Deadly Words: The Language of Political Violence

Module titleDeadly Words: The Language of Political Violence
Module codePOL3000
Academic year2020/1
Module staff

Dr Stephane Baele (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Description - summary of the module content

Module description

In this module you are introduced to the crucial role of language in political violence. Building on theories from various disciplines (psychology, rhetoric, social cognition, IR), we expose the main ways through which language is used to propel political violence: through persuasion, identity constitution, threat construction, and worldview modelling. We use this conceptual toolbox to rigorously analyse a range of speeches/texts that played a role in triggering political violence, locating their important characteristics and modelling the social-cognitive processes that made these characteristics elicit violence. These cases are chosen from across the political spectrum (from Salafi-jihadist propaganda to far-right prose, from deep ecology to pre-genocide communications in Rwanda) to highlight the common traits that characterise extremist language as well as to identify the specificities of each case. You do not need any pre-requisite/co-requisite for this module, which is highly recommended for interdisciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

The primary aim of this module is to develop the analytical skills required for the study of extremist texts and speeches. You will gain a fine understanding of the most pertinent theoretical approaches focusing on language and conflict broadly construed, and will learn to put these approaches to play for the study of violent political actors’ communications.

More broadly, the module ought to strengthen your critical understanding of 1) political communication at large (including mainstream), 2) conflict and insecurity, and 3) processes of “othering”, categorization and classifications in socio-political contexts.

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Identify the main approaches and theories of language and violence;
  • 2. Explain in a sophisticated way how these theories help to analyse specific cases;
  • 3. Draw the implications of this theoretical framework to a wider variety of political speeches and texts in a critical way;

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 4. Integrate complex and unconnected scientific inquiries (from various disciplines) within a single coherent piece of analysis on extremist political language;
  • 5. Apply highly theoretical constructs to real-life political examples;
  • 6. Analyse past and ongoing political problems through the prism of the theoretical framework seen in class;

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 7. Applying practical analysis of any example of extremist language.
  • 8. Deliver a systematic analysis of a real case of extremist prose that is written rigorously yet comprehensibly for a non-academic target readership.

Syllabus plan

Syllabus plan

Whilst the module’s precise content may vary from year to year, it is envisaged that the syllabus will cover the following topics, broadly divided in two parts (theoretical, then empirical):

  • What is extremist language?
  • Theory: Basic concepts in political communication
  • Theory: Polarizing Intergroup language.
  • Theory: Plots, narratives, conspiracies.
  • Theory: Visual imagery
  • Case 1: Nazi propaganda
  • Case 2: Forum discussion on case-study.
  • Case 3: Rwandan genocidaires’ radio
  • Case 4: Salafi-jihadi groups’ communications
  • Case 5: The far-right online ecosystem

Learning and teaching

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching Activities2211 x 2 hour seminars
Guided Independent Study78Reading and preparations for seminars
Guided Independent Study50Research and writing required for completion of course work


Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Individual presentations of required readings10 min1, 3-4Oral

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay502,500 words1-3; 5Written
Practical Analysis502,500 words3-7Written


Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (2,500 words)1-3; 5August/September reassessment period
Practical AnalysisPractical Analysis (2,500 words)3-7August/September reassessment period


Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic readings:

Berntzen L.E., Sandberg S. (2014) “The Collective Nature of Lone Wolf Terrorism: Anders Behring Breivik and the Anti-Islamic Social Movement, Terrorism & Political Violence 26(5): 759-779.

Bhatia M. (2005) “Fighting Words: Naming Terrorists, Bandits, Rebels and Other Violent Actors”, Third World Quarterly 26(1): 5-22.

Buzan B., Waever O., De Wilde J. (1998) Security: A New Framework for Analysis. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.

Fekete L. (2011) “The Muslim conspiracy theory and the Oslo massacre”, Race & Class 53(3): 30-47.

