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A Case for Critical Terrorism Studies? 1

  • Jeroen Gunning


That ‘terrorism research’ is mired by epistemological, methodological and political-normative problems is well established. What is usually overlooked is that, beyond the difficulties inherent in ‘terrorism research’, these problems are exacerbated by two further factors: the predominance of what Cox called a ‘problem-solving’ approach, and the dispersed nature of much of the more rigorous, ‘critical’ and conceptually innovative research on ‘terrorism’ in cognate fields that, for ideological, theoretical or practical reasons, are reluctant to engage with ‘terrorism studies’. A ‘critical turn’ is needed to reverse both these trends, but it must be inclusive and seek to be policy relevant.



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I would like to thank Ken Booth, Marie Breen Smyth, Stuart Croft, Frazer Egerton, John Horgan, Richard Jackson, Matt McDonald, Harmonie Toros and Michael Williams for their comments on earlier drafts of the paper and for many illuminating discussions on its subject matter.



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2 The ‘scare marks’ are intended to signal that ‘terrorism’ is a deeply contested term, the analytical value of which has been undermined by the political use of the term, and to remind readers that the need to problematise the term and its political usages is central to any ‘critical turn’.

3 Cf. at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth (2002) and the University of East London (2006).

4 Cf. Andrew Silke (ed.), Research on Terrorism: Trends, Achievements and Failures, London, Frank Cass, 2004; Brendan O’Leary and Andrew Silke, ‘Understanding and Ending Persistent Conflicts: Bridging Research and Policy’, in Marianne Heiberg, Brendan O’Leary and John Tirman (eds), Terror, Insurgency and the State: Ending Protracted Conflicts, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007; Magnus Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research: Challenges and Priorities’, in Magnus Ranstorp (ed.), Mapping Terrorism Research: State of the Art, Gaps and Future Direction, London, Routledge, 2006.

5 Here too the scare marks are intended to signal that what such a ‘critical turn’ entails is contested. For debates about what ‘critical’ entails (or should entail) in the cognate field of Critical Security Studies (on which I draw in making my argument), see e.g. Steve Smith, ‘The Contested Concept of Security’, in Ken Booth (ed.), Critical Security Studies and World Politics, Boulder, CO, Lynne Rienner, 2004; Ken Booth, ‘Beyond Critical Security Studies’, in Booth, Critical Security Studies; Michael Williams and Keith Krause, ‘Preface’, in Michael Krause and Keith Williams (eds), Critical Security Studies, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1997; Kimberly Hutchings, ‘The Nature of Critique in Critical International Relations Theory’, in Richard Wyn Jones (ed.), Critical Theory and World Politics, London, Lynne Rienner, 2001.

6 There is some disagreement over whether a clearly delineated ‘terrorism studies’ field exists (hence the scare marks). Silke and Horgan use the more ambiguous term ‘terrorism research’, with Horgan actively arguing against the creation of a separate ‘discipline’ on the grounds that this would limit the necessity for interdisciplinarity (e.g. Andrew Silke, ‘An Introduction to Terrorism Research’, in Silke, Research on Terrorism; John Horgan, ‘Understanding Terrorism: Old Assumptions, New Assertions, and Challenges for Research’, in J. Victoroff (ed.), Tangled Roots: Social and Psychological Factors in the Genesis of Terrorism, Nato Security through Science Series, Amsterdam, IOS Press/NATO Public Diplomacy Division, 2006, pp. 2–3). Ranstorp and Gordon talk explicitly about a ‘terrorism studies field’, but Gordon laments that the field is too fragmented and missed the opportunity to become a self-consciously established field in the aftermath of 9/11 ( Gordon, Avishag, ‘Terrorism as an Academic Subject after 9/11’, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, 28: 1 (2005), pp. 4650, 55–8; Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research’). One can, nevertheless, tentatively identify a core of authors who write regularly in the main ‘terrorism’ journals and whose names typically appear on course reading lists (for a tentative list of these authors, see e.g. Andrew Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled: Recent Trends in Terrorism Research’, in Silke, Research on Terrorism, p. 192). Around this core is a much wider, more fluid field of authors who see themselves as contributing to the debate on ‘terrorism’ but who may not necessarily see themselves as belonging to a ‘terrorism studies field’. Outside these two circles are those who, while writing on ‘terrorism’, explicitly remain aloof from such a field because they do not identify with either the term ‘terrorism’ or the ideological and methodological associations that are believed to come with belonging to a ‘terrorism studies field’ (which is the subject of the second half of this article). I will use the terms ‘terrorism field’, ‘terrorism studies’ and ‘terrorism research’ interchangeably.

