Funding phase from 2020 to 2024

Since the start in 2000, the Research Unit for the Fostering Democracy and the Prevention of Extremism (AFS) of the DJI (German Youth Institute) in Halle (Saale) has been engaged in research on right wing and Islamist extremism in adolescence as well as the pedagogical practices to oppose these phenomena. The AFS is currently researching the trajectories of political socialisation and radicalisation of young people as well as measures and approaches of (social) pedagogical prevention and support practices.

The research of the AFS focuses on how the political socialisation of young people takes place in modern societies, what their lifeworld and life situation-related characteristics and contexts are, and what influence these have on young people. One main interest is directed towards political socialisation and possible points of contact with anti-democratic and violence-oriented ideologies and actors.

The question is which factors – such as contact with peer groups, crisis-ridden biographical trajectories, or social developments – promote or prevent political socialisation and what role actors in extracurricular civic education and in fostering democracy play.

Through empirical research, the AFS generates knowledge on youth-specific dimensions regarding the investigated phenomena. Hence, the AFS studies ways of dealing with and acting in specialised pedagogical practices in the area of the prevention of right-wing extremism and radicalisation. In addition, the AFS processes (national and international) professional knowledge on the pedagogical fields of fostering democracy and preventing extremism as well as on political socialisation of young people for academia, professional practices, and politics.

The funding period (2020–2024) covers the following areas:

In this research strand, the AFS deals with questions surrounding institutions and specialised pedagogical practices in promotion of democracy and the prevention and countering of right-wing extremism and violent radicalisation (PVE/CVE). Here, analyses and empirical surveys on the fields of national and international PVE/CVE and democracy promotion are carried out and the current state of research is reviewed.

Conceptualization and research question
The institution-related research of the AFS focuses on professional developments and practical challenges in the overall field of (social) pedagogical democracy promotion and the prevention and countering of violent extremism and radicalisation. Building on existing research results and research gaps as well as close cooperation with pedagogical practitioners and researchers, current practice-relevant topics in the federal programme “Live Democracy” are examined. These topics are then transferred into research designs of both in-depth empirical studies and short-term analyses.

The AFS’s former focus on the practices of indicated prevention and distancing work (CVE), will continue to be pursued here. However, practices in the field of democracy promotion will also be taken into account – as has been the case in the AFS in the past. This broadens the research perspective to include those pedagogical processes that address not only young people with problems and an affinity to extremism but also all young people and their political and social development. The main focus of this perspective are the following tasks and activities:

  • Research study on dealing with local conflicts around migration and religion (BloK),
  • Research study on the (social) pedagogical practices of Muslim actors and their role in the political socialisation of young people,
  • Analyses of the landscape of pedagogical work in the fields of preventing and countering violent extremism and radicalisation and the promotion of democracy.

Political socialisation of young people is the socio-spatial focus of the work and research unit. The research project is oriented towards the specific socio-spatial characteristics and self-placements of young people as well as structures of informal education and lifeworld relationships between these aspects.

Conceptualization and research question
The research is guided by questions addressing political socialisation processes. Young people go through these processes in their leisure activities and peer relationships. Social engagement and political participation play a prominent role in this. As an example, two smaller cities are examined in order to see what opportunities are available for young people to get involved and shape their urban society. In addition to non-formal offers of youth work, ideological and political education, sport, and charitable commitment, informal self-socialisation arenas are of interest here. In this unorganised leisure time activity, peer and friendship groups are particularly important.

This study looks at how groups of young people perceive leisure and peer-related instances of political socialisation in their immediate environment and what relevance socio-politically relevant issues have for young people in their immediate social environment. Central to the investigation of these questions about political socialisation processes is the interplay between socio-spatially available opportunity structures and their appropriation by young people.

The conceptualization and the research question will be empirically implemented by means of document and media analyses. These will provide an initial overview of the research subject. Over the course of the project, the study of materials from the surroundings of the two urban spaces under investigation complements the insights gained in internal surveys.

Persons from the municipal administration as well as persons who are in direct contact with young people (e.g. through their work in the leisure context or as school social workers) are then individually interviewed. Within these contexts, we are interested in how young people participate in shaping their immediate environment. Questions of voluntary commitment play just as much a role as the socio-political significance of these activities.

Central to the implementation of the research project is contact with young people who are interviewed in group discussions or individually. In addition, participatory observations are made in their environment; these focus on various possibilities of leisure activities. The materials are evaluated using reconstructive, sequence-analytical, and single-topic-oriented methods as well as content-analytical procedures such as the documentary method, grounded theory, and qualitative content analysis.

Against the background of increased political activity and visibility of young people in the political field, the “subject-related research” focus of the AFS examines the political socialisation of individuals (also beyond radicalisation and polarisation). The studies focus on (pre-)political attitudes, political interest, political education, and political participation of young people. The aim is to trace the processual character of socialisation in the field of politics and to identify relevant influencing factors at the micro level. The interplay of the socialisation instances relevant in this process (family, school, peers, and “media”) are also taken into account.

Conceptualization and research question
The project is guided by research questions which are exemplified by the following:

  • Which factors influence political socialisation or favour/inhibit political engagement in adolescence?
  • To what extent can a change in these processes be identified (age, cohort, and period effects)?
  • How do “problematic” political attitudes and everyday practices develop among young people?
  • What role do school, family, peers, and “media” play in political socialisation?

Subject-related research addresses these research questions through the systematic elaboration of the state of research on the political socialisation of young people as well as the generation of internal research data and the evaluation of external research data. Both qualitative and quantitative methods are used. The following focal points are being processed:

  • The review of national and international research on the political socialisation of young people
  • The conceptualization, implementation, and analysis of the qualitative research project “Trajectories of political socialisation in adolescence”
  • (Secondary) analyses in the thematic field based on internal and external survey data (e.g. AID:A, SOEP)

The results of these key activities will be used to design a quantitative survey at the end of the project.

The central results of the AFS can be obtained as printed reports and are available free of charge. The publication series and an overview of all other publications by the project staff can be found under publications.

Further results of the AFS such as working papers, lectures, and media activities of the project staff as well as expertise commissioned by the AFS and expert events organised by the project can be found in the knowledge transfer section.

The AFS pursues the goal of describing and analysing the field of fostering democracy and the prevention of right-wing extremism and radicalisation as well as processes of political and ideological-religious socialisation and related educational offers from different perspectives and with different research methodological approaches. Related, parallel individual projects provide a differentiated picture of the respective research subject.

The research of the AFS focuses on how the political and religious-ideological socialisation of adolescents takes place in modern societies, what their lifeworld and life-situation-related characteristics and contexts are, what influence these have on adolescents, and how pedagogical practice guides and supports these processes. One of the main areas of interest is possible points of contact with anti-democratic and violence-oriented ideologies and actors. The question is which factors – such as contact with peer groups, crisis-ridden biographical trajectories, or social developments – promote or inhibit these socialisation processes and what role actors in extracurricular political education, democracy promotion, and the prevention of right-wing extremism and radicalisation play in this process.

In the area of the analysis of a pedagogical practice related to these topics, the AFS follows developments in extracurricular education as well as social work and their pedagogical practices. Among other things, the AFS is currently researching forms of dealing with local conflicts in the immigrant society. The AFS also deals with selected aspects of the social and, in particular, political engagement of young people as well as their everyday political practices and attitudes.

Two groups are examined in the empirical surveys of the AFS: Young people who report on their subjective and life-world-specific ways of appropriating democracy, politics, and religion. Educational professionals and other actors who offer young people civic education, social assistance, counselling, and leisure activities. Of particular interest are questions related to fostering democracy and the prevention of radicalisation. A wide variety of survey and evaluation methods of quantitative and qualitative social research are used. These are combined with each other according to the subject matter.

With reconstructive and content-analytical research approaches, open, narrative-generating, mostly guideline-supported (individual) interviews, group discussions, observations, and social media analyses are collected and evaluated by means of the documentary method, grounded theory, or narrative-analytical procedures, among others. The subject here are practices of action as well as individual and collective orientations of young people and professionals, including the areas of politics, worldview, and democracy.

In its own standardised surveys and through secondary analyses, the AFS evaluates the data material collected or used in (online) questionnaires with various descriptive and inferential statistical methods. The subject of these analyses is the description of political and ideological-religious attitudes, values, and activities of young people and the identification of relevant factors influencing these socialisation processes with the help of multivariate inferential analysis procedures.


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