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Nothing but a “vague residue”: Synthesizing Ideological Violence and Social Figurations
A vague residue. Is that how humans recollect greater social changes resulting from their social interactions, known as social figurations? According to Norbert Elias, who developed the Civilizing Process, we are so focused on the individual social level that we are oblivious to social processes that influence these figurations, which he likened to a dance:
A dance can be any style – the tango, a waltz, rock ‘n roll – but it remains a dance. Dancers may join in, sit out, re-engage or leave, but the dance continues with unplanned structure and process. While independent of any one dancer, the dance is not independent of the collective – those who come together.
It is the effect of these social figurations that are of interest; I like to describe them as ripples in the water: Throw a handful of pebbles in the water and each creates a ripple that, as it fans out, impacts other proximate ripples. From this, alterations occur that are driven by conditions – the number of pebbles, ripples, and environmental elements, like wind, shoreline or other barriers and interferences. The common elements that create repeat alterations, but in social interactions, are the focus.
Both vivid metaphors emphasize how figurations, floating above and beneath an invisible line between individual and group, result in unplanned, yet structured, social change from the predictability from group behaviour.
But why is answering – or even asking – the above question important in the context of present-day sociology?
Understanding social figurations and their role in forming groups, societies, and nations creating long chain social change can permit us to shift our analytical eye from the individual to social along with environmental conditions surrounding them that may hint at causality. By looking to other areas for answers, novel approaches may be developed as social policy, rather than social programs, to address this social phenomenon that has confounded scholars for centuries.
Here, ideological violence is the phenomenon of focus. It has woven its way through history for thousands of years and in many nations, and enjoyed substantial debate on whether particular incidents are legitimate acts of violence, state monopolies of violence, violence in colonization and civil conflict, or terror-motivated acts meant to move an ideological agenda. Underscoring the concept of legitimacy, the phrase “One man’s freedom fighter is another man’s terrorist” rings relevant and the conundrum of social violence persists.
For that reason, modern scholars have struggled to identify root causes of ideological violence, and still after every incident that makes the headlines the first question is, what caused this individual or group to resort to violence? Presumably, if we continue to look in the same place – to the psychology, demographics and environmental impacts of individuals – we will likely continue to arrive at the same answers, or lack thereof. Conceptually, it may be argued that ideological violence develops from alternate social standards that have mutated from the accepted social habitus through an unconscious formulation.
The aim of this webinar is to provide a synthesized overview of social conditions with the incidence of ideological violence in selected nations over specific time periods by using the theoretical concepts of Elias’s processual theory. It is the core of Elias’s process theory that is of particular interest in examining the phenomenon of ideological violence: social life and the world around us are natural reflections of human tendencies, emerging from social interactions, social bonding, and developing social habitus, social codes and group identity. Additionally, the applied goal is to reveal an alternate research area for ideological violence prevention and acknowledge issues embedded in existing Countering/Preventing Violent Extremism (C/PVE) programs and to supplant them with social policy approaches.
Heavily relied upon, these C/PVE programs were hastily developed after the attacks of 9/11 by US and allied nations to identify individuals at risk of extremist violence using characteristics and behaviours that may signal radicalization or may precede a violent act. In recent years, these programs have been found to employ controversial techniques and simple psychological criteria and proxies, such as individual religiosity, political activism and “feelings of alienation/hopelessness/futility”.
Largely rejected by academics, these techniques can have dangerous implications and risk branding innocent individuals as terrorists. Ineffectiveness aside, the misuse of C/PVE programs has also been rampant – surveillance and informant recruiting, charges of racial-bias targeting Muslims, refugees and immigrants and unsophisticated – bringing about human and civil rights criticisms.
Now begs the question: Is the individual level the only viable focal point to reveal elements that influence ideological violence? Considering how ideological violence manifests as a social phenomenon, its sociogenesis alone infers the existence of social conditions that warrant exploration. Just as meteorologists can deduce the probability of specific weather events from certain environmental conditions, the social strata that emerge from social figurations may hold similar, valuable contributions.
Valarie Findlay is currently in her second year of Royal Roads University’s Doctorate in Social Sciences program. Born in Ottawa, Canada and having spent many years in the US, she has a Master of Terrorism Studies and a Master of Sociology. Her doctoral research area focuses on synthesizing ideological violence and social figurations, guided by Norbert Elias’s Civilizing Process theory.
For the past seven years she has focused her academic efforts in becoming a “student” of Elias’s main theory by interpreting and applying his concepts from his major texts, Beyond the Civilizing Process. With her prime sociological interest in group behaviour and habitus, she shifted from individual psychological elements that influence violent behaviours to how groups interact and the social conditions around them that may influence conflict and violence, in order to develop more effective social programs and policy to prevent and counter ideological violence.
On her professional side, Valarie has worked in US and Canadian national security and intelligence for over twenty years and has specialized in cybersecurity and technologies as tools in ideological movements and recruitment. She sits on several North American intelligence, cyber and law enforcement committees and has studied various investigative and interviewing disciplines, such as inductive, psychological, physiological and predictive profiling. She is also a past member of the Canadian Association Chiefs of Police/CATA eCrime Council, the American Society for Evidence-Based Policing (ASEBP), AFCEA Cyber Committee (Washington DC) and research fellow with the National Police Foundation, affording her the opportunity to collaborate with some of the brightest academics and experts in applied science.
As a side project, she has developed and commercialized a risk intelligence software solution, TIGIR, that provides comprehensive assessments on government and industry assets and data that includes organizational risk derived social vulnerability and quality of life indices. TIGIR was granted its a US patent last year and is currently in Canadian patent examinations.