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.
 

Here's the abstract:

Attachment, Networks and Discourse in Extremist Political Organizations:

A Comparative Case Study

Alexandra Stein, Ph.D.

2007

Abstract

This study explores the structural, emotional and cognitive mechanisms through which people become tightly bonded to extremist political organizations. The study compares a totalist, closed group, the Newman Tendency, with a democratic, open group, the Green Party of the US. Features of totalism--found in the Newman Tendency, but not in the Green Party--include: a charismatic authoritarian leader; a hierarchical, closed network structure; a total ideology; and the creation of a disorganized attachment bond which is associated with cognitive lapses, disorientation, dissociation and confusion.

Placing attachment theory at the center of the analysis, the research shows how the Newman Tendency sets itself up as a safe haven for followers while at the same time structurally, affectively, ideologically and linguistically isolating them from alternate attachment relationships and interpretations of their experience. The Newman Tendency creates conditions of fear arousal resulting in a situation of "fright without solution" for the isolated follower, thus inducing disorganized attachment to the group, as measured by the new Group Attachment Interview. No Greens demonstrated such attachment to the Green Party.

Disorganized attachment creates cognitive difficulties for followers in thinking about their relationship to the group, allowing for further insinuation of the group's total ideology and constricting language. A key element allowing former members of the totalist group to leave was the presence of a mitigating attachment relationship, thus breaking the situation of fright without solution. These findings
advance understanding of the organization, operation and social-psychological mechanisms of ideologically extremist groups and can help to clarify the mechanisms leading to hyper obedience and resulting deployability of followers. This can contribute to the development of education and prevention efforts.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Alexandra Stein published on November 14, 2010 12:02 PM.

Why Protea? was the previous entry in this blog.

Preventing recruitment to cults and extremist groups is the next entry in this blog.

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