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Conceptualizing Radicalization in a Market for Loyalties


DOI: 10.1177/1750635214538620

Powers, S. M. “Conceptualizing Radicalization in a Market for Loyalties.” Media, War & Conflict 7.2 (2014): 233–249.

p.234: The purpose of this analysis is to locate radicalization – the process of developing extremist ideologies and beliefs – in the broader context of strategic actors (e.g. states) competing for legitimacy in transnational public spheres. Radicalization is distinct from both terrorism and violent extremism, though it is often a precursor to the use of terrorist tactics and can be critical for creating broad support for extremist movements and behaviors. The primary concern here is not terrorism per se, but rather how strategic actors compete to radicalize communities against the established organs and apparatuses of a given society. Borrowing from Price’s (1994) model of the market for loyalties, the author proposes that radicalization is best understood as within the context of the nation-state system, shaped by the existence of unsanctioned, typically foreign information flows. Governments are increasingly intervening into this space, both to shore up loyalty among their domestic citizenry and to engage foreign citizens in ways that weaken their allegiances to their own governments. Emerging media technologies provide new structures for ideological transfer, enabling states and non-state actors to compete for influence in a more balanced, transnational, ideational playing field. The stakes are significant, of course, with citizens clamoring for more transparent, fair and efficacious governance and increasingly threatening the legitimacy of states around the world. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.235: The problem of radicalization is, to a certain extent, a definitional one. The original meaning of radical was to get to the root of a social problem. Today, radicalization is defined as ‘the process of developing extremist ideologies and beliefs’ (Borum, 2011: 9). It is distinct from violent extremism and terrorism in that both refer to specific actions, whereas radicalization is a process occurring at the ideational and ideological levels. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.235: Operationalizing radicalization in cross-cultural or comparative contexts has also proven to be extraordinarily difficult. ‘Extremist ideologies or beliefs’ are typically defined in comparison to those held by others within a particular community, or groups of individuals who share common societal-level values, political and economic systems, and geographic space. Such an approach allows for a coherent baseline against which extremism can be identified. As a result, radicalization literature is primarily concerned with the processes by which ideologies and beliefs in extreme opposition to one’s home country are established and mobilized (Horgan, 2006). This process is often referred to as ‘homegrown radicalization’. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.236: For example, the White House’s (2011: 6) counter-radicalization strategy acknowledges ‘the important role the Internet and social networking sites play in advancing violent extremist narratives’. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.236: Research shows that immersion into extremist forums can create ‘mortality salience’, or a sense of one’s own mortality, increasing support for terrorist tactics, as well as a sense of moral outrage, which can trigger violent behavior (Pyszczynski et al., 2006; Sageman, 2008). -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.237: For example, Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 69 people in Oslo in 2011, described his radicalization as an iterative process enabled by increasing involvement with a right-wing blog, ‘Gates of Vienna’. Wade Michael Page, a neo-Nazi activist suspected of perpetrating the Gurdwara attack in Wisconsin in 2012, was closely affiliated with the online portal of the Hammerskin Nation, a skinhead movement operating across the United States. While typically categorized as ‘lone-wolf’ or ‘school-shooter’ incidents, evidence suggests these violent extremists believed that they were representing a broader constituency. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.237: Radicalization of a domestic group is concerning not simply because it represents a threat to the country’s security, but also because it indicates that citizens disregard a shared value and belief system from their home country for another. The ability to control domestic information flows has provided the nation-state with its strength and stability since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 (Anderson, 1983; Deutsch, 1966). However, the declining costs to develop, send, and receive information across borders challenge states’ capacities to control their domestic markets for ideas. For now, this weakening of information sovereignty permits greater competition over ideas between the citizenry and the state (Price, 2002). This current transition is best understood in the context of how emergent information technologies have historically created dynamic shifts in the constitution and legitimation of political power. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.237: Information communication technologies (ICTs) are an increasingly central element of 21st-century statecraft, with adaptive political actors creating and controlling information flows in order to further their interests. At the same time, innovations in ICTs are typically couched in a discourse of furthering a universal right to free expression, often connectedto a Kantian (1983[1795]) idea of achieving a perpetual peace. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.237: For example, wireless telegraphy mastermind Guglielmo Marconi (1923) declared: ‘communication between peoples widely separated in space and thought is undoubtedly the greatest weapon against the evils of misunderstanding and jealousy.’ The more connected the world is, the more difficult it is to engage in conflict, or so the thinking goes. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.238: A narrative of information as peace inducing is firmly embedded within discourses of communication and technology. This narrative is, of course, strategic. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.238: Appealing as the promise of information-driven peace may be, history offers ample evidence for skeptics. Not long after Marconi’s radio was adopted by the Western world, German leaders deployed it as a tool of war, aiding Nazi aggression and Hitler’s genocide of six million European Jews (Doherty, 2000). Just six months after Clinton spoke of the need for recognition of a universal right to connect to the world wide web, news broke that the US government, in coordination with Israel, deployed a cyber worm to slow Iran’s nuclear program (Sanger, 2012). Despite theorization of an inevitable global village bound by transnational media flows and ubiquitous connectivity (Castells, 1996; Guehenno, 2000; Hardt and Negri, 2001; McLuhan and Powers, 1992; Ohmae, 1996), states remain strategic actors, eager to adopt emerging technologies and adapt policy to advance national interests. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.238: Analyzing the rise and fall of ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek and Roman Empires, Canadian historian Harold Innis (1950, 1951) found that every major communication technology contained intrinsic biases toward a particular organization and control of information, and thus shaped the constitution of authority. For example, Latin script written on parchment, the medium of the Christian Church in the high and late Middle Ages, created a monopoly of knowledge among the priests who were able to control access to the divine knowledge of the heavens. For the church, its ability to have exclusive access to what society accepted as ‘divine knowledge’ provided it the authority to prescribe social policy, holding sway over royalty and citizens alike. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.238: Benedict Anderson (1983) identified the adoption of the printing press in Europe as critical for the emergence of the modern nation-state. Arguing that no person could ever know every other member of his or her nation, Anderson’s central research question was how nations – or, ‘imagined communities’ – came to be. His analysis found that, as the printing press became more widespread in the 15th and 16th centuries, entrepreneurs began printing books and more transitory media in local vernaculars, rather than using the exclusive script languages, such as Latin, in order to maximize circulation and accessibility. This enabled rapid growth of local dialects and facilitated the emergence and codification of independent communities formed around a shared, common language. Documented, standardized, disseminated and taught for generations, these shared discourses helped shape community values and norms. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.239: The physical traits of a technology do not alone dictate particular communicative biases. Rather, the protocols and norms that govern how individuals share ideas and utilize technology dictate precisely how the technology will impact knowledge generation and legitimize (or de-legitimize) authority. For example, different alphabets – shared protocols for the exchange of ideas via text – necessarily have biases that permit or inhibit opportunities. Innis (1950: 39) found that ‘a flexible alphabet favoured the growth of trade, development of the trading cities of the Phoenicians, and the emergence of smaller nations dependent on distinct languages.’ The printing press itself did not cause a transition from tribes and empires to Westphalian sovereignty. Rather, the use of the printing press to produce locally authored books in indigenous languages fostered a shift in consciousness as to what constituted legitimate authority in Europe. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.239: Just as the printing press reshaped the constitution of authority in the 16th century, undersea cables and wireless telegraphy reshaped geopolitical power relations in the 20th century. Scholars have documented the role that propaganda – ‘a one-way communication system designed to influence belief’ – played in the conduct of 20th-century foreign affairs, especially in times of conflict (Wood, 1992: 25). During World War I, allied forces severed German access to the world by cutting their cables. European news agencies friendly to their home government filtered and rewrote news sent abroad. In World War II, state-financed and operated international broadcasting was a critical tool of statecraft. Learning from their experiences of being isolated in World War I, the Nazis invested heavily in radio. It was so important to the Nazis’ war efforts at home and abroad that they often targeted foreign radio transmitters first when invading a country. In turn, their own transmitters emerged as targets. According to Oigen Hadamowski, Director of Nazi Radio operations: ‘We spell radio with three exclamation marks because of its miraculous power – the strongest weapon ever given to the human spirit – that opens hearts and does not stop at borders’ (cited in Hale, 1975: 1). -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.240: The market for loyalties model synthesizes propaganda, dialogue, and networked theories of strategic communication by suggesting that each approach is fundamentally driven by similar motivations and success or failure determined by the particularities of the ideational marketplace in question (Ellul, 1973; Riordan, 2004). This market framework is grounded on a basic premise: international actors enact policies analogous to a strategic investment aiming to shape the allegiances of foreign audiences in ways that increase the likelihood of an outcome favored by the actor. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.244: Ulrich Beck (2005) argues that one consequence of the rapid globalization witnessed in the past 25 years is the shattering of the traditional means of community formation and maintenance, both in relations to the hyper local (e.g. family) and the societal (e.g. nation). -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.244: Before commercial satellites, 99 percent of communication occurred within the boundaries of the nation state (Pelton and Oslund, 2004: 27). Anderson’s conception of the nation as an ‘imagined community’ worked because nation-based media were shared among diverse groups, constituting shared histories, stories and knowledge. As information flows become more difficult to control at the level of the state, and as communications technologies become more mobile, affordable and globally connected, people began to form their own imagined communities, not based on the established authority and tradition, but rather on their personal interests, ideas and passions. Globally connected media offer a more robust market for news, information and entertainment, each of which, in turn, shape the modern citizen’s loyalties and sense of citizenship. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.245: Viewing radicalization as part of the broader spectrum of possibilities in a market for loyalties is helpful for practitioners in a number of ways. First, radicalization operates within the confines of a state-based international system, whereby radical values or actions compare to the shared values and behaviors of a nation-state. Radical attitudes and behaviors in one context may not be radical in another, and nation-states remain the primary building blocks of the international system. The relative significance of nonstate actors is measured vis-à-vis their threat to a nation-state or states, and their ultimate goal is typically some form of state-status and/or sovereignty. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014

p.247: The market for loyalties provides policymakers with a model for understanding all of the different pieces of the puzzle that may otherwise seem like an uncontrollable, unmanageable global grab for power. States compete for power and influence in an international market of loyalties. -- Highlighted aug 29, 2014