7 ‘Policy relevance’ should of course not be judged simply in terms of whether policy actually changes or whether the research is ‘relevant’ to the ruling elite. The point is that this form of research is driven by a need to engage in issues of public policy.

8 See note 6.

9 Alex Schmid and Albert Jongman, Political Terrorism: A New Guide to Actors, Authors, Concepts, Data Bases, Theories and Literature, Amsterdam, North-Holland Publishing, 1988, p. 179.

10 Silke, ‘An Introduction to Terrorism Research’, pp. 61–5.

11 Cf. also John Horgan, ‘The Search for the Terrorist Personality’, in Andrew Silke (ed.), Terrorists, Victims and Society: Psychological Perspectives on Terrorism and its Consequences, Chichester, Wiley, 2003, p. 30ff.

12 Conference paper presented at ‘Is it Time for a Critical Terrorism Studies?’, University of Manchester/University of Aberystwyth, October 2006. See also Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research’, pp. 6–7; O’Leary and Silke, ‘Bridging Research and Policy’, p. 394.

13 Cf. Bruce Hoffman, Al-Qaeda, Trends in Terrorism, and Future Potentialities: An Assessment, Washington, DC, RAND, 2003; Walter Laqueur, Voices of Terror: Manifestos, Writings, and Manuals of Al Qaeda, Hamas, and Other Terrorists from Around the World and Throughout the Ages, New York, Reed Press, 2004; Raphael Israeli, ‘Hamas Charter’, The 1988–1989 Annual on Terrorism, Dordrecht, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 1990.

14 Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled’ pp. 207–9. See also R. D. Crelinsten, ‘Terrorism as Political Communication: The Relationship Between the Controller and the Controlled’, in Paul Wilkinson and Alasdair Stewart (eds), Contemporary Research on Terrorism, Aberdeen, Aberdeen University Press, 1987, pp. 4–6.

15 Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research’, p. 7; Donatella della Porta, Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State: A Comparative Analysis of Italy and Germany, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 5–7.

16 Silke raised this at the October 2006 ‘Is it Time for a Critical Terrorism Studies?’ conference.

17 O’Leary and Silke, ‘Bridging Research and Policy’, p. 393. Related to this are the issue of language skills, and the reported decline of language and area studies (cf. Francis Fukuyama, ‘How Academia Failed the Nation: The Decline of Regional Studies’, in SAISPHERE 2003; Anoush Ehteshami, ‘Report – Middle Eastern Studies in the United Kingdom: A Challenge for Government, Industry and the Academic Community’, in BRISMES; Victor King, ‘Defining Southeast Asia and the Crisis in Area Studies: Personal Reflections on a Region’, Working Paper No 13, Centre for East and South-East Asian Studies, Lund University, Sweden, 2005).

18 Sidney Tarrow, ‘Foreword’, in della Porta, Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State, p. vii. Cf. also Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled’, pp. 207–10; della Porta implies this in Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State (pp. 5–7); Weinberg and Richardson remark that ‘the study of terrorism has largely been an a-theoretical undertaking’ (Leonard Weinberg and Louise Richardson, ‘Conflict Theory and the Trajectory of Terrorist Campaigns in Western Europe’, in Silke, Research on Terrorism, p. 138).

19 Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled’, pp. 207–9.

20 Horgan commenting on an earlier draft of this article.

21 Cf. Taylor, Max and Horgan, John, ‘A Conceptual Framework for Addressing Psychological Process in the Development of the Terrorist’, Terrorism and Political Violence 18: 4 (2006); Gerald Cromer, ‘Analogies to Terror: The Construction of Social Problems in Israel During the Intifada Al Aqsa’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 18: 3 (2006); some of the articles in Tore Bjørgo (ed.), Root Causes of Terrorism: Myths, Reality and Ways Forward, London, Routledge, 2005.

