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Psychological Perspectives on Radicalisation Processes. Stories from the Italian Far Left

Grillo, Giulia (2024) Psychological Perspectives on Radicalisation Processes. Stories from the Italian Far Left. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.104550) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:104550)

Language: English

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Why do some people and not others resort to violence to achieve their socio-political goals? How does violence become an option in people's behaviour repertoire? While existent literature contributes significant knowledge on groups' radicalisation and how socio-political, historical, and economic factors affect the outbreak of violence, questions on how and why some individuals but not others choose violence remain unanswered. Particularly, the role of inter-personal and social dynamics on individuals' decision-making process vis-à-vis the choice of violence is understudied. By taking a more constructivist approach, which sees structure and agency as mutually constituted, I argue that a fundamental pre-condition for people to choose violence over non-violence is to employ dualistic, Manichaean, views to make sense of the surrounding (socio-political) environment. Contrary to what extant literature has argued, I contend that these dualistic, Manichean worldviews originate from psychological processes aiming at interpreting the (socio-political) environment so to better navigate it, and not from ideologies, populism, and conspiracy theories. In these dualistic worldviews, violence exists as one way whereby some parts of the (socio-political) environment are understood to interact with one another. This thesis investigates this topic analysing the Italian case of far-left violence, which occurred between the 1960s and the mid-1980s. The intensity of violence, the number of people involved, and the limited examination of this case in English academic literature make this an interesting case to studying micro-level radicalisation processes. Using narrative analysis, this thesis examines personal stories of former members of far-left armed organisations through two psychological lenses, which have never been employed in research on radicalisation processes and which investigate human behaviour: Rosenberg's moralistic categories and Gestalt psychology. Considering language and communication as key to constructing the socio-political environment, Rosenberg differentiated between 'value judgement' and 'moralistic judgement', regarding the latter as a significant contributor to violence in society. This is because while 'value judgements' concern how people believe life can best be served, 'moralistic judgements' point out what is wrong in people and their behaviour. Ultimately, this leads to the distinction between 'good/right people' and 'bad/wrong people', creating the right conditions for violence to erupt. Regarding Gestalt psychology, it studies human behaviour investigating the process whereby human beings filter the environment's stimuli, making sense of them by organising the entities of the environment, and the components of such entities, in meaningful configurations. These meaningful configurations help individuals understand and navigate their surrounding environment by way of making sense of the different relations between the entities of the environment and between the components of such entities. This thesis finds that, in the Italian case, separating people into moralistic categories, which ultimately distinguished between an absolute 'Good' and an absolute 'Evil', already carried the potential for political violence to erupt. This is because it appears that distinguishing between 'good groups' of people and 'bad groups' of people was seen and experienced as an act of violence. In light of that, this thesis also finds that violence was deemed as a viable and necessary option because it was considered as inherent in and key to understand inter-personal and social relations.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Ansorg, Nadine
Thesis advisor: MacKenzie, Iain
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.104550
Uncontrolled keywords: Radicalisation, political violence, Gestalt psychology, Rosenberg, Moralistic categorisation, Narrative Analysis, Far Left, Italy
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DG Italy
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
J Political Science > JZ International relations
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Human and Social Sciences > School of Politics and International Relations
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 10 Jan 2024 08:47 UTC
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2024 11:41 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Grillo, Giulia.

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