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The great moving countering violent extremism show: An ethnography of CVE in the Canadian context


The great moving countering violent extremism show: An ethnography of CVE in the Canadian context

Millett, Kris ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-0041-5188 (2023) The great moving countering violent extremism show: An ethnography of CVE in the Canadian context. PhD thesis, Concordia University.

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My dissertation critically examines through ethnographic fieldwork the rise of countering violent extremism [CVE] programs in Canada. CVE is an offshoot of counter-terrorism, with programs first taking hold in the mid-2000s following ‘homegrown terrorism’ incidents in Madrid and London. CVE is based on the premise that a ‘radicalization process’ precedes terrorism. This allows for security and civil society-based interventions in the ‘pre-crime’ space to interrupt terrorism before it happens. The most thorough and controversial example of this is the UK’s Prevent strategy, which legally mandates human services professionals to refer individuals showing signs of ‘radicalization’. In Canada, no such duty exists, though its national strategy nonetheless aims to harness ‘all of society’ toward preventing violent extremism, enlisting the cooperation of teachers, artists, psychologists, social workers along with actors in the private sector.

My study is not about how individuals turn to ‘violent extremism’ or ‘radicalization’ but rather about examining that edifices that have created to respond to these perceived problems The implications of CVE as an ‘all of society’ endeavour are manifold, particularly as the scope of CVE expands beyond ‘Islamism’ toward preventing ‘all types’ of violent extremism, most recently on right-wing groups and violence against racial, ethnic, and gender minorities. Broadly, my research attempts to conceive of the implications of this expansion. What drives CVE’s growth in the face of sustained criticism over its deleterious impacts on Muslim communities? How do practitioners in CVE align their interests with the cause? What social functions does CVE take on? Moreover, can boundaries even be drawn around what constitutes CVE?

My study draws on interviews with 46 CVE practitioners and participant observation over a three-year period (2018-2020) with CVE entities operating in Canada. My findings indicate how an absence of knowledge over how to conduct CVE propels its encroachment into ever more diverse areas of social life. The paradigm operationalizes ‘uncertainty’ to enroll actors with diverse interests and foster partnerships with communities including those (racialized, Indigenous, LGBTQ) that have had fraught relationships with security institutions.

In Chapter 1 - Searching for the CVE space I discuss my immersion in CVE and the type of fieldwork activities conducted. I also attempt to define my research object, outlining how CVE comprises a field of practice, a paradigm, a moral-social imperative, and lastly a space. Chapters 2 and 3 historicize CVE’s contemporary presence and disturb common understandings of its origins. I critique the explanation of CVE’s rise as a necessary and spontaneous reaction to evolving security threats to understand it as an outcome of performative security knowledge, where new security threats are discursively created rather than responded to. Chapters 4 and 5 focus on my fieldwork experience, examining how actors ‘enroll’ in the CVE cause through the open-ended, speculative quality of its activities. A distinction emerged with Muslim-identifying CVE practitioners, whose motivations to represent their communities in often hostile institutions and reduce the harm of CVE practices were typified by the repeated phrase “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”. In the conclusion chapter I connect the varying threads of preceding analysis and what they portend for CVE’s effects on societies. This includes examining how CVE’s efforts to redirect political grievances toward ‘pro-social’ ends potentially disempowers social justice movements, reinforcing state hegemony and existing power inequities.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Sociology and Anthropology
Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Authors:Millett, Kris
Institution:Concordia University
Degree Name:Ph. D.
Program:Social and Cultural Analysis
Date:October 2023
Thesis Supervisor(s):Swiffen, Amy
Keywords:radicalization; Canada; violent extremism; countering violent extremism; ethnography; critical terrorism studies
ID Code:993096
Deposited By: Kristopher Millett
Deposited On:17 Nov 2023 14:55
Last Modified:17 Nov 2023 14:55
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