The internal brakes on violent escalation: a typology

Joel Busher, Donald Holbrook, Graham Macklin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    24 Citations (Scopus)
    76 Downloads (Pure)


    Most groups do less violence than they are capable of. Yet while there is now an extensive literature on the escalation of or radicalisation towards violence, particularly by ‘extremist’ groups or actors, and while processes of de-escalation or de-radicalisation have also received significant attention, processes of non- or limited escalation have largely gone below the analytical radar. This article contributes to current efforts to address this limitation in our understanding of the dynamics of political aggression by developing a descriptive typology of the ‘internal brakes’ on violent escalation: the mechanisms through which members of the groups themselves contribute to establish and maintain limits upon their own violence. We identify five underlying logics on which the internal brakes operate: strategic, moral, ego maintenance, outgroup definition, and organisational. The typology is developed and tested using three very different case studies: the transnational and UK jihadi scene from 2005 to 2016; the British extreme right during the 1990s, and the animal liberation movement in the UK from the mid-1970s until the early 2000s.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)3-25
    Number of pages23
    JournalBehavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression
    Issue number1
    Early online date10 Dec 2018
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019

    Bibliographical note

    This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License
    (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any
    medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

    Copyright © and Moral Rights are retained by the author(s) and/ or other copyright owners. A copy can be downloaded for personal non-commercial research or study, without prior permission or charge. This item cannot be reproduced or quoted extensively from without first obtaining permission in writing from the copyright holder(s). The content must not be changed in any way or sold commercially in any format or medium without the formal permission of the copyright holders.


    This work was funded by the Centre for Research and Evidence on Security Threats [ESRC Award: ES/N009614/1].


    • Violence
    • non-violence
    • escalation
    • extremism
    • Terrorism
    • group dynamics
    • terrorism

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Social Psychology
    • Political Science and International Relations
    • Sociology and Political Science


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