The radical ambitions of counter-radicalization

Martin, Thomas (2021). The radical ambitions of counter-radicalization. British Journal of Sociology, 72(2) pp. 270–285.



The “Trojan Horse” scandal laid bare an anxiety at the heart of the British security establishment; an anxiety that brings together questions of identity, values, and security within the demand to manage radicalization. It is an anxiety that, I will argue, reveals a novel conceptualization of threat that has driven the UK’s security and communities policies within the “war on terror.” This conceptualization emerges within Prevent, the UK’s counter‐radicalization strategy. Yet, I argue, the extensive literature on Prevent has failed to adequately articulate this underlying, core logic. To date, the Prevent literature has effectively demonstrated the ways in which Muslim communities in the United Kingdom have been policed through British counter‐radicalization policy. Yet, this analysis struggles to explain the expansion of Prevent into a wider range of “extremist” spaces. In this article, I contend that it is more useful to situate Prevent as a particular conception of power; a logic and an analysis of threat that demands new forms of government intervention. To do so, this article provides a genealogical reading of Prevent, locating it as a radical extension of state security ambitions to intervene early, making explicit a vision of security in which life as a process of becoming is produced as an object of management. The paper draws out the ramifications of this analysis to think through fundamental shifts in the principles and practices of contemporary security aspirations.

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