Can Thematic Content Analysis Separate the Pyramid of Ideas from the Pyramid of Action? A Comparison Among Different Degrees of Commitment to Violence
Peter Suedfeld, Ryan W. Cross, and Carson Logan
The University of British Columbia
The publicly accessible messages of 15 extremist groups were coded by Thematic Content Analysis (TCA). Orientations toward violence included activist, militant, and terrorist groups; their goals derived from animal rights, Islamist, territorial, or white supremacist ideologies. TCA is a set of scientifically rigorous methods for converting running text into quantitative data, analyzable by standard statistics. A measure of cognitive integrative complexity (IC) showed significant declines across groups as they increased in their acceptance of violence, higher power imagery for terrorist compared to the other groups, and high importance among terrorists on the values of self‐direction (autonomy), character (virtue, sincerity, honor), and benevolence (caring for those close to oneself). The results demonstrate the usefulness of IC coding to assess groups’ acceptance of, and proneness to, violence.
Thematic content analysis (TCA) can be used to assess open‐source messages of extremist groups reliably and with a high degree of rigor.
Integrative complexity (IC), an unobtrusive TCA measure of cognitive structure, shows reliable decreases associated with increases in the acceptance and practice of violence.
Power motivation increases with positive orientation to violence, but the results are less clear‐cut than with IC.
Terrorist groups emphasize the values of autonomy, virtuous character, and care for those close to oneself.
TCA may be useful in differentiating the dangerousness of groups, and may also point to optimal approaches to deradicalization.