03. ‘Bounded Choice: Who Is Accountable?’ by Dr. Janja Lalich

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03. ‘Bounded Choice: Who Is Accountable?’ by Dr. Janja Lalich

Date Published: 29 June 2023

This video is part of the series of recordings of the workshop Extreme Beliefs and Responsibility, held at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam on 29-30 June and organised by the Extreme Beliefs project. In this video: Dr. Janja Lalich about ‘Bounded Choice: Who Is Accountable?’

In recent decades acts of violence have been perpetrated (or attempted) – sometimes “alone,” sometimes collectively – by “true believers” and ideological extremists associated with cults, gangs, political/terrorist cells, racist groups, and so on. As a result, the question often arises: what drives normal, intelligent, educated people to join such groups, to give up years of their lives, and sometimes their very own lives or take the lives of others? Is it because of the deep internalization of the group’s ideology and purported goals? Is it rooted in the unquestioning adulation of an authority figure? Is it a potent mix of personal sacrifice and disempowerment? Would such acts come to fruition without the social-psychological manipulation that goes on in a closed group context (self-sealing system) during activities that are mostly unseen and unrecognized by outsiders? And perhaps, most important, what can be done to countervail and prevent these destructive activities?

This presentation will focus on a comparative approach, highlighting similarities and differences among these groups, with the aim of expanding our ability of to address and counter issues related to ideological extremism and its consequences. Topics will include attraction and recruitment, indoctrination, influence and control mechanisms, the role of the leader and extremist ideology, and the processes of disengagement, deradicalization, and social reintegration.

Janja Lalich, Ph.D., Professor Emerita of Sociology, is an international authority on cults and coercion. Researcher, author, and educator, she specializes in the psycho- social dynamics of recruitment, indoctrination, and coercive methods of influence and control. She is Founder and President of the Lalich Center on Cults and Coercion, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide life-saving resources to survivors of cults, programs in the Troubled Teen Industry, and narcissistic families or relationships.