chapter  1
21 Pages

Mapping terrorism studies after 9/11: An academic field of old problems and new prospects


For almost thirty years the terrorism studies field occupied a marginal position within mainstream academic circles. Only a handful of academics toiled away individually to provide some social scientific meaning and order out of a catalogue of acute terrorism crisis events as they unfolded across time and contexts. This intellectual effort was largely preoccupied with immediate events, academics being engulfed in making sense of evolving trends and in trying to predict what new waves of terrorism would appear on the horizon. Towards these ends, researchers developed various theories of terrorism. They focused principally on the causes of the phenomenon, the evolution and dynamics of terrorist groups, and how to deal with it from a state perspective (Maskaliunaite, 2004). Some argued that ‘the very fact that the subject of terrorism is studied from so many different angles may well be an advantage and not a shortcoming of the field’ (ibid.). It requires increasingly interdisciplinary collaboration, as terrorism in the age of globalization and increased complexity can be characterized, in the words of Nancy Hayden, as a ‘wicked problem’ (Hayden, 2006). As such, it requires knitting together a range of disciplinary approaches outside of international relations and security studies. This social and behavioral research is inherently difficult to conduct as it is ‘socially constructed, culturally specific and changing’ (Stohl, 2005: 28). Others scathingly ‘characterized the field of terrorism studies as stagnant, poorly conceptualized, lacking in rigor, and devoid of adequate theory, data, and methods’ (Stampnitzky, 2007a). As Alex Schmid and Berto Jongman lamented back in 1988: ‘there are probably few areas in the social science literature in which so much is written on the basis of so little research’ (Schmid and Jongman, 1988).