22 Cf. Haider-Markel, Donald, Joslyn, Mark and Al-Baghal, Mohammad Tarek, ‘Can We Frame the Terrorist Threat? Issue Frames, the Perception of Threat, and Opinions on Counterterrorism Policies’, Terrorism and Political Violence 18: 4 (2006); Dipak Gupta and Kusum Mundra, ‘Suicide Bombing as a Strategic Weapon: An Empirical Investigation of Hamas and Islamic Jihad’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 17: 4 (2005); some of the articles in the human rights special issue of the more critical contributions in Bjørgo, Root Causes. Both these issues were raised by the papers presented by Richard Jackson and Marie Breen Smyth at the October 2006 ‘Is it Time for a Critical Terrorism Studies?’ conference.

23 Edward Herman and Gerry O'Sullivan, The Terrorism Industry: The Experts and Institutions That Shape Our View of Terror, New York, Pantheon, 1990; Alexander George, ‘The Discipline of Terrorology’, in Alexander George (ed.), Western State Terrorism, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1991.

24 Schmid and Jongman, Political Terrorism, p. 182.

25 Crelinsten, ‘Terrorism as Political Communication’, pp. 3–4; Silke, ‘An Introduction to Terrorism Research’, pp. 15–19; O’Leary and Silke, ‘Bridging Research and Policy’, pp. 392–3. See also Burnett, Jonny and Whyte, Dave, ‘Embedded Expertise and the New Terrorism’, Journal for Crime, Conflict and the Media, 1: 4 (2005).

26 Cf. Gaetano Ilardi, ‘Redefining the Issues: The Future of Terrorism Research and the Search for Empathy’, in Silke, Research on Terrorism; Joseba Zulaika, ‘Read My Terror: Towards a Critical Terrorism Studies’, keynote address, ‘Is it Time for a Critical Terrorism Studies?’, Universities of Manchester/Aberystwyth, October 2006.

27 For an example of the disciplinary power of research practices, cf. Michel Foucault, Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason, London, Tavistock Publications, 1967.

28 Cf. Silke, ‘An Introduction to Terrorism Research’, pp. 15–19; Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled’, pp. 187–96, 209–10; O’Leary and Silke, ‘Bridging Research and Policy’, pp. 390–5; Schmid and Jongman, Political Terrorism, pp. 177–82.

29 Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled’, p. 191. See also note 6 above.

30 Cf. the ESRC's ‘New Security Challenges Programme’ (; or the Norwegian government's funding of a ‘critical’ study of insurgent conflicts involving terroristic tactics (Heiberg, O’Leary and Tirman, Terror, Insurgency and the State).

31 See for example Horgan's critique of much of what has been written on ‘terrorist psychology’ (Horgan, ‘The Search for the Terrorist Personality’).

32 Crelinsten and Apter hint at this in their seminal articles but do not develop the point (Crelinsten, ‘Terrorism as Political Communication’; David Apter, ‘Political Violence in Analytical Perspective’, in David Apter (ed.), The Legitimization of Violence, London, Macmillan Press, 1997).

33 Cox, Robert, ‘Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10: 2 (1981), p. 129.

34 By ‘explicitly critical’ I mean that Crelinsten identifies himself with the ‘critical’ tradition in the social sciences, in this case interactionism which draws on Gramsci, Foucault and constructivism (Crelinsten, ‘Terrorism as Political Communication’, pp. 3–23).

35 E.g. Leonard Weinberg and Ami Pedahzur, Political Parties and Terrorist Groups, London, Routledge, 2003; Martha Crenshaw, ‘Thoughts on Relating Terrorism to Historical Contexts’, in Martha Crenshaw (ed.), Terrorism in Context, University Park, PN, Pennsylvania State University Press, 1995. I here interpret ‘critical’ loosely.

36 Schmid and Horgan are on the editorial board of Terrorism and Political Violence and have recently moved to the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St Andrews, long considered one of the hubs of ‘traditional terrorism studies’. Silke is the Director of Terrorism Studies at the University of East London and has worked for the Home Office on ‘terrorism’. Some other ‘critical’ voices include, in no particular order, Zulaika and Douglass (Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass, Terror and Taboo: The Follies, Fables and Faces of Terrorism, London, Routledge, 1996); Ross and Gurr ( Ross, Jeffrey and Gurr, Ted, ‘Why Terrorism Subsides’, Comparative Politics, 21: 4 (1989)); Stohl (e.g. Raymond Duvall and Michael Stohl, ‘Governance by Terror’, in Michael Stohl (ed.), The Politics of Terrorism, New York, Marcel Dekker, 1988); Apter (Apter, ‘Political Violence in Analytical Perspective’); Weinberg and Pedahzur (e.g. Weinberg and Pedahzur, Political Parties and Terrorist Groups). Some of these (e.g. Ross, Gurr, Stohl and Apter) never published in the two core ‘terrorism’ journals identified by Silke.

