Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

"Struggling to Remain Relevant": Why and How Radicalization Was Impeded in the Struggle against the Gaza Pullout

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

"Struggling to Remain Relevant": Why and How Radicalization Was Impeded in the Struggle against the Gaza Pullout

Article excerpt

HOW IS IT THAT IN CERTAIN episodes of contentious politics, despite the presence of values and ideologies that legitimize and justify radical forms of claim making, little violence is observed? The central role cognitive mechanisms play in linking structural factors and support for political violence among challenging groups has been well established. Embracing these sociopsychological lenses, scholars have demonstrated how focusing on values and ideologies held by members of challenging groups and how these elements are shaped by threatening policy or police brutality suggests a great deal about the development of social polarization, lack of confidence in government, sense of inefficacy, oppositional consciousness and counterculture and, consequently, willingness to raise arms (e.g., Braun and Genkin 2014; Juergensmeyer 2005; Sprinzak 1998).

While contributing significantly to our understanding of support for, and willingness to engage in political violence--inclusive of what is called political terrorism--little attention has been given to explaining a group's shift from support for, to actual engagement in political violence. A sole focus on violence-prone values and ideologies held by protesters may say little about their engagement in actual violent behavior--a point increasingly acknowledged by scholars studying the shift to political violence or, as increasingly labeled, radicalization (e.g., De Fazio 2013; Delia Porta 2013; McCauley and Moskalenko 2011). Admittedly, just as consciousness shapes behavior, so too does behavior shape consciousness, and to delegitimize and dehumanize the other presupposes the existence of interaction and relations between contending parties.

This kind of reasoning stands at the core of Relational Sociology (Depelteau 2018; Depelteau and Powell 2013; Donati 2011; Emirbayer 1997; Mische 2011). Broadly speaking, and as opposed to what Emirbayer (1997) calls "substantialist" approaches (e.g., resolute structuralism or rational actor and value/idea-based models), a relational approach "depicts social reality in dynamic, continuous and processual terms and sees relations between social terms and units as preeminently dynamic in nature, as unfolding, ongoing processes rather than as static ties among inert substances" (p. 289). Relationalists, as such, posit patterns and practices that connect (or separate) persons and groups (e.g., contacts, exchange of information, bargaining, etc.) in various fields of interactions, as central to the understanding of social and political processes. Moreover, values and ideologies, (1) as well as environmental stimuli and incentives, are doubtlessly consequential in guiding contentious collective action, yet they are not autonomous forces; rather, they operate and gain salience within the context of social relations (Goodwin 2006, 2007; Tilly 2003). Finally, a relational approach is strongly associated with attention to causal mechanisms that channel flows of events and, separately and jointly, drive (or put a brake on through their reversed operation (2)) processes of contentious politics--radicalization included (Alimi 2016; Alimi, Bosi, and Demetriou 2012; Alimi, Demetriou, and Bosi 2015; Diani and McAdam 2003; McAdam, Tarrow, and Tilly 2001).

A useful way of demonstrating how a relational mode of investigation advances our understanding of the shift from support for political violence to actual engagement in political violence is by exploring a "deviant case"--an episode of contention where the broad opposition movement does not experience radicalization despite the presence of violence-prone values and ideologies held by militant member organizations. Such was the case with the protest campaign of the Jewish settlement movement against the Gaza Pullout (2004 to 2005) where despite deep-seated grievances and indignation, and despite involvement of militant groups with rich historical record of engagement in violence and terrorism (Aran and Hassner 2013), radicalization was impeded. …

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