The strategy of tension: Understanding state labeling processes and double-binds

Matt Clement, Vincenzo Scalia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Criminologists can enhance their theoretical grasp of their subject through an understanding of contemporary political economy because this provides insights into politics, crime and state policy within and across nation-states. Understanding how this plays out is very much part of the “research agenda for global crime” (Hall and Scalia 2019). In this article, we present a comparative study of European statecraft during the Cold War and today, noting the parallels and contrasts in the construction and demonization of the “enemies of the west.” We present detailed analysis of how a “strategy of tension”—by which we mean the use of violent criminal actions by state agents to engender a climate of fear that blames the violence on a dangerous “public enemy”—was enacted by the secret services of the United States and the United Kingdom, in alliance with the Italian government, between 1946 and 1980, alongside some more fragmentary evidence of the way in which contemporary policies are framed around the “War on Terror,” forming the contours of a contemporary “strategy of tension.”

Original languageEnglish
Article number29
Pages (from-to)569-588
Number of pages20
JournalCritical Criminology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021

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