Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

International Relations Theory and the Discourse on Terrorism: Preliminary Reflections on Context and Limits

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

International Relations Theory and the Discourse on Terrorism: Preliminary Reflections on Context and Limits

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This article focuses on the international relations theory context of the contemporary discourse on terrorism. It is contended that the discourse predominantly subscribes to a prevailing global order that is overwhelmed by the complexities of post-international politics, interdependence and structural relations. The discourse is seen to be incarcerated in a conceptual prison, to the extent that scholars of terrorism and politicians dealing with the issue

find it difficult to escape the premise of state predominance and therefore adhere to assumptions about hierarchy, authority, and sovereignty. This theoretical posture exhibits a rationalist bias that marginalises contrasting viewpoints and distorts political rhetoric, practice and policy. To validate these claims, the theoretical landscape that provides the context of the discourse on terrorism is assessed, followed by a reflection on the limits of concepts and perspectives of terrorism within this landscape. Since competing conceptions are, with few excepti ons, mostly underdeveloped, marginalised or even silenced, the opportunity exists for conciliatory theorising and bridge-building.

1. INTRODUCTION

This article addresses the international relations theory context of the contemporary discourse on terrorism. (1) The basic contention is that parsimonious theories of terrorism subscribe to a prevailing global order that is overwhelmed by or oblivious to some of the complexities of post-international politics, the interdependence that sustains it, and the structural relations that underpin it. (2) In addition, it is argued that the discourse on terrorism tends to be rationalist in nature. Within the confines of international relations theory the limits of this rationalist mode of theorising and the conceptualisations that accompany it, curtail a critical and reflectivist approach to the subject matter. The rationalist bias and dominance marginalise contending perspectives and may even distort political rhetoric, practice and policy.

In order to address these claims, this article covers two aspects. (3) On the one hand, it assesses the theoretical landscape of international relations within which the discourse on terrorism is located. On the other hand, within the context of this landscape, it briefly examines the theoretical contours of the discourse. The aim is to indicate that this discourse, not unlike that on other sectoral security concerns, is embedded in and representative of mainstream theorising of a positivist, explanatory and problem-solving nature. In conclusion, since competing conceptions are with few exceptions underdeveloped, marginalised or even silenced, the need and opportunity exist for conciliatory, extra-paradigmatic theorising and bridge-building.

2. STATING THE PROBLEM

Considering the topical nature of terrorism since the events of 11 September 2001, the deluge of divergent interpretations, commentaries and projections is hardly surprising. However, within the political sciences and related disciplines, strategic studies in particular, the phenomenon of terrorism has traditionally been one of the most researched, written-about and topical issue-fields. In addition, within social science disciplines ranging from sociology, through criminology to psychology, and within the fields of theology and law, terrorism has received ample attention. These contributions have also culminated in various multi- and interdisciplinary endeavours to explain and understand terrorism as a threat to state and society; a phenomenon that apparently defies logic, rationality and ethics, as well as most attempts to resolve, contain or deter it. Although several research and government institutions, mostly in Western countries, focus on terrorism as an ongoing concern, public and academic interest in it usually ensues from acts of national and international terror and therefore fluctuates. Hence cataclysmic events as experienced recently add to the incidental and temporary salience of the issue-field. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.