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The Center for Critical Democracy Studies

CCDS Receives Grant to Research 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.