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Reflecting on an incredible year of research and partnerships

Published: 19 January 2024 at 11:10

Elisa Orofino

Senior Research Fellow Dr Elisa Orofino is PIER’s academic lead for extremism and counter-terrorism. Elisa looks back on everything that has been achieved in this research area in the past year, and looks ahead to the projects in development for 2024.

It’s an exciting time to be part of the team at PIER. As a Senior Research Fellow, leading the extremism and counter-terrorism strand of our work, I feel incredibly privileged to have been part of such progress and have made real impact to the global understanding of this topic.

A clear focus

Throughout 2023, we developed three sub-themes within our work:

  • Violent vs vocal extremism: exploring the shift from vocal extremists (non-violent) to terror offenders in the UK and beyond; analysing the triggers to violence, the protective factors, and the differences between the two populations (vocal extremism vs terror offenders).
  • Online posting behaviour of legally operating extremist groups: mapping online ecosystems where their activity is more prominent, identifying common narratives and recruitment tactics as well as offline mobilisation effects.
  • Extremism and gaming: empowering (vulnerable) gamers and their social intimates to build resilience against extremism; equipping preventing and countering extremism practitioners with knowledge and understanding of extremism within online gaming communities.

Stronger together

A huge amount of work is underway within these areas, and we’ve cemented new partnerships and secured significant funding to drive forward our work both nationally and internationally.

We’re working with the University of Bath to explore extreme anarchism alongside other extreme ideologies in their non-violent expressions.

We’ve joined with the Marie Curie Doctoral Network as an associated partner on the EU-GLOCTER project. The project, coordinated by Dublin City University, aims to build the first EUropean GLOCal Counter-TERrorism Doctoral Network, which will produce the expertise needed by the EU and its member states to effectively address the threat of terrorism and extremism.

Making the case for vital research

Throughout 2023, we submitted bids for substantial external funding across our themes of research.

We received more than £47,000 in funding from research councils and governmental bodies to conduct and successfully deliver impactful research projects on the online posting behaviours of non-violent extremist groups across Islamism, far-right and eco-radicalism.

An exciting application, on which we await an outcome, is a proposal to collaborate with researchers from University College London and the University of Utrecht to investigate anti-authority extremism and create the first international research network on the topic. This has been largely unexplored in the UK, and more research is crucial.

Our work with our Dutch and UK colleagues would analyse datasets from projects conducted by members of the research team and begin a participatory mapping session with practitioners globally.

Internal funding has allowed us to progress seedcorn online gaming and extremism projects, which has helped us apply to the Economic and Social Research Council for more than £280,000 in funding to support our work with the collaborative project Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism on Online Gaming Communities and Subcultures via Bystander Interventions.

Partners for this project include UK Counter-Terrorism Policing, Groundswell Project, Melanin Gamers and Prevent Teams across England. In Spring, we will hear if we are successful in this funding bid, which could lead to such an important and exciting piece of work.

Making an impact

Of course, the purpose of this research is to achieve impact and real world difference. To do this, we share our information widely and hope that our learning and analysis will lead to societal change.

In May and June, we held expert roundtables with Prevent practitioners and counter-terrorism experts. We have become an official partner of the Extremism and Gaming Research Network (EGRN), which works to provide effective solutions for enhancing security and inclusiveness in the gaming sector.

We were also selected to showcase our work on exploring patterns of online recruitment among non-violent extremists in the UK at the British Academy Summer Showcase, where we led a panel – Extremist Material Online: how to spot it and what to do about it – a real example of giving tangible advice, based on research to practitioners and young people.

Looking ahead

A real testament to the importance and influence of our work was our recently awarded VC Scholarship, allowing us to create a new PhD topic. In April 2024, we will interviewing candidates for a fully funded PhD post researching on misogynist extremist violence in the UK: narratives, drivers and violent offline effects.

What an incredible year! This is just the tip of the iceberg, and I could write much more on the partnerships we have created and research we have shared.

Extremism and counter-terrorism are huge subject areas, and are critical in the need for us to understand more to prevent global harm. We are proud to be at the forefront of this and look forward to sharing more on our plans and work for 2024 and beyond.

Dr Elisa Orofino, Senior Research Fellow, PIER