37 Cox's ‘problem-solving’–‘critical’ dichotomy can be traced back to Horkheimer's distinction between ‘traditional’ and ‘critical theory’ ( Hoffman, Mark, ‘Critical Theory and the Inter-Paradigm Debate’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 16: 2 (1987), pp. 237–8).

38 Even though they are not formally part of the ‘terrorism field’ and some are ‘critical’, the sum of their contributions has helped to create a ‘terrorism discourse’ that is predominantly ‘problem-solving’.

39 The following is a summary of the points made about ‘problem-solving’ approaches generally in Cox, ‘Social Forces’, pp. 128–30; Hoffman, ‘Critical Theory and the Inter-Paradigm Debate’, pp. 231–8; Krause and Williams, ‘From Strategy to Security: Foundations of Critical Security Studies’, in Krause and Williams, Critical Security Studies.

40 Cf. debates in Krause and Williams, Critical Security Studies; Booth, Critical Security Studies and World Politics; etc.

41 Scholars displaying a broadly ‘traditional’ approach could be said to include, among others, Peter Chalk, Richard Clutterbuck, Rohan Gunaratna, Bruce Hoffman, Raphael Israeli, Brian Jenkins, Walter Laqueur, Robert Pape, Jerrold Post, Marc Sageman, Claire Sterling, Paul Wilkinson. Not all are equally ‘traditional’. Chalk, Pape and Sageman display a mixture of ‘traditional’ and ‘critical’ characteristics. While operating within a largely ‘problem-solving’ framework, Chalk historicizes ‘West European Terrorism’, acknowledges that states have used ‘political terror’ and discusses how immigration and terrorism have become discursively linked (Peter Chalk, West European Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism: The Evolving Dynamic, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1996, pp. 18–21, 25–63, 144–50). Pape discusses the role occupational practices of democracies have played in producing ‘suicide terrorism’ but does not adopt an explicitly human security approach (Robert Pape, Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism, New York, Random House, 2005). The ‘critical’ vs. ‘problem-solving’ dichotomy is thus better conceptualized as a continuum, with scholars such as Chalk, Pape and Sageman coming close to those I have categorized as ‘critical’ on the ground that they historicize and problematize dichotomies and consider human security, but who share some of the ‘traditional’ approach's attitudes towards problem-solving and the state (e.g. Crenshaw and Weinberg).

42 Zulaika, ‘Read My Terror’, p. 51.

43 Ibid., p. 32.

44 Ilardi makes a similar point when he calls for more empathy in terrorism research (Ilardi, ‘Redefining the Issues’, pp. 218–20, 223–5). The relative absence of interviews in ‘terrorism research’ can obviously not solely be attributed to the prevalence of ‘problem-solving’ approaches. Security and practical concerns (such as language skills) play an important role, as does the fact that not all theoretical perspectives give interviews a central methodological place. But a ‘problem-solving’ perspective, with its emphasis on the state and its discourses, does facilitate the view, expressed to me without nuance by a ‘terrorism’ expert at a St Andrews conference, that Israeli interrogations of Hamas prisoners were a much more reliable source than personal interviews with free Hamas leaders as in the latter case they were more likely to dissimulate. Short-termism similarly encourages the view that former ‘terrorists’ are not worth talking to (which, Horgan observed in his comments on an earlier draft of this paper, is one of the reasons why ‘terrorism experts’ so seldom use interviews).

45 Cf. the search for a Soviet connection behind European and Middle Eastern ‘terrorism’ during the Cold War, and the focus on Iranian-sponsored ‘terrorism’ since the 1980s (e.g. Claire Sterling, The Terror Network: The Secret War of International Terrorism, New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1981; Edgar O’Ballance, Islamic Fundamentalist Terrorism, 1979–95: The Iranian Connection, London, Palgrave Macmillan, 1996); cf. also the focus on the ‘usual suspects’ such as Libya, Iran, etc. in ‘traditional’ discussions of state terrorism (e.g. Walter Laqueur, The Age of Terrorism, Boston, Little, Brown, 1987, pp. 266–97; Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, London, Indigo, 1999, pp. 185–96). None of this is to deny that states sponsor terrorism. At issue here is the selective focus on states that are both considered (semi-)authoritarian and enemies of the West and/or liberal democracy (see also George, ‘The Discipline of Terrorology’).

