The Big Debates in the Study of Terrorism

The study of terrorism received a massive boost following the 9/11 attacks. In the decade since then, tens of thousands of new books and articles on terrorism have been published. However, despite this massive growth in the field, there is still a great deal we do not know about the phenomenon and its effects, and there are many areas of controversy and dispute between terrorism scholars and experts. In response, me and my colleague, Samuel Justin Sinclair, recently published a book entitled, Contemporary Debates on Terrorism (Routledge, 2012).

A key purpose of this volume is to provide an accessible discussion of  what we believe are twelve key questions which in many ways define the core debates and controversies within the study of terrorism today. The questions we have identified touch upon all the important subjects of terrorism research – how it should be defined and understood as a concept, its main types or categories, the nature of the threat it poses, its origins and causes, and how it should be dealt with and managed over time. The chapters in our new book, written by leading scholars, represent the latest thinking about these core questions. As such, they provide a kind of snapshot or distillation of what we know about terrorism today, what we are still unsure of and where the key lines of debate – and thus where future research – lies.

The format and approach adopted in the book is unique and designed to provoke debate and discussion: in each case, a leading scholar takes a particular position on a given question, followed by an opposing or alternative viewpoint written by another leading scholar.  With a clear and forceful articulation of each side of the argument, the reader is then able to evaluate the relative merits of each set of arguments and make up their own mind. Supplementing the arguments on each side of the controversy, we have provided a follow-up set of discussion questions and recommended readings. This makes it an ideal book for teaching about terrorism, or readers who want to learn about terrorism.

The 12 central questions examined by our experts in the book are:

1. Is terrorism still a useful analytical term or should it be abandoned?

2. Is there a ‘new terrorism’ in existence today?

3. Can states be terrorists?

4. Is terrorism a serious threat to international and national security?

5. Is WMD terrorism a likely prospect in the future?

6. Does al Qaeda continue to pose a serious international threat?

7. Is terrorism the result of root causes such as poverty and exclusion?

8. Is religious extremism a major cause of terrorism?

9. Are counter-terrorism frameworks based on suppression and military force effective in responding to terrorism?

10. Is the use of coercive interrogation or torture permissible and effective as a counter-terrorism method?

11. Is the targeted assassination of terrorist suspects an effective response to terrorism?

12. Have global efforts to reduce terrorism and political violence been effective in the past decade?


The illustrious list of scholars contributing to the volume includes:

Jeffrey Addicott

Alejandra Bolanos

Robert Brecher

Dominic Bryan

Natividad Carpintero-Santamaría

Stephanie Carvin

Mark Cochrane

Jeffrey B. Cozzens

Isabelle Duyvesteyn

Boaz Ganor

Jeffrey Goodwin

Dipak K. Gupta

Graham R. Huesmann

L. Rowell Huesmann

Lee Jarvis

Ian S. Lustick

James and Brenda Lutz

Leena Malkki

Fathali M. Moghaddam

Rachel Monaghan

John Mueller

Amanda Munroe

Magnus Ranstorp

Paul Rogers

Andrew Silke

Michael Stohl

Paul Wilkinson

We believe the book is a useful introduction to the subject, and makes an important contribution to the study of terrorism. Some of the positive comments we’ve had about the book include:

Few topics have stimulated as much public debate as contemporary terrorism. What, if anything, does the word itself mean? Where did it come from? How serious a threat does it pose, and to whom? What are the best means for stopping it or at least mitigating its effects? Jackson and Sinclair have assembled an outstanding group of scholars who debate the answers to these and other questions  in a way that provides readers with clear understandings of both the complexity of the problems involved and alternative ways of solving them.’ — Leonard Weinberg, University of Nevada

‘This is a comprehensive, thought-provoking and fascinating volume. It provides the reader with conflicting views on terrorism and terrorism related phenomena. The authors are prominent scholars who offer fascinating arguments in a lucid style. This is the kind of scholarship that every individual who has an interest in terrorism should follow’ Professor Ami Pedahzur, University of Texas at Austin, USA

‘This is an impressive collection of essays on a number of critically important debates on terrorism and political violence by an outstanding group of scholars. Incredibly rich, sober and mature in analysis Contemporary Debates on Terrorism is an excellent addition to the currently available literature and deserves to be read not only by academic specialists but also by security analysts, policy makers and general readers concerned about international security issues.’ — George Kassimeris, University of Wolverhampton, UK

Contemporary Debates on Terrorism presents a lively and informative selection of central debates which exemplify the modern terrorist environment. Jackson and Sinclair have assembled an exceptionally qualified panel of experts who articulately address critical issues defining the nature of present-day terrorism. Questions posed by the authors, and the robust positions taken by experts in this field, are guaranteed to stimulate critical thinking and quality discussions among readers.’ — Gus Martin, California State University, USA

Please check it out. We hope you enjoy it and find it helpful.

About richardjacksonterrorismblog

I am currently the Deputy Director of the National Peace and Conflict Studies Centre at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Prior to this, I was Professor of International Politics at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. I study and teach on issues of terrorism, political violence, conflict resolution and war. I have published several books on these topics, including: Terrorism: A Critical Introduction (Palgrave-Macmillan, 2011; co-authored with Lee Jarvis, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth); Contemporary State Terrorism: Theory and Cases (Abingdon: Routledge, 2010; edited by Richard Jackson, Eamon Murphy and Scott Poynting); Critical Terrorism Studies: A New Research Agenda (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009; edited by Richard Jackson, Marie Breen Smyth and Jeroen Gunning); Conflict Resolution in the Twenty-first Century: Principles, Methods and Approaches (Ann Arbor MI: Michigan University Press, 2009; co-authored with Jacob Bercovitch); and Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counterterrorism (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005). I am also the editor-in-chief of the academic journal, Critical Studies on Terrorism.
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One Response to The Big Debates in the Study of Terrorism

  1. Pingback: The sham “terrorism expert” industry - M a n i f e s t L i b e r t y

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