ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

ECPR

Install the app

Install this application on your home screen for quick and easy access when you’re on the go.

Just tap Share then “Add to Home Screen”

Italian Radical-Left Political Violence: How Gestalt Psychology Helps to Make Sense of Individual Activists’ Radicalisation Processes

Extremism
Political Psychology
Political Violence
Terrorism
Giulia Grillo
University of Kent
Giulia Grillo
University of Kent

Abstract

What can the Italian case of radical-left violence tell us about individuals’ radicalisation processes? Between the 1960s and the 1980s, Italy experienced social unrest and systemic political violence from both radical-left and radical-right groups. While existent literature contributes significant knowledge on groups’ radicalisation and how socio-political, historical, and economic factors affect the outbreak of violence, we still lack a comprehensive understanding of the how and why individuals radicalise. The intensity of violence makes the Italian case an interesting one for researching individuals’ radicalisation processes. This paper surveys personal stories of former members of (radical-)left dissenting (armed) organisations, examining how they perceived the socio-political world that they intended to change. Using narrative analysis as methodological approach, it scrutinises (auto)biographical material and interviews to explain the complexity behind individuals’ decision to use violence. It also engages with socio-psychological literature to explore the multifaceted components constituting violence. This paper finds that the system of implicit presuppositions defined by Gestalt psychology, as well as a socio-political system based on a-priori evaluative categories can further inform us on individuals’ radicalisation. Accordingly, violence can emerge in two ways. Firstly, it can emerge out of opposing views stemming from the same implicit presuppositions, as the only way to unblock gridlocked situations. Secondly, it can emerge as the outcome of individuals’ progressive alienation from themselves and from the community of belonging caused by a tendency of classifying people according to evaluative categories. Considering the increase in society’s polarisation throughout 2020 and the beginning of 2021, this paper provides thought-provoking insights to consider when studying individuals’ radicalisation in different contexts.