The Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS) is a member of the “DeRadicalisation in Europe and Beyond: Detect, Resolve, Reintegrate” (D.Rad) research project for Horizon 2020 funded by the European Research Council. 

In the course of 2021, Sawyer and Zinigrad published four reports on various aspects of radicalization processes in France:

They additionally coordinated the reports on radicalization trends for all seventeen members of the project’s consortium.

D.Rad is a comparative study of radicalization and polarization in Europe and beyond. It aims to identify the actors, networks, and broader social contexts driving radicalization, particularly among young people in urban and peri-urban areas. D.Rad conceptualizes this through the I-GAP spectrum (injustice-grievance-alienation-polarization) so as to move towards measurable evaluations of de-radicalization programs. Our intention is to identify the building blocks of radicalization, which include a sense of being victimized; a sense of being thwarted or lacking agency in established legal and political structures; and coming under the influence of “us vs them” identity formulations. 

D.Rad benefits from an exceptional breadth of backgrounds. The project spans national contexts, including the UK, France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Slovenia, Bosnia, Serbia, Kosovo, Israel, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Georgia, Austria, and several minority nationalisms. It bridges academic disciplines ranging from political science and cultural studies to social psychology and artificial intelligence. Dissemination methods include D.Rad labs, D.Rad hubs, policy papers, academic workshops, visual outputs and digital galleries. As such, D.Rad establishes a rigorous foundation to test practical interventions geared to prevention, inclusion and de-radicalization.

With the possibility of capturing the trajectories of seventeen nations and several minority nations, the project will provide a unique evidence base for the comparative analysis of law and policy as nation-states adapt to new security challenges. The process of mapping these varieties and their link to national contexts will be crucial in uncovering strengths and weaknesses in existing interventions. Furthermore, D.Rad accounts for the problem that processes of radicalization often occur in circumstances that escape the control and scrutiny of traditional national frameworks of justice. The participation of AI professionals in modeling, analyzing and devising solutions to online radicalization will be central to the project’s aims.​

Researching Deradicalization in Europe

The Center for Critical Democracy Studies (CCDS) works to promote the practice, study and life of democracy, both by ensuring AUP graduates become engaged global citizens and by interacting with political life beyond the University. Thanks to a grant from the European Research Council, CCDS is now participating in a large-scale collaborative research project designed to identify trends that lead to radicalization and to implement techniques for deradicalization – presently a major policy area for the European Union.

Professor Stephen Sawyer is Center Director for CCDS and Chair of the Department of International and Comparative Politics. “The initial question from the ERC was largely about how to diagnose radicalization and develop evidence-based policy for questions of deradicalization,” he explains. The grant submission brought together a group of 17 universities under an umbrella project titled “D. Rad.” As part of the successful proposal, CCDS has been awarded a €260,000 portion of the €3 million grant. The money will go toward the day-to-day functioning of the center, the hiring of a postdoc and the pursuit of activities around deradicalization and democracy; more specifically, the center will launch a new research project relating to the identification and de-escalation of radicalization hotspots.

“A hotspot is identified when a specific event of physical and emotional violence is committed by one radicalized group of civilians against other civilians,” explains Sawyer. Isolated actions conducted by individuals aren’t enough to qualify a hotspot; premeditation is required, and the action must, in theory, be scalable and have lasting impacts. Identifying these hotspots allows the center to develop what Sawyer terms “arcs of radicalization” – the historical and sociocultural precedents that lead to a process of radicalization. “There is no social order than isn’t shaped by discord, disagreement or tension,” he says. “Our argument is that there’s an event, process or moment that is responsible for transforming existing tension into a site of radicalization.” CCDS will highlight five such events, covering a diversity of geographical regions, time periods and types of radicalization.

This project will draw on many of the center’s strengths, including its focus on historical and social contextualization in the study of democracy and political and social processes. “The mix of history, sociology and political science is at the heart of what CCDS does; it was also at the heart of Tocqueville’s work,” explains Sawyer, citing a key thinker in much of the center’s research. In addition to funding the research proposal, the grant will provide resources for the center to pursue questions around democracy and radicalization more generally, including through conference admission, invited speakers and collaborations with other members of D. Rad.

The grant comes at an exciting time: on the heels of CCDS cohosting the largest conference in AUP history, last year’s Paris Centennial Conference, which marked 100 years since the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. In addition, the center has recently moved into the Quai d’Orsay Learning Commons, placing it one floor down from another research center: the George and Irina Schaeffer Center for the Study of Genocide, Human Rights and Conflict Prevention. Sawyer notes that as well as providing greater visibility and the practical benefits of a physical space, the new premises provide additional opportunities to work in collaboration with the Schaeffer Center, with which CCDS has many overlapping research interests – not least in the field of deradicalization.

As a part of this research project, the American University of Paris will host an international conference in June 2023 titled “Violent Turns: Sources, Interpretations, Responses.” This conference will bring together leading scholars to discuss contemporary political violence and its responses. The Call for Papers for this conference can be found below.