November 2010 Archives

Preventing recruitment to cults and extremist groups

Here's an article I wrote a while ago for the New Statesman on prevention of violent extremism.

For information on prevention seminars and other information, contact me here

My research

Here's a link to my major piece of research, my doctoral dissertation (Careful! it takes a while to download - see abstract below for the summary): Attachment, Networks and Discourse in Extremist Political Organizations: A Comparative Case Study.

In this study I looked at Fred Newman's New York-based political cult, and compared it with the non-cultic Green Party.

Part One gives some background about totalitarianism and cults, and introduces my research methodology.

Part Two gives some fairly detailed information on Fred Newman's group. Here are just a few of its projects or incarnations:

  • International Workers Party
  • Social Therapy
  • Castillo Theater
  • All Stars Project
  • Some elements of the New York Independence Party
I also discuss the Green Party, but this is not the center of the study - they are there strictly for comparative purposes, to highlight the anti-democratic, totalitarian nature of Newman's group.

Part Three sets out my theoretical analysis, which draws on attachment theory. My main inspirations are John Bowlby, Robert Jay Lifton, and Hannah Arendt.

Why Protea?

protea_laurifolia4.jpgThe Protea is a genus of South African flower that: "shows an amazing diversity of shape and form, ranging from trees to low-growing shrubs. In recognition of this diversity, it was named after the Greek sea god, Proteus, who was able to change his appearance."1

Robert Jay Lifton, who did some of the great work in defining totalist relationships, wrote a wonderful book, The Protean Self, Human Resilience in an Age of Fragmentation, where he discusses the opposition of the rigid fundamentalist self with the shape shifting flexible self more adapted to the uncertainties of modern life.

As a South African by birth, I lay claim to the Protea as the flower of one of my nationalities. For me, it symbolises, in its many, shape-shifting forms, the opposite of a rigid fundamentalist unity, and offers instead a beautiful example of complex adaptation.

1 Kew Gardens

Why this blog?

Solomon Asch, one of the great social psychologists, said this in his 1952 classic, Social Psychology: "the greater man's ignorance of the principles of his social surroundings, the more subject is he to their control; and the greater his knowledge of their operations and of their necessary consequences, the freer he can become with regard to them."

Yet so few people are taught these principles of (as Asch again says): "how individuals create the reality of groups and how the latter control their further actions."

So in this blog I intend to contribute to spreading the word a bit, by posting and discussing items that are relevant to this effort to understand our social world and the groups that we create and in which we exist.

Contact Alexandra Stein here

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from November 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

December 2010 is the next archive.

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