Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

New Directions for Terrorism Research

Academic journal article International Journal of Comparative Sociology

New Directions for Terrorism Research

Article excerpt


We have two general goals. First, we want to urge terrorism researchers to take a more comparative approach than has been used previously, as the presence of an earlier wave of terrorism, the largely anarchist inspired events of 1878-1914, suggest that terrorism not only bunches but may cycle. Given the number of international conditions that seem to correlate with these two waves (hegemonic decline, globalization, 'Empire,' and so forth), we may be dealing with cycles of terrorism, rather than isolated periods (for a further elaboration of this idea, see Bergesen and Lizardo, 2002, 2004, 2005; Lizardo and Bergesen, 2003). If this is the case, then terrorism research should include in its analysis comparative studies of different outbreaks, or waves, of terrorism. We present a research agenda for such an analysis with suggestions for comparisons at different levels of analysis, from the individual terrorist event through waves to spirals of waves over time.

Second, we suggest a new direction for the conceptualization and the measurement of distinctly transnational terrorism. A technique is presented that allows the measurement of different states of the globalization or international spread of terrorist incidents. Some preliminary data then are gathered to examine the transnational spread of terrorist incidents. We use the terms transnational and international interchangeably, as in the literature both terms are used for terrorist events where the perpetrator or target are from different countries. Before we turn to these research suggestions, we begin with a review of definitions of terrorism.

Definitions of Terrorism

Much of the early work in terrorism research centered upon various definitions (see the discussions in Cooper, 2001: Gibbs, 1989; Hoffman, 1999; Jenkins, 2001; Ruby, 2002; Schmid and Jongman, 1988; Senechal de la Roche, 1996, 2001), but as Jenkins (2001) notes, a consensus seems to be emerging on the definition of terrorism. For example, academic researchers Walter Enders and Todd Sandler (2002b) argue terrorism involves a focus upon underlying political, social, or religious motives, as its violence is separable from crime, personal vengeance, or the act of someone mentally deranged. The act itself seems to involve attempts at influencing an audience, which is often not that of the victims themselves. Terrorism is also most often directed toward noncombatants or civilians and is 'random,' so that everyone feels at risk. For such terrorists:

   Terrorism is the premeditated use or threat of use of extranormal
   violence or brutality by subnational groups to obtain a political,
   religious, or ideological objective through intimidation of a huge
   audience, usually not directly involved with the policy making
   that the terrorists seek to influence. (Enders and Sandler, 2002b:

Government institutions, such as the US Department of State, define terrorism somewhat similarly, as 'politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience' (Ruby, 2002: 10). And, interestingly enough, this is quite similar to Chomsky's (2001: 19) definition: 'Terrorism is the use of coercive means aimed at populations in an effort to achieve political, religious, or other aims.' Similar to these is Stern's (1999: 30) definition of terrorism as 'an act or threat of violence against non-combatants, with the objective of intimidating or otherwise influencing an audience or audiences.' The point is that academic researchers, government agencies, and critics of American foreign policy increasingly seem to agree about the essence of terrorism. This conception leaves open questions of motivation and ideology, which is important for researchers who wish to focus comparatively upon different historical periods and must be flexible enough to include the ideology of anarchists and social revolutionaries at the end of the 19th century and fundamental Islamic beliefs in the early 21st century. …

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