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Critical Terrorism Studies is a controversial new sub-discipline of Terrorism studies. It attempts to encourage criticism of the discipline of Terrorism studies itself and to widen debate by Terrorism studies researchers in part by applying insights from Critical Theory generally and the Frankfurt School in particular.


The need for Critical Terrorism Studies was first proposed in an article - The Case for a Critical Terrorism Studies[1] by Richard Jackson, Jeroen Gunning and Marie Breen Smyth published in European Political Science. This followed the establishment of a working group and conference in 2006 under the auspices of the British International Studies Association. Further work has led to the creation of a new journal - Critical Studies in Terrorism - published by Routledge (Magnus Ranstorp is also on the editorial board).

Areas of research

Jackson, Gunning and Smyth claim that the western state-centrism of Terrorism studies and the surrounding discourse has led to a "moral certitude" and a reluctance to consider the motivations of terrorists. The orthodox discourse which casts all terrorists as evil (rather than their acts) eliminates opportunities for consideration of motivation because of the risk of appearing to justify or condone their actions. Within this framework attempts to examine the motivations of terrorists can be labeled apologetics and dismissed or researchers themselves can be demonized.

Other areas of research and criticism include:

  • problems with the scholarly definition of Terrorism itself. (Jackson claims there are over 200 definitions[2])
  • methodological problems with Terrorism research.
  • cultural biases in examining the subject of Terrorism
  • sources of funding for Terrorism related research and the organizations they belong to (particularly private think tanks and government security agencies)
  • the failure of Terrorism studies to consider its own epistemological and ontological foundations, particularly from a social constructivist perspective.

Terrorism definitions - retail terror vs state and state sponsored terror

An important criticism of orthodox terrorism studies is the distinction made between non state terror or anti western non state terror and state (or state sponsored) terror. David Miller argued in his 2006 article - Terrorism studies' and the war on dissent[3] - that this distinction should be one of the principal focuses of critical terrorism studies.

Noam Chomsky in a 1986 interview argued that the word "terrorism" had been redefined in political and popular discourse to only refer to the violent acts of small or marginal groups - a type of terrorism he called "retail terrorism".[4] This is contrasted with violent acts performed by the State in its own interest which orthodox terrorism studies often excludes from consideration.

Controversy in Australia

In 2008 Anthony Burke's appointment as Associate Professor to the Australian Defence Force Academy sparked national debate in Australia[5][6]. Mervyn Bendle a Senior Lecturer at James Cook University in Townsville Australia wrote an article in the magazine Quadrant and an opinion piece for The Australian newspaper claiming that Burke sympathised with terrorists and used "postmodernist jargon" to demean Australian values and way of life.[7]

Burke responded by requesting that James Cook University begin an investigation into Bendle for academic misconduct - a request he subsequently withdrew. He claimed that while Bendle had accurately quoted him, he had defamed him and misrepresented his widely-stated view that terrorism was immoral and politically counter-productive.[8][9]

See also


Template:Critical theory

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