46 Cf. Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled’, p. 209; Crenshaw and della Porta similarly imply this (Crenshaw, Terrorism in Context, pp. ix, 12–19; della Porta, Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State, pp. 4–7).

47 Epitomizing this approach, the official 9/11 report reserved only three out of several hundred pages to discuss the ‘Roots of al-Qaeda’ (National Comission, The 9/11 Commission Report, London, W. W. Norton, 2004). This point was brought to my attention by Harmonie Toros.

48 See note 18.

49 Cf. also Horgan, ‘Understanding Terrorism’, p. 77.

50 Crelinsten makes a similar point (Crelinsten, ‘Terrorism as Political Communication’, pp. 4–6). American political and academic discourse in the wake of 9/11 is an example of exceptionalism that served to marginalize any previous experience of counter-terrorism and justify exceptional measures (cf. Richard Jackson, Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-Terrorism, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2005). More broadly, terrorism research has shown a tendency to depict its topic as somehow sui generis, different from other forms of political behaviour and thus rendering cognate theories useless.

51 Cf. Hoffman, Inside Terrorism, pp. 87–130.

52 Crenshaw, Terrorism, Legitimacy, and Power: The Consequences of Political Violence, Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 1983, pp. 10–11; cf. also O’Leary and Silke's observation that ‘governments and insurgents generally negotiate even though they say they never will’ (O’Leary and Silke, ‘Bridging Research and Policy’, pp. 416–18).

53 Cf. ‘Ideally, the objective of negotiations should be to move the parties from violence to pacific politics and bring the armed non-state actor into the political mainstream and under the rule of law. There tends to be an assumption that governments are already compliant with the rule of law and human rights – at least compared with rebel groups. This assumption can distort dynamics if the reverse is true in the experience of the population, but the negotiations proceed on the basis of assumed government compliance with assumed regular rebel abuse as a norm’ (L. Philipson, ‘Engaging Armed Groups: The Challenge of Asymmetries’, in R. Ricigliano (ed.), Choosing to Engage: Armed Groups and Peace Processes, London, Conciliation Resources, 2005); see also Spector, B. I., ‘Negotiating with Villains Revisited: Research Note’, International Negotiation, 8 (2003), p. 616.I am indebted to Harmonie Toros for bringing these sources to my attention.

54 Cf. Cox's observation that ‘problem-solving’ approaches are good in ‘fix[ing] limits … to a problem area and to reduce the statement of a particular problem to a limited number of variables which are amenable to relatively close and precise examination’ (Cox, ‘Social Forces’, p. 129). Examples of rigorous and informative ‘traditional terrorism research’ are Chalk, West European Terrorism; Marc Sageman, Understanding Terror Networks, Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004; and Pape, Dying to Win (although this is in part because these authors display some key ‘critical’ attitudes, such as a readiness to historicize and consider the negative impact of state policies).

55 Williams and Krause, ‘Preface’, pp. xiii–xvi; Krause and Williams, ‘From Strategy to Security’, pp. 51–2.

56 Williams and Krause, ‘Preface’, p. xvi.

57 See notes 41 and 54.

58 See Silke's description of three levels of knowledge and his comment that ‘traditional’ terrorism studies has not progressed beyond these levels to producing much explanatory or predictive knowledge (Andrew Silke, ‘The Devil You Know’, in Silke, Research on Terrorism, p. 58).

59 Cf. Marie Smyth and Marie-Therese Fay, Personal Accounts from Northern Ireland's Troubles: Public Conflict, Private Loss, London, Pluto Press, 2000; Paddy Hillyard, Suspect Community: People's Experience of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain, London, Pluto Press, 1993. For a definition of ‘structural violence’ see Galtung, John, ‘Violence, Peace and Peace Research’, Journal of Peace Research, 6: 3 (1969).

60 Cf. Crenshaw, Terrorism in Context; della Porta, Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State; Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research’, pp. 14–15.

