51 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2018 Last revised: 17 Oct 2019
Date Written: October 16, 2019
Identity-based organizations coordinate forms of collective action that strengthen group identity (e.g. religion, race). Under what conditions can such an organization radicalize an identity group, mobilizing moderate individuals into a strict club with intensive participation in identity-based activities? We identify two paths to radicalization, based on cultural evolutionary theory: Prestige-biased cultural transmission occurs when active group members enjoy greater prestige and cultural influence within the group. Niche construction occurs when identity-based participation induces blanket discrimination against the identity group. By raising the group's identification and reducing its outside options, these forces produce a strict club which grows and becomes more extreme over time. Stigmatizing participation can backfire and spur radicalization under certain conditions. Fears of extremism can be self-perpetuating. Competition among identity-based organizations limits radicalization. We apply our model to Muslim communities in Europe and set out principles for preventing radicalization.
Keywords: extremism, cultural transmission, economics of religion, discrimination, club goods
JEL Classification: D23, Z12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation