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The future study of terrorism

  • Richard English (a1)

This article reflects on the central problems to be faced over the next fifty years of the academic study of terrorism. It discusses a series of problems that are sometimes raised (regarding definition, the division between Critical Terrorism Studies and Orthodox Terrorism Studies, and the supposed stagnation in contemporary terrorism research), and argues that these present rather limited difficulties, in reality. It then identifies a greater problem, in the form of a five-fold fragmentation of the current field, before offering suggested means of addressing in practice these latter, more profound difficulties.

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*Correspondence to: Professor Richard English, Room 235, Arts Building, The Scores, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 9AX, Scotland, United Kingdom. Author’s email:
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1 Arguably the greatest of terrorism scholars, Martha Crenshaw, formally began her graduate student research into terrorism in 1967 (Crenshaw, Martha, Explaining Terrorism: Causes, Processes and Consequences (London: Routledge, 2011), p. ix). For consideration of the early years of the academic study of terrorism (focusing mainly on the US), see Stampnitzky, Lisa, Disciplining Terror: How Experts Invented ‘Terrorism’ (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

2 English, Richard, ‘The enduring illusions of terrorism and counter-terrorism’, in Richard English (ed.), Illusions of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

3 Schmid, Alex P. (ed.), The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research (London: Routledge, 2011); Richards, Anthony, ‘Conceptualizing terrorism’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 37:3 (2014); Wilkinson, Paul and Bryan, Dominic, ‘Is terrorism still a useful analytical term or should it be abandoned?’, in Richard Jackson and Samuel J. Sinclair (eds), Contemporary Debates on Terrorism (London: Routledge, 2012); Ramsay, Gilbert, ‘Why terrorism can, but should not be defined’, Critical Studies on Terrorism, 8:2 (2015); Richards, Anthony, Conceptualizing Terrorism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015).

4 Thereby involving the issues addressed in: Cormac, Rory, Confronting the Colonies: British Intelligence and Counterinsurgency (London: Hurst and Company, 2013); Bennett, Huw, Fighting the Mau Mau: The British Army and Counter-Insurgency in the Kenya Emergency (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).

5 Schmid (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research; Ramsay, ‘Why terrorism can’; Richards, Conceptualizing Terrorism, pp. 9, 12, 18–19.

6 Lodge, Juliet (ed.), Terrorism: A Challenge to the State (Oxford: Martin Robertson, 1981), pp. 15; Richardson, Louise, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Terrorist Threat (London: John Murray, 2006), pp. 1939; Wilkinson, Paul, Terrorism Versus Democracy: The Liberal State Response (London: Routledge, 2011), pp. 421; Guelke, Adrian, The Age of Terrorism and the International Political System (London: I. B. Tauris, 1998), pp. 1834.

7 It adheres to the definition that I set out in 2009: ‘Terrorism involves heterogeneous violence used or threatened with a political aim; it can involve a variety of acts, of targets, and of actors; it possesses an important psychological dimension, producing terror or fear among a directly threatened group and also a wider implied audience in the hope of maximizing political communication and achievement; it embodies the exerting and implementing of power, and the attempted redressing of power-relations; it represents a subspecies of warfare, and as such it can form part of a wider campaign of violent and nonviolent attempts at political leverage.’ See English, Richard, Terrorism: How to Respond (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), p. 24.

8 See Jackson, Richard, Smyth, Marie Breen, and Gunning, Jeroen (eds), Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (London: Routledge, 2009); Jackson, Richard, Jarvis, Lee, Gunning, Jeroen, and Breen Smyth, Marie, Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011); and also the journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism.

9 Jackson and Sinclair (eds), Contemporary Debates on Terrorism, p. xi; English, Richard and Jackson, Richard (eds), ‘The Belfast International Terrorism Workshop’, Critical Studies on Terrorism, 2:2 (2009).

10 Wilkinson, Terrorism Versus Democracy, p. 17.

11 On this, see Richards, Conceptualizing Terrorism, pp. 33–4, 68.

12 English, Richard, Armed Struggle: The History of the IRA (London: Pan, 2012).

13 Sageman, Marc, Understanding Terror Networks (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004); Sageman, Marc, Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).

14 Sageman, Marc, ‘The stagnation in terrorism research’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 26:4 (2014), pp. 565, 569, 576.

15 Ibid., p. 565.

16 Ibid., p. 571.

17 Ibid., p. 567.

18 Foster, Roy, Vivid Faces: The Revolutionary Generation in Ireland 1890–1923 (London: Penguin, 2014); English, Richard, Ernie O’Malley: IRA Intellectual (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Augusteijn, Joost, From Public Defiance to Guerrilla Warfare: The Experience of Ordinary Volunteers in the Irish War of Independence 1916–1921 (Blackrock: Irish Academic Press, 1996); Hart, Peter, The IRA and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916–1923 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); Hart, Peter, The IRA at War 1916–1923 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003); Hart, Peter, Mick: The Real Michael Collins (London: Macmillan, 2005).

19 Schmid (ed.), Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research; Ramsay, ‘Why terrorism can’; Richards, Conceptualizing Terrorism; Saul, Ben, Defining Terrorism in International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006); Schmid, Alex P. and Jongman, Albert J. (eds), Political Terrorism (Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing, 1988); Laqueur, Walter, Terrorism (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977); Claridge, David, ‘State terrorism? Applying a definitional model’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 8:3 (1996).

20 Crenshaw, Explaining Terrorism, pp. 9–11, 34–50, 118–19, 130, 142; Richardson, What Terrorists Want, pp. 57–132; Guelke, The Age of Terrorism, p. 6; Bloom, Mia, Dying to Kill: The Allure of Suicide Terror (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005); English, Richard, Irish Freedom: The History of Nationalism in Ireland (London: Pan Macmillan, 2006); English, Terrorism; English, Armed Struggle.

21 Krueger, Alan B., What Makes a Terrorist: Economics and the Roots of Terrorism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007).

22 Cronin, Audrey Kurth, How Terrorism Ends: Understanding the Decline and Demise of Terrorist Campaigns (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009); cf. Crenshaw, Explaining Terrorism, pp. 193–222.

23 Abrahms, Max, ‘Why terrorism does not work’, International Security, 31:2 (2006); Neumann, Peter R. and Smith, Michael L. R., The Strategy of Terrorism: How it Works, and Why it Fails (London: Routledge, 2008); Argomaniz, Javier and Lynch, Orla (eds), Victims of Terrorism: A Comparative and Interdisciplinary Study (London: Routledge, 2015); Argomaniz, Javier and Lynch, Orla (eds), International Perspectives on Terrorist Victimization: An Interdisciplinary Approach (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015); Gearty, Conor, Liberty and Security (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2013); Crenshaw, Martha (ed.), Terrorism, Legitimacy, and Power: The Consequences of Political Violence (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1983).

24 Crenshaw, Explaining Terrorism, pp. 30, 39, 109, 178–82; Richardson, What Terrorists Want, pp. 243–81; English, Terrorism; English (ed.), Illusions of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism; LaFree, Gary, Dugan, Laura, and Miller, Erin, Putting Terrorism in Context: Lessons from the Global Terrorism Database (London: Routledge, 2015), pp. 221222; Gearty, Conor, Terror (London: Faber and Faber, 1991); Roberts, Adam, ‘Terrorism research: Past, present, and future’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 38:1 (2015); Schmid, Alex P., ‘Terrorism and democracy’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 4:2 (1992).

25 Hoffman, Bruce, Anonymous Soldiers: The Struggle for Israel, 1917–1947 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2015); Hoffman, Bruce and Reinares, Fernando (eds), The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014); Joshi, Manoj, ‘On the razor’s edge: The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 19:1 (1996); Singh, Rashmi, Hamas and Suicide Terrorism: Multi-Causal and Multi-Level Approaches (London: Routledge, 2011); Wege, Carl A., ‘Hizbollah organization’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 17:2 (1994); English, Armed Struggle; Clark, Robert P., The Basque Insurgents: ETA, 1952–1980 (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1984); Aust, Stefan, Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009); Hutchinson, Martha Crenshaw, Revolutionary Terrorism: The FLN in Algeria, 1954–1962 (Stanford: Hoover Institution, 1978); Scheuer, Michael, Osama bin Laden (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Silke, Andrew, ‘Rebel’s dilemma: the changing relationship between the IRA, Sinn Fein and paramilitary vigilantism in Northern Ireland’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 11:1 (1999); Hroub, Khaled, Hamas: Political Thought and Practice (Washington: Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000); McDonald, Henry and Holland, Jack, INLA: Deadly Divisions (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1994); Zulaika, Joseba, Basque Violence: Metaphor and Sacrament (Reno: University of Nevada Press, 1988); Hemmingby, Cato and Bjorgo, Tore, The Dynamics of a Terrorist Targeting Process: Anders B. Breivik and the 22 July Attacks in Norway (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016); Muir, Angus M., ‘Terrorism and weapons of mass destruction: the case of Aum Shinrikyo’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 22:1 (1999).

26 Crenshaw, Explaining Terrorism, pp. 51–66.

27 Jackson and Sinclair (ed), Contemporary Debates on Terrorism, p. 1.

28 For example, Martha Crenshaw, Bruce Hoffman, Adrian Guelke, Alex Schmid, Conor Gearty, Charles Townshend, Paul Wilkinson, Ariel Merari, Mark Juergensmeyer, David Rapoport, and Andrew Silke.