61 Cf. Donatella della Porta, Social Movements and Violence: Participation in Underground Organizations, vol. 4, International Social Movement Research, London, JAI Press, 1992); della Porta, Social Movements, Political Violence, and the State; Glenn Robinson, ‘Hamas as Social Movement’, in Quintan Wiktorowicz (ed.), Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, 2004; Jeroen Gunning, Hamas in Politics: Democracy, Religion, Violence, London, Hurst, 2007.

62 Cf. Stuart Croft, Culture, Crisis and America's War on Terror, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2006; Jackson, Writing the War on Terrorism; Zulaika and Douglass, Terror and Taboo.

63 Cf. what makes it possible for groups such as the Lebanese Hizbollah to depict the Holocaust as a fabrication or an exaggeration without losing credibility with their constituency.

64 Cf. John Paul Lederach, ‘Quo Vadis? Reframing Terror from the Perspective of Conflict Resolution’, in Townhall Meeting, University of California, Irvine, 2001). I am indebted to Harmonie Toros for this point.

65 Sara Roy, Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, London, Pluto Press, 2006, p. viii.

66 Cf. Allen Feldman, Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1991; Smyth and Fay, Personal Accounts from Northern Ireland's Troubles; Zulaika and Douglass, Terror and Taboo; Fontan, Victoria, ‘Polarization between Occupier and Occupied in Post-Saddam Iraq: Colonial Humiliation and the Formation of Political Violence’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 18: 2 (2006); Gunning, Hamas in Politics. Cf. also Jessica Stern, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, New York, Ecco/HarperCollins, 2004.

67 Louise Richardson, What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Terrorist Threat, London, John Murray, 2006, p. 2.

68 A distinction between ‘terrorist’ and ‘guerrilla’ would work only within a definitional framework such as that proposed by Ganor, who distinguishes between ‘terrorist’ and ‘guerrilla’ (Boaz Ganor, ‘Defining Terrorism: Is One Man's Terrorist Another Man's Freedom Fighter?’, in ICT Research Report, Herzliya, International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism, 2001).

69 For definition of ‘structural violence’, see note 59.

70 Cf. my analysis of the various reasons for Hamas's decision to declare a ceasefire in 2003 and 2005 that would be incomplete without an understanding of the impact of changes in the views of Hamas’s constituency and Palestinian society more generally (Gunning, Hamas in Politics, ch. 6).

71 Cf. John Paul Lederach, Paul Rogers and William Zartman in conflict resolution/transformation studies; Allen Feldman, Marianne Heiberg, Carolyn Nordstrom, John Sidel and Jonathan Spencer in social anthropology; social movement scholars in della Porta (ed.), Participation in Underground Organizations; area studies scholars in Heiberg, Tirman and O’Leary, Terror, Insurgency and the State; psychologists and criminologists in Silke, Terrorists, Victims and Society.

72 Out of 3,648 articles discussing ‘terrorism’, 2,864 (79%) were published outside the core ‘terrorism studies’ field against 784 (21%) inside it. See Avishag Gordon, ‘Terrorism and Knowledge Growth: A Databases and Internet Analysis’, in Silke, Research on Terrorism, p. 109.

73 I refer here to the NUPI-SSRC study edited by Heiberg, O’Leary and Tirman, Terror, Insurgency and the State. Kirsten Schulze is the only area specialist who has published in one of the two core terrorism journals (Silke, who has similarly published in one of these two journals was also involved in the project but not as an area specialist). Lack of identification with ‘terrorism studies’ as a field may also be one of the reasons why so many of those publishing in ‘terrorism studies’ journals are, in Silke's words, ‘transients’ or ‘one-timers’ (covering 83% of articles surveyed; Silke, ‘The Road Less Travelled’, pp. 191, 211).

74 More research needs to be carried out into the reasons behind this phenomenon. But, based on personal observation and anecdotal information, I would hazard that scholars such as Halliday, Dalacoura, (Sara) Roy, (Olivier) Roy, Burgat, Esposito, etc., have not sought to publish in the core ‘terrorism’ journals because of the contested nature of the term ‘terrorism’, the political use it has been put to in the Middle East, and the belief – widespread outside ‘terrorism studies’ – that ‘terrorism studies’ is a theoretically barren, ideologically compromised field.

75 See previous footnote.

76 Cf. also Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research’, p. 8.

77 Much of the literature on Hamas pre-2001 does not engage with ‘terrorism studies’ (e.g. Ziad Abu-Amr, Islamic Fundamentalism in the West Bank and Gaza: Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad, Bloomington, IN, Indiana University Press, 1994; Beverley Milton-Edwards, Islamic Politics in Palestine, London, Tauris Academic Studies, 1996; Andrea Nüsse, Muslim Palestine: The Ideology of Hamas, Amsterdam, Harwood Academic, 1998; Khaled Hroub, Hamas: Political Thought and Practice, Washington, DC, Institute for Palestine Studies, 2000; Shaul Mishal and Avraham Sela, The Palestinian Hamas: Vision, Violence, and Coexistence, New York, Columbia University Press, 2000).

78 Tentative evidence of this trend can be found in the influx of ‘new’ scholars, already established in their own cognate fields, into the core terrorism journals (although it remains to be seen how many of these will, in Silke's words, be ‘one-timers’); the increase in papers on ‘terrorism’ at the annual conferences of ‘mainstream’ academic associations such as BISA, ISA, PSA; and the mixture of ‘old-timers’ and ‘newcomers’ (often well established in their cognate disciplines) at ‘terrorism’ conferences such as the International Summit on Democracy, Terrorism and Security organized by the Club de Madrid in March 2005 in Madrid. See also Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research’, p. 12.

79 The various recent reviews of the terrorism literature are an illustration of this.

80 Within the field of Middle Eastern studies, for instance, more scholars appear to be willing to engage terrorism studies than before.

81 Hillyard, Suspect Community.

82 Quoted in Silke, ‘The Devil You Know’, p. 69.

83 This is not to deny that certain practices of Hamas and Hizbollah are morally unjustifiable (at least within a ‘critical’ perspective which is concerned with the human security of all concerned, whether Israeli or Palestinian). My focus here is on the political usage of the term to construct a ‘reality’ in which Israel is depicted as wholly legitimate and ‘good’, against Hamas and Hizbollah as wholly illegitimate and ‘evil’.

84 Ross and Gurr, ‘Why Terrorism Subsides’; della Porta, ‘Left-Wing Terrorism in Italy’, in Crenshaw, Terrorism in Context, pp. 110–14. See Gunning, Hamas in Politics.

85 Hayward Alker, ‘Emancipation in the Critical Security Studies Project’, in Booth, Critical Security Studies, p. 202.

86 Richard Wyn Jones, ‘On Emancipation: Necessity, Capacity, and Concrete Utopias’, in Booth, Critical Security Studies, pp. 217–20; Alker, ‘Emancipation’, p. 192. Hutchings makes the same point differently by arguing that all ‘critical’ traditions are ‘oriented towards freedom’ (Hutchings, ‘The Nature of Critique’, p. 89).

87 Alker, ‘Emancipation’, p. 202; Wyn Jones, ‘On Emancipation’, p. 219.

88 Hutchings, ‘The Nature of Critique’, p. 83.

89 Wyn Jones, ‘On Emancipation’, p. 230.

90 Hutchings, ‘The Nature of Critique’, p. 90.

91 Booth, ‘Introduction to Part 3 (Emancipation)’, in Booth, Critical Security Studies, p. 182.

92 Cf. also Alker, ‘Emancipation’, pp. 200–1; Ayoob's critique of Booth, quoted in Smith, ‘The Contested Concept of Security’, p. 44.

93 Bob Lambert, head of the Metropolitan Police Muslim Contact Unit, similarly called for such engagement at the October 2006 ‘Is it Time for a Critical Terrorism Studies?’ conference. Two possible approaches to the tension between universalism and cultural particularity can be found in Butler's notion of a ‘not-yet arrived universality’ and Walzer's reiterative universalism (Judith Butler, ‘Universality in Culture’, in Joshua Cohen (ed.), For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism – Martha C. Nussbaum with Respondents, Boston, Beacon Press, 1996, pp. 46–9, 52; Michael Walzer, ‘Nation and Universe’, in Grethe Peterson (ed.), The Tanner Lectures on Human Values Vol. XI, Salt Lake City, University of Utah Press, 1990).

94 Cox, ‘Social Forces’, pp. 129–30; Hoffman, ‘Critical Theory’, pp. 237–8.

95 Cf. Booth, ‘Beyond Critical Security Studies’, p. 275, Williams and Krause, ‘Preface’, pp. xiii–xvi.

96 Booth, ‘Beyond Critical Security Studies’, p. 263. Booth similarly argues that any ‘critical’ project (a critical security theory, in his case) should be policy relevant: ‘it is essential to ask what it means for real people in real places. What, for example, does one's theorizing mean for the people(s) of the Balkans, women in east Africa, the prospects for the poorest classes in some region … ?’ (pp. 274–5). See also Cox, ‘Social Forces’, p. 130.

97 Williams and Krause, ‘Preface’, pp. xiii–xvi.

98 A potentially more intractable problem is the issue highlighted by Rengger that ‘the demand that theory must have a praxial dimension itself runs the risk of collapsing critical theory back into traditional theory by making it dependent on instrumental conceptions of rationality’ (N.J. Rengger, ‘Negative Dialectic? The Two Modes of Critical Theory in World Politics’, in Wyn Jones, Critical Theory, pp. 102–3). Rengger hints at the possibility of an alternative ‘critical’ route that is ‘not so hostile to instrumental rationality per se and therefore more able to put together strategy and tactics in both intellectually and politically fertile ways’ (p. 107).

99 Cf. also Linklater's argument that ‘critical’ scholars are as relevant as ‘realists’ and that the claim of ‘realists’ to be more representative of ‘reality’ is false (Andrew Linklater, ‘Political Community and Human Society’, in Booth, Critical Security Studies, p. 123).

100 I am referring to the European Commission Expert Group on Violent Radicalisation (

101 Williams and Krause, ‘Preface’, pp. x–xi.

102 Cf. Booth: ‘Reflexivity (“strategic monitoring”), which involves the application of a theory back on its own ideas and practices, is a basic feature of critical theory true to itself’ (Booth, ‘Beyond Critical Security Studies’, p. 259). Cf. also Ilardi, ‘Redefining the Issues’; Zulaika, ‘Read My Terror’.

103 Cf. Harmonie Toros, ‘Joining Forces: Bringing Peace Research into Terrorism Studies’, conference paper, BISA Annual Conference, Cork, 2006. See also my use of Stedman's spoiler model in helping to explain Hamas ( Gunning, , ‘Peace with Hamas? The Transforming Potential of Political Participation’, International Affairs, 80: 2 (2004); Gunning, Hamas in Politics).

104 Similarly, the notion of ‘emancipation’ must be conceptualized in as inclusive a manner as possible (along the lines suggested above). A similar point was raised by Matt McDonald in the paper he presented at the October 2006 ‘Is it Time for a Critical Terrorism Studies?’ conference.

105 Cf. Booth's critique of the absence of an overarching theory in Critical Security Studies (Booth, ‘Beyond Critical Security Studies’).

106 Cf. also Ranstorp, ‘Mapping Terrorism Research’, pp. 13–14.

107 I use scare marks around ‘knowledge’ to indicate the tension between ‘traditional’, critical theory and postmodernist perceptions of what constitutes ‘knowledge’ (cf. Hutchings, ‘The Nature of Critique’; Rengger, ‘Negative Dialectic?’).

108 Cf. the more critically oriented articles in recent editions of Terrorism and Political Violence ( Silke, , ‘The Role of Suicide in Politics, Conflict, and Terrorism’, Terrorism and Political Violence, 18: 1 (2006); Fontan, ‘Polarization between Occupier and Occupied’; Cromer, ‘Analogies to Terror’).

109 The creation of a master's course dedicated to exploring ‘traditional’ and ‘critical’ approaches to terrorism at the University of Aberystwyth's Department of International Politics is a case in point, as is the establishment of the Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Contemporary Political Violence in Aberystwyth (see Another example is the appointment of more ‘critical’ scholars such as Schmid and Horgan by the previously more ‘traditional’ Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence in St Andrews, and the inclusion of projects with a more ‘critical’ orientation in the Centre's research portfolio (e.g. its research on processes of radicalization; on the ‘Terrorism–Counter-Terrorism Nexus’ and why governmental reactions ‘often result in more terrorism rather than less’; and on when ‘rebels move to other tactics, or combine terrorism with less violent/more legal tactics’; see

1 I would like to thank Ken Booth, Marie Breen Smyth, Stuart Croft, Frazer Egerton, John Horgan, Richard Jackson, Matt McDonald, Harmonie Toros and Michael Williams for their comments on earlier drafts of the paper and for many illuminating discussions on its subject matter.

A Case for Critical Terrorism Studies? 1

  • Jeroen Gunning


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