Anders Breivik

Terrorism, Strain Theory and Social Work


  • Alexandre Madore University of Ottawa



This analysis considers the importance of general strain theory (GST) in understanding contemporary far-right movements and violence involving white heterosexual men. General strain theory describes how objective and subjective strains can contribute to antisocial behaviours including terrorism. The mass murder committed by Anders Breivik in July 2011 in Norway will be considered as an application of this theory to terrorism. The analysis remains relevant, as evidenced by the most recent 2019 New Zealand mosque terrorism incidents. It begins with an overview of Breivik’s turbulent childhood and adulthood, marked by isolation and failed business ventures. Next, an outline of the July 2011 Norway attacks provides further context. After providing a detailed exploration of these attacks, this analysis will consider general strain theory in relation to the situation outlined above and it will be argued that perceived subjective and objective strain contributed to Breivik’s actions. More specifically, the subjective strains he experienced included social isolation and poor parental relationships. Conversely, objective strains provide an analysis of how Anders Breivik and others like him perceive their privileged position as being strained by migration and increasingly liberal gender norms. This analysis concludes with suggesting a role for social work in deescalating far right movements in Western liberal democracies.