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The Leaderless Social Movement Organization: Unstoppable Power or Last-Ditch Effort

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Master's thesis

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Since September 11, 2001, the United States and its partners around the world have significantly damaged al Qaedas organizational structure, transforming what was once a robust terrorist network into one that is disaggregated and much less effective. Despite losing a considerable portion of its leadership in the war on terror, al Qaeda remains supportive of insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they continue to perpetuate the Salafi-Jihadi ideology throughout the Middle East and beyond. As we continue to pursue a strategy aimed to further dismantle al Qaedas leadership we must consider what happens if we succeed What should we expect to happen to the central organization if we kill or capture top-tier al Qaeda leadership such as Ayman al-Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden Will the organization continue to be a threat without a recognizable leader This research seeks to examine under what conditions a social movement organization will be effective without a leader. Advisors and scholars alike have dichotomous opinions regarding the potential effectiveness of leaderless social movement organizations. Social movement theorists have yet to examine leaderless organizations through the lens of their models. By examining leaderless social movement organizations in terms of the political process model we will gain a better understanding of why leaderless structures may be more effective for some organizations and less effective for others. This research will expand the existing body of social movement literature and provide a theory for predicting the potential effectiveness of leaderless social movement organizations.

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  • Administration and Management
  • Government and Political Science
  • Sociology and Law

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