Halfmann D., Young M. (2010) “War Pictures: The Grotesque as a Mobilizing Tactic”, Mobilization: An International Quarterly 15(1): 1-24

Halverson J., Goodall H., Corman S. (2011) Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Hewstone M., Cairns E. (2001) “Social Psychology and Intergroup Conflict”, in Chirot, Seligman (eds.) Ethnopolitical Warfare: Causes, Consequences, and Possible Solutions. Washington DC: American Psychological Association, pp.319-342.

Ingram H. (2016) “An analysis of Islamic State’s Dabiq magazine”, Australian Journal of Political Science, Early view.

Ingram H. (2016b) “Deciphering the Siren Call of Militant Islamist Propaganda: Meaning, Credibility and Behavioural Change”, ICCT Research Paper, online document.

Ingram H. (2017) “An Analysis of Inspire and Dabiq: Lessons from AQAP and Islamic State’s Propaganda War”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 40(5): 357-375.

Kunda Z. (1999) Social Cognition. Making Sense of People. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lasswell H. (1927) “The Theory of Political Propaganda”, American Political Science Review 21(3): 627-631.

McCauley C., Moskalenko S. (2008) “Mechanisms of Political Radicalization: Pathways Toward Terrorism”, Terrorism & Political Violence 20(3): 415-433.

Milton D. (2016) Communication Breakdown: Unraveling the Islamic State’s Media Efforts”, Combatting Terrorism Center at West Point, online document available at

Oliver J., Wood T. (2014) “Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion”, American Journal of Political Science 58(4): 952-966.

Pegelow T. (2006) “Determining ‘People of German Blood’, ‘Jews’ and ‘Mischlinge’: The Reich Kinship Office and the Competing Discourses and Powers of Nazism, 1941–1943”, Contemporary European History 15(1): 43-65.

Reicher S., Hopkins N., Levine M., Rath R. (2005) “Entrepreneurs of Hate and Entrepreneurs of Solidarity: Social Identity as a Basis for Mass Communication”, International Review of the Red Cross 87(860): 621-637.

Sullivan D., Landau M., Rothschild Z. (2010) “An Existential Function of Enemyship: Evidence that People Attribute Influence to Personal and Political Enemies to Compensate for Threats to Control”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98(3): 434-449.

Tajfel H., Turner J. (1979) “An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict”. In Austin W., Worschel S. (eds.) The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey: Brooks.

Whiteside C. (2016) “Lighting the Path: The Evolution of the Islamic State Media Enterprise (2003-2016)”, ICCT Research Paper, online document.


From the module convenor:

Baele S., Boyd K., Coan T., eds. (2019) ISIS Propaganda. Oxford University Press.

Baele S., Boyd K., Coan T. (2019): “Lethal Images: Analysing Extremist Visual Propaganda”, Journal of Global Security Studies, online before print.

Baele S., Brace L., Coan T. (2019): “From ‘Incel’ to ‘Saint’: Analyzing the Violent Worldview behind the 2018 Toronto Attack”, Terrorism & Political Violence, online before print.

Richards H., Baele S., Coan T. (2019): “Studying “Radio Machete”: Towards a Robust Research Programme”, Journal of Genocide Research 21(4).

Baele S. (2019): Conspiratorial Narratives in Violent Political Actors’ Language”, Journal of Language & Social Psychology 38(5-6).

Baele S., Bettiza G., Boyd K., Coan T. (2019) “ISIS’ Clash of Civilizations: Constructing the ‘West’ in Terrorist Propaganda, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, online before print

Baele S., Sterck O., Slingeneyer T., Lits G. (2017) “What Does the “Terrorist” Label Really Do? Measuring and Explaining the Effects of the “Terrorist” and “Islamist” Categories”, Studies in Conflict &¬†Terrorism.

Baele S., Sterck O., Meur E. (2016) “Theorizing and Measuring Emotions in Conflict. The Case of the 2011 Palestinian Statehood Bid”, Journal of Conflict Resolution 60(4).Baele S., Coan T., Boyd K. (2018) Words of Violence. Theorizing and Mapping Conspiratorial Intergroup Language”, Working Paper.

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Module has an active ELE page

Key words search

Security – Language – Political Violence – Exclusion – Extremism – Social Psychology – Social cognition – Securitization – Radicalization.

Credit value15
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date