gangs have direct applicability to understanding terrorist groups and acts. While the study of political radicalization has a long tradition, the recent global concern over terrorism has focused increased attention and resources on the issue. Many criminologists paid little attention to acts of terror prior to the September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States. Thus there has been some “catching up” in understanding radicalization and extremism, with several independent groups of scholars holding that much can be learned through the comparative study of radicalization and extremism with other groups of criminological, political, and sociological relevance. Continue reading