- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs

Anina Schwarzenbach: Linking Discrimination, State Institutions & Violent Extremism

  • Christian Gibbons
| Summer 2019

What causes individuals to become radicalized, and to perpetrate acts of violence against other people and countries? In the context of the Easter attacks in Sri Lanka and other recent acts of violent extremism, understanding the causes of this phenomenon may be key to understanding how to counter it.

Anina Schwarzenbach is a postdoctoral fellow studying just that at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center. Her research with the International Security Program focuses on the effectiveness of different anti-extremism strategies, as well as how perceptions of the legitimacy of state institutions can help or hinder those efforts.

Born and educated in Switzerland, she previously worked for the government in Bern. Shethen went on to pursue her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Foreign Criminal Law in Germany. Eventually, she says, she would like to work in academia—which is why she decided to continue her research at Harvard.

“The work I do uses a lot of methods that are used in sociology, but it’s very interdisciplinary,” says Schwarzenbach, who decided to shift from a legal to a more sociological perspective mid-career. “At Harvard, you can connect so many dots, and learn from so many different fields as well. That has been a source of inspiration for my own research endeavors.”

Through her research, she has tried to understand the potential links between discrimination, state legitimacy, and violent extremism. Her work in multi-ethnic cities in Europe, including France and Germany, has allowed her to study the effects of disaffection and distrust in promoting extremist views.

“One hypothesis is that experiences of discrimination by state institutions, such as the police, negatively affect the public’s understanding of the government—and consequently of society at large,” Schwarzenbach says. “These experiences of discrimination, especially if recurrent, delegitimize governments in the eyes of the public and might affect the levels of political violence in a society, too.” She is committed to shedding light on this relationship and hopes her findings will prove useful to policymakers.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Gibbons, Christian. "Linking Discrimination, State Institutions, and Violent Extremism." Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Summer 2019).

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