chapter  15
19 Pages

On individual motivations in underground political organizations: Donatella della Porta


The opening volume of this series on “International Social Movement Research”—From Structure to Action (Klandermans, Kriesi and Tarrow 1988)—emphasized the need for research on political mobilization which links processes occurring at different analytical levels, and identifi es connections between social confl icts and individual involvement. The contributors to this volume* have attempted to fi ll this need, following several suggestions from the earlier volume to look at a very special kind of political organization: underground groups. I hope that this collection of papers can broaden the understanding of a phenomenon-normally referred to as “terrorism”—that sociological investigation has, so far, done little to illuminate, despite the enormous number of essays devoted to the topic. The need for deeper insight into individual motivations in the underground-or on “terrorism” tout court-is easy to substantiate. According to one recent commentator, this fi eld of study is characterized by “a disturbing lack of good empiricallygrounded research” (Gurr 1988, p. 115) and by “naive descriptions, speculative commentary and prescriptions for ‘dealing with terrorism’ which would not meet minimum research standards in the more established branches of confl ict and policy analysis” (Gurr 1988, p. 143). Weakness and bias are even more visible in the studies on “terrorists,” which have produced the impression that, to quote Zwerman’s essay in this volume, several authors are “more concerned with generating antipathy toward the subject than with theory or scholarship.” Especially in the seventies, when terrorist activities peaked in several countries, the majority of scientifi c as well as journalistic works presented “terrorists” as crazy people or cold-blooded murderers. In most of these works: “well-known personalities of the terrorist scene [were] utilized as show-pieces for propagating the authors’ own ideas … to denounce the offenders simply as paranoids, neurotics, or psychopaths” (Rasch 1979, p. 79). Analysts therefore showed little interest in explanations of individual motivations, which were considered irrelevant or simply untruthful. To interview militants was then deemed a sign of dangerous symphathy for, or even connivance with, political criminals.