Children and Extreme Violence: Viewing Non-State Armed Groups Through a Brand Marketing Lens: A Case Study Of Islamic State

Children and Extreme Violence, United Nations University, New York, October 2017. 
Amanda Rogers

The United Nations University (UNU), in concert with UNICEF, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), and the governments of Luxembourg and Switzerland, is leading a research initiative examining child trajectories into and out of non-state armed groups (NSAGs) in contemporary conflicts, including those listed as terrorist and characterized as “violent extremist”. This project will produce programmatic guidance for preventing the recruitment and use of children by, and effectively disengaging children from, NSAGs that employ extreme violence. As part of an initial desk review process, UNU convened a series of “state of research” workshops to draw upon perspectives, expertise, and experience that traditionally have not been included in United Nations policy and programmatic discussions in this area. To summarize the workshops, build on the empirical findings discussed, and promote cross-learning, UNU has published a three-part “State of Research” series, which, in addition to this brief, includes Insights from Social Science on Child Trajectories Into and Out of Non-State Armed Groups and Insights from Criminology on Child Trajectories Into and Out of Non-State Armed Groups.

On 16 January 2017, UNU hosted a group of scholars and practitioners to discuss how to apply a brand marketing lens to analysing contemporary NSAGs like Islamic State (IS). The workshop was based on the premise that it might be possible to gain additional analytical leverage and deeper understanding when examining recruitment typologies, messaging, and intergroup competition for market share. The workshop brought together academics in communications and psychology; practitioners in brand creation, marketing, and cause campaigns; social media experts and practitioners; entertainment content creators; and experts on NSAGs, among others. This “State of Research” Brief provides a summary of the workshop discussions combined with a limited literature review drawing from the studies and research cited during the workshop. The brief is not a comprehensive review of all the relevant work in this area, nor does it examine all the factors that influence child association with and exit from NSAGs (e.g., structural factors). Rather, it outlines some robust findings and points of consensus across disciplines and practitioner experiences, focusing on those with implications for understanding child trajectories into and out of contemporary NSAGs.