Tribal Stages & Countering Violent Extremism

David Logan’s TED talk on “Tribal Leadership” provides some interesting points for countering violent extremism (CVE).  Logan describes “tribes” as a, “group of about 20 to 150 people” where all individuals conduct their work and societal interactions.  Logan describes how tribes operate at five different levels.

Logan’s examination of Stage 1 and Stage 2 tribes offers some insight into how violent groups might be countered.  Logan explains how Stage 1 tribes consist of groups such as gangs, prisons and probably terrorist groups.   Stage 1 tribes, “sever relations from other functional tribes and pool together with people who think like they do.”   In this “Life Sucks” Stage 1 tribe, terrorist groups cut themselves off from society and within these insular groups reinforce their ideology and commitment to each other; resulting in violence.

Logan explains that “as people see the world, they behave.”  Thus in Stage 2 tribes, people see the world in a negative light and then behave negatively.  Members of a Stage 2 culture, “will do anything to survive, to include undermining other people.”

Logan’s message essentially asserts the best way to deal with lower stage tribes is not to counter them, but instead work to move those groups forward through the five stages.  Essentially, engage with Stage 1 & 2 tribes to move them along the stages of tribal development in order to alleviate their violent intentions.

Many CVE approaches focus on breaking up the group or reinforcing to the group why they are “wrong”.  While many find the “antagonize terrorists” approach appealing, antagonizing Stage 1 tribes (terrorists groups) only solidifies their exclusion from other tribes and reinforces their inward focus further strengthening justifications for violent extremism.

Logan’s research and discussion emphasizes the engagement of Stage 1 and 2 “tribes”. Current events in North Africa may provide the West a new opportunity to engage vulnerable communities and the Stage 1 terrorist tribes residing within them.  Additionally, Logan’s approach may be particularly helpful to those designing CVE approaches in the U.S. involving terrorist groups of all types; AQ, white supremacists, animal rights/environmental, and isolated lone wolf youths.  Logan’s incremental tribal approach is more applicable to different groups and not as narrowly focused as most AQ CVE solutions.






  1. I’m not really convinced by David Logan… For me, it seems that he is only trying to reinvent all “sociology” just by using new terms. His concept of “tribe” is very vague … I would like someone to explain me how this concept of “tribe” is different from what sociologists are usually calling “peer group” or even Bourdieusian’s concept of “champ” ? In fact, Logan’s talk is more “Guru” thought that scientific thought !!!

    • I think you are right to a certain extent. The video talks are limited to 20 minutes and have to be catchy, so preachy business types tend to get on the stage. Tribe is pretty vague, but I like the way he describes the evolution of groups and it mirrors my own experiences as a member of groups. I can say that I’ve been a member of Stage 1-4 tribes at different locations and different times. And, I can see the attraction of being in a Stage 1 tribe.

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