29 See, for example, Shapiro, Jacob N., The Terrorist’s Dilemma: Managing Violent Covert Organizations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013); Berman, Eli, Radical, Religious and Violent: The New Economics of Terrorism (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2009); LaFree, Dugan, and Miller, Putting Terrorism in Context; Pape, Robert A., Dying to Win: Why Suicide Terrorists Do It (London: Gibson Square Books, 2006).

30 LaFree, Dugan, and Miller, Putting Terrorism in Context, p. 2.

31 See, for example, Crenshaw, Explaining Terrorism.

32 LaFree, Dugan, and Miller, Putting Terrorism in Context, pp. 10–11, 25–6, 48, 69, 95–8, 124, 145, 172, 202–4, 223–5.

33 Such scholars include Daniel Byman, Eli Berman, Bruce Hoffman, Martha Crenshaw, Mark Juergensmeyer, Dipak Gupta, John Horgan, Max Abrahms, Barbara Walter, Mia Bloom, David Rapoport, Alan Krueger, Laura Donohue, Joseba Zulaika, Jacob Shapiro, Robert Pape, David Laitin, and Barak Mendelsohn.

34 Among others: Alex Schmid, Javier Argomaniz, Anthony Richards, Andrew Silke, Gilbert Ramsay, Richard Jackson, Ariel Merari, Rashmi Singh, Claude Berrebi, Diego Muro, Esteban Klor, Stuart Croft, Conor Gearty, Adrian Guelke, Thomas Hegghammer, Donatella Della Porta, Tore Bjorgo, Rogelio Alonso, Fernando Reinares, and Diego Gambetta.

35 LaFree, Dugan, and Miller, Putting Terrorism in Context, p. 7.

36 LaFree, Dugan, and Miller, Putting Terrorism in Context.

37 Krueger, What Makes a Terrorist, pp. 44–6.

38 On peace and peacekeeping, see, for example, Fortna, V. Page, Does Peacekeeping Work? Shaping Belligerents’ Choices After Civil War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008); cf. the very different approach evident in Richmond, Oliver P. and Franks, Jason, Liberal Peace Transitions: Between Statebuilding and Peacebuilding (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009), and MacGinty, Roger, No War, No Peace: The Rejuvenation of Stalled Peace Processes and Peace Accords (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006).

39 Fortna, Does Peacekeeping Work?, pp. 202–5.

40 Kalyvas, Stathis N., ‘The paradox of terrorism in civil war’, Journal of Ethics, 8 (2004); Fortna, V. Page, ‘Do terrorists win? Rebels’ use of terrorism and civil war outcomes’, International Organization, 69:3 (2015).

41 LaFree, Dugan, and Miller, Putting Terrorism in Context, p. 53.

42 LaFree, Dugan, and Miller in Putting Terrorism in Context suggest a global figure for terrorist attacks for 1972 at well under 1,000 (p. 29). Since the respected Conflict Archive on the Internet (CAIN) records well over 10,000 shooting incidents and well over 1,000 bomb explosions in Northern Ireland alone for 1972, that figure seems implausible.

43 LaFree, Dugan, and Miller, Putting Terrorism in Context, p. 27.

44 Ibid., p. 33.

45 Ibid., p. 81.

46 Kalyvas, Stathis N., The Logic of Violence in Civil War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006); Staniland, Paul, Networks of Rebellion: Explaining Insurgent Cohesion and Collapse (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014); Weinstein, Jeremy M., Inside Rebellion: The Politics of Insurgent Violence (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Hemmingby and Bjorgo, The Dynamics; Shapiro, The Terrorist’s Dilemma; Berman, Radical, Religious and Violent.

47 Pagden, Anthony, The Enlightenment and Why It Still Matters (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).

48 Sacks, Jonathan, Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2015); Pinker, Steven, The Better Angels of Our Nature: The Decline of Violence in History and its Causes (London: Penguin, 2011); Chenoweth, Erica and Stephan, Maria J., Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011); Roberts, Adam and Garton Ash, Timothy (eds), Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Non-Violent Action from Gandhi to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009); Cannadine, David, The Undivided Past: History Beyond Our Differences (London: Penguin, 2013); Baron-Cohen, Simon, Zero Degrees of Empathy: a New Theory of Human Cruelty and Kindness (London: Penguin, 2012); O’Mara, Shane, Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015).

49 For important examples among very many, see Townshend, Charles, Political Violence in Ireland: Government and Resistance Since 1848 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983); Townshend, Charles, The Republic: The Fight for Irish Independence (London: Penguin, 2013); Zulaika, Basque Violence; Clark, The Basque Insurgents; Aust, Baader-Meinhof.

50 English (ed.), Illusions of Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism.

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