Orla Lehane | School of Law and Government

Orla Lehane

Orla Lehane is Education Director at Fighting Words and the Fighting Words Research Fellow at the Institute of Education at Dublin City University. This role is funded by the Department of Education and Skills.

Research Interests:

Children and international relations; arts education; education and international relations; popular culture and international relations; representations and narratives of political violence and extremism; narratives of counter-extremism; propaganda; the visualisation of war and counter-terrorism; grounded theory.

Background and Qualifications:

MA International Relations, Dublin City University 2006

BA European Studies, Trinity College Dublin 2003

Orla has a background in arts and human rights education, having worked in education roles at Fighting Words (2009-2013), Amnesty International Irish Section (2006-2007), Front Line Defenders (2007-2008) and National University of Ireland Galway (2008-2009).

Doctoral Research:

Mining the Personal to Carve a Space of One’s Own: A Grounded Theory Study of Grassroots Countering Violent Extremism Practitioners.

This research focuses on individuals working to counter violent extremism at grassroots level. It details the way in which these practitioners draw on their own personal experiences to carve a space for themselves within a domain of policy that has seen an ever-increasing variety of actors seek to augment their positions.

That it is possible to intervene and avert people from being influenced by violent extremist organisations to perpetrate acts of violence is the impetus behind this growing ‘countering violent extremism’ (CVE) industry. CVE policy, a major concern for governments around the world, marks a shift within counter-terrorism towards prevention. This move comes as a response to well publicised acts of “homegrown” violent extremism, such as the 7/7 bombings in London (2005) and the Madrid train bombings (2004). The idea is that individuals can be “radicalised” to commit such acts, whether by friends or family, other significant individuals in their lives, online materials created and disseminated by violent extremist organisations, or by the wider socio-political context that creates a variety of situations and issues that may fuel individuals’ decisions to take violent action against a perceived enemy.

Those seeking to intervene in or reverse the “radicalisation process” range from government officials and offices to Silicon Valley corporations, from educators, NGOs, and private companies to individuals seeking to exert some influence. One set of these actors is focused on herein: grassroots level CVE practitioners. These are individuals who work independently of government and policy makers; they are not part of the “official” system.

This research uses grounded theory to uncover grassroots CVE practitioners main concerns and to theorise the way in which they seek to resolve these concerns. A predominantly inductive method, interviews were conducted with thirty grassroots CVE practitioners working to counter a variety of ideologies, including right wing violent extremism, violent jihadism and violent extremism associated with republicanism and loyalism in Northern Ireland. Those interviewed include former violent extremists, former gang members, survivors of acts of violent extremism, Imams, youth workers, artists, and individuals who feel personally compelled to engage in CVE efforts.

By taking a grounded theory approach to explore their experiences, this research offers an account of the way in which these grassroots practitioners function within the CVE industry. Mining the personal conceptualises the way in which these individuals draw on their own very personal experiences, repurposing these along with their skills and capacities, to establish themselves as credible and authoritative voices within the CVE arena. In doing so, these practitioners are carving a space for themselves from which they can work on their own terms, remaining independent while continuing to mine the personal as a way in which to resolve the frustrations they experience as a result of what they believe to be poor policy and practice on the part of other CVE actors.

Acknowledgment: This research is supported by an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship

Supervisor: Professor Maura Conway 


Lehane, Orla (2019) ‘A Journey Through Classic Grounded Theory: Exploring the Work of Grassroots Violence Prevention Practitioners.’ SAGE Research Methods Part 2. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/9781526477224

Lehane, Orla; Mair, David; Lee, Saffron and Parker, Jodie. (2018) ‘Brides, Black Widows and Baby-Makers; or not: An Analysis of the Portrayal of Women in English-Language Jihadi Magazine Image Content.’ Critical Studies on Terrorism. 11(3): 505-520.

Conway, Maura; Jarvis, Lee; Lehane, Orla; Macdonald, Stuart; and Nouri, Lella (Eds.) (2017) Terrorists’ Use of the Internet. NATO Science for Peace and Security Series: Human and Societal Dynamics, Volume 136.

Breslin, Andrea & Lehane, Orla. (2015) ‘A Theatre of War – Setting the Stage for a Critical Reflection on Human Rights Violations in Armed Conflict.’ Creating Rights, [online], 6 February. https://creatingrights.com/2015/02/06/a-theatre-of-war-setting-the-stage-for-a-critical-reflection-on-human-rights-violations-in-armed-conflict/

Lehane, Orla. (2014) ‘Never Alone in Iran.’ In: Thompson, Gemma (Ed.). A Girls’ Guide to Travelling Alone: Inspiring True Tales from Solo Women Travellers

Lehane, Orla. (2014) ‘Pleasing Petra.’ U Magazine, 14 October.

Lehane, Orla (2014) ‘The Last Hijack – Animation in Documentary Filmmaking.’ [Online], Headstuff.org.


Lehane, Orla (2014) ‘Comics Unmasked – Art and Anarchy in the UK.’ [Online], Headstuff.org.


Lehane, Orla (2012) ‘Lost in Imagination: An Interview with Carlo Gébler.’ Inis Children’s Books Ireland Magazine. Summer 2012.

Khoo, Su-ming, Orla Lehane. (2008) ‘Globalisation and the re-imagination of research, teaching and learning in Irish Higher Education.’ Policy and Practice: A Development Education Review. Issue 7, Autumn: 18-34.

Gallagher, Ruth, Orla Lehane & Brian Ruane (Eds) (2007) Voice Our Concern: Film and Photography Workbook: A Human Rights Educational Resource. Amnesty International Irish Section.

Conference Papers: 

Lehane, Orla (2016) ‘Countering Online Violent Extremism: Considering the Experiences of Grassroots Practitioners.’ Taking Stock of Research on Violent Online Political Extremism, VOX-Pol.  Dublin City University, Dublin 22-24 June, 2016.

Lehane, Orla (2016) ‘Countering Online Violent Extremism: Revisiting Adorno’s “Education After Auschwitz.’’’ International Studies Association – Annual Convention.  Atlanta, 16 – 18 March.

Lehane, Orla (2016) ‘Illustrating Human Rights in Conflict Zones: La Lucha and the Fight to End Violence Against Women in Mexico.’  International Studies Association – Annual Convention.  Atlanta, 16 – 18 March.

Lehane, Orla.  (2015) 'Countering Violent (Online) Extremism: A Grounded Theory Study into Grassroots CVE Practitioners.' School of Law and Government Research Seminar, Dublin City University, 16 November.

Lehane, Orla (2015). ‘Animating Counter-Narratives: Abdullah – X and the Quest for Positive Change.’ European Network for Comparative Literary Studies.  6th Biennial Congress “Longing and Belonging.”  Dublin City University/NUI Galway, 24 – 28 August.

Lehane, Orla (2015) ‘Animating War: Waltz with Bashir as an Attempt to Make Sense of War.’  Disappearing War: Cinema and the politics of erasure in the war on terror.  Interdisciplinary research workshop, University of Reading, 13 April.

Lehane, Orla (2015) Animating CVE – the use of Comics and Animation in Countering Violent Extremism.’  International Studies Association – Annual Convention.  New Orleans, 18 – 21 February.

Lehane, Orla (2014) Animating Counter-Narrative: The Use of Cartoons in Response to Violent Extremist Messaging.  Popular Culture and World Politics 7.0, University of Ottawa, Canada, 21-22 November.

Lehane, Orla (2014) ‘Animating “The Troubles”: Northern Ireland in Troubled Souls (1989).  Violence: A Conference on Comics.  Central Library, Leeds, 13-14 November 2014.

Lehane, Orla (2014) ‘Animating CVE: Online Animations as a form of Counter-Narrative – The Case of Abdullah-X.  Violent Online Extremism: Setting a Research Agenda.  King’s College, London, 28-29 August 2014.

Khoo, Su-ming, Orla Lehane & Felipe Revollo. (2008) ‘The Globalisation of Higher Education: Key Meanings and Directions for Development Education.’ Poster submission for Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching Critical Thinking Symposium, NUI Galway, 5-6 June.


Email: orla.lehane@dcu.ie

Twitter: